by Amy Keller
Updated 6 yearss ago
When Hilarie Bass started as a summer associate at Greenberg Traurig three decades ago, the law firm, then 20 years old, had just one office in Miami “started by three bright, hard-working attorneys who were unable to gain employment in the Miami legal market because of their religion,” she says. Today, the firm has 38 offices around the world, and Bass, co-president of the firm, is gearing up to take the helm of the American Bar Association in August. In a recent interview, Bass talked about the future of the profession, her priorities as ABA president-elect and highlights of her career.
» Access to Justice: “Many people don’t even realize they have legal problems. Maybe it’s a fight with their bank over a mortgage foreclosure, or a landlord over their rental unit, or somebody who fixed their car and didn’t do a good job but took the money. Most Americans at some time have an issue that’s legal in nature. Many of them don’t realize that it is legal in nature and that a lawyer could assist them. It’s a matter of not only providing information about what types of problems are legal problems, but then how to access legal assistance.”
» Harnessing Technology: Bass foresees the creation of free apps to help people identify legal problems and download do-ityourself legal documents, such as a basic will, power of attorney or health power of attorney or health surrogate. She also sees promise in web-based dispute resolution services, which companies like PayPal have successfully used for years, for small-claims courts: “If you’re ripped off by a home improvement person who takes your $500 and doesn’t do the job, for most people it’s a serious question of whether they can afford to take a day off of work to go fight with them in a smallclaims setting. Why can’t we have that all online? Why can’t we have you scan your documents, write a paragraph to the judge on what the nature of your problem is, contact the person that you’re suing and have them do something similar and have the judge resolve it, and only if there’s a problem with it do you even have to go into court.”
» Legal Education: The University of Miami Law School graduate sees a need to reform legal education. “The deans are not happy with the lower number of students applying to law school. The Bar examiners and the supreme courts are not happy about the lower number of students passing the Bar. Employers aren’t happy because students don’t appear to come out of law school ready to solve client problems — and law school students are, of course, very unhappy about coming out with an average debt of over $100,000.”
» Known For: While Bass specializes in complex commercial litigation and arbitrations, class-action defense and other areas of law, she’s best known for her pro bono work on behalf of two foster children that helped overturn a 20-year-old law that banned gay and lesbian couples from adopting children in Florida. “It’s without a doubt the most meaningful case I’ve ever been involved in. It’s the kind of case you went to law school for — to change an unjust law, and that’s what most of us go to law school hoping that we’ll have the opportunity to accomplish sometime during our lifetime.”
» Acting Interlude: During the three years between obtaining her undergraduate degree from George Washington University and attending law school in the early 1970s, Bass studied acting in New York with famed acting teacher Lee Strasberg. She landed a recurring role on the NBC soap opera, “Somerset,” a spinoff of “Another World.” “I think anything that makes you feel comfortable talking in front of people is a positive. So certainly being in front of people a lot and an audience of hundreds of people doesn’t hurt.”
» Advice to Young Women Lawyers: “Anything is available to you — you just have to take control of your career and make it happen. I think you really have to have a plan for what you want to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be 20 years in advance, but just think where do you want to be next year or five years from now and then re-evaluate them on an ongoing basis because decisions you make every day will impact your ability accomplish those things.”
Julie Braman Kane, 48
Partner, Colson Hicks Eidson
» Leadership Role: President, American Association for Justice. “I’m the seventh woman president. I’m the first woman from Florida.”
» Focus: As president of the national trial lawyers group, Kane is spearheading a project to get lawyers into high schools to educate teens about the dangers of distracted driving. “As litigators, everyday I’m representing the families of people who were injured because of distracted driving, and we see it all the time. It’s unfortunate and tragic because so much of it is preventable. By partnering with End Distracted Driving, we’re hoping to reach 100,000 teens this year,” says Kane, who earned her undergraduate and law degrees from University of Miami.
» Helping Voters: In 2012, Kane founded the AJJ’s Voter Protection Action Committee to “ensure that if a U.S. citizen had a right to vote, that their vote would be counted.” Kane, a former commissioner on the Florida Elections Commission, says the group provides both Election Day poll monitoring and operates a “war room” of trained lawyer volunteers who can provide pertinent, on-thespot information if disputes arise over someone’s eligibility to vote.
» Impacts: In 2009, Kane won a verdict in a medical malpractice liability case that “dealt with how a hospital pharmacy stored medication.” The allegation, Kane says, was that the storage method had contributed to a patient receiving a medication that left her catastrophically injured. After the trial, Kane says, she was at the hairdresser when another customer overheard her hairdresser ask about the high-publicity case. “He was a board member of the local hospital and (as a result of the case) had changed their policies as to how they stored the medication — and I thought that was the greatest thing. Because as a plaintiffs lawyer, we help people one by one, but if we can make a change in society and protect against future problems, that’s the greatest privilege.”