Celebration of Leadership Welcomes Charles Lowery as Bar President
June 26, 2023
Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, and the chief judges of the D.C. Courts joined others in the local legal community on June 22 for the D.C. Bar’s 2023 Celebration of Leadership. Held at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel, the event drew more than 300 people.
After D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby swore in Charles R. Lowery Jr. as 52nd president of the D.C. Bar, outgoing Bar president Ellen Jakovic gave Lowery a shining endorsement as she reflected on their shared involvement with the D.C. Bar Board of Governors. “I have seen firsthand the collaborative approach, the thoughtful consideration of issues, the respect for others, and your commitment [to] serving the D.C. Bar members,” she said. “I know that you will continue the important work of the Bar in leading [efforts to] increase equity and inclusion and accessibility, provide opportunities for our early career attorneys, and increase access to justice for all D.C. residents. You are exactly the right person to lead us in the year to come.”
Lowery described his leadership style as servient, focusing on serving others and helping members and staff develop and perform as highly as possible. Before stating his strong commitment to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and promoting the Bar’s new Early Career Lawyers Community, he acknowledged his two sons, his University of Michigan Law School colleagues, his Shiloh Baptist Church family, and the Leadership Greater Washington Class of 2023, which included Mayor Bowser.
The new president then talked about his blue-collar upbringing in Cleveland, Ohio, where his father worked as a custodian in the Cleveland public school system and his mother was a nurse. He also reflected on his jobs as a paperboy, garbage collector, and steel mill worker between junior high school and college. His trajectory as a lawyer was equally varied with stints in federal and local governments, legal services organizations, nonprofit consumer advocacy groups, the NAACP, and private mortgage companies. He now serves as senior policy director at the National Housing Conference.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten used to people saying, ‘So, Charles, where are you now?’ because I move from place to place,” Lowery said, adding that those wide-ranging work experiences will serve him greatly as Bar president. “I realize that my job experiences as a young person, my crooked career path, and my refusal to give up on finding a career that combines my interests in economics and the law have allowed me to work with all types of people and to see the practice of law from a number of different perspectives.”
“As D.C. Bar president, I want to make sure that no matter what type of legal work or nonlegal work you do as a member, you know that you are a valued member of the D.C. Bar,” Lowery said. “I want you to take advantage of many services and programming and feel at home at your fabulous building.”
Lowery then asked all the former D.C. Bar presidents, current members of the D.C. Bar of Governors, and steering committee members of the D.C. Bar Communities in attendance to stand for recognition. “I want to continue working hard for you. And I want all of us to continue making a difference,” he said.
The thematic elements of Lowery’s speech were echoed in many speakers’ comments. Leaders receiving recognition at the event often chose to cede the spotlight to their colleagues, supporters, and allies. Honorees graciously characterized their accomplishments in the advancement of the legal profession and access to justice as the result of collective efforts by the District’s legal community.
At the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center’s Presidents Reception, held immediately prior to the Celebration of Leadership, Pro Bono Center Executive Director Kelli Neptune described the organization’s many efforts to provide legal assistance to small businesses, immigrants, the elderly, those living on low incomes, tenants, and others in the District who would otherwise go unrepresented. Neptune acknowledged nonprofit organizations that partner with the Pro Bono Center, calling their contributions vitally important.
Neptune also credited her staff. “I am fortunate to lead a smart, skilled, spirited team. Delivering legal services requires relentless determination, innovation, and energy,” she said. The well-attended event raised in excess of a million dollars for the Pro Bono Center.
Outgoing president Ellen Jakovic spoke about the importance of financial and commercial commitments that facilitate local efforts to extend access to justice to underserved communities. “As lawyers, we have a responsibility to ensure that people experiencing poverty have access to justice,” she said. “Every hour of our volunteer services, and every dollar of our financial support, increases justice, equity, and fairness for our neighbors.”
Jakovic remarked on the pride she felt on hearing that the D.C. Council, moved by community efforts, voted to renew funding for the Access to Justice Commission’s efforts. Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Brooke Pinto received individual recognition for their support in safeguarding the program’s funding.
The evening also honored the individual and organizational contributions of recipients of the D.C. Bar’s Annual Awards. Patricia A. McKenna received the Beatrice Rosenberg Award for Excellence in Government Service for her 24-year career at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “There are so many of my colleagues that deserve to be recognized along with me,” McKenna said. “Everything that we do is a team effort. We work collaboratively with our federal agency partners to try to achieve the best results for the American people.” She went on to thank her colleagues and mentors.
Jon S. Bouker, an ArentFox Schiff LLP partner and government relations practice coleader, received the William J. Brennan Jr. Award for his commitment and achievement in the area of civil rights, liberties, and the public interest. Among his achievements, Bouker has been as a founding member of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, board chair of DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, chair of DC Vote, counsel to Mayor Bowser’s legal advisory team for D.C. statehood, and counsel to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who recorded a video tribute to her former staffer.
Bouker’s satisfaction with the results of these efforts is tempered by a recognition of the work that remains. “Despite the gains we have made, there is still so much work to be done,” he said. “Until the day that civil Gideon is a reality, the disparities in representation for indigent litigants in the District [remain] staggering.”
Perkins Coie LLP associate Shelby Rampolo was awarded the Laura N. Rinaldi Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year Award for her nearly 200 hours of pro bono work in 2022 benefiting District immigrants, children, and seniors. Steptoe & Johnson LLP won the Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year Award. The firm’s own efforts and its collaborations with area nonprofit organizations involved access to justice, housing, juvenile justice, criminal rights, immigration, and racial equality issues. During the pandemic, Steptoe provided 39 associates to the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia’s domestic violence/family law unit and funded two housing law fellows, among other contributions.
The Community of the Year Award went to the Taxation Community, whose annual conference drew a record number of registrants this year, and the Voluntary Bar Association of the Year Award went to the Federal Communications Bar Association for its work with the legal community through the FCBA Foundation, which grants scholarships to high school students from area public and charter schools interested in pursuing a college degree in the communications field. The contributors to the D.C. Bar 50th Anniversary Campaign were acknowledged with the Frederick B. Abramson Award.