Katia Garrett, 2012 Woman Lawyer of the Year

The Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia (WBA), in conjunction with the Women’s Bar Association Foundation (WBAF), will honor Katia Garrett, Executive Director, DC Bar Foundation, as the WBA Woman Lawyer of the Year at the organizations’ Annual Dinner on May 22, 2012, in Washington, DC. The Woman Lawyer of the Year is recognized for her exceptional achievements in the legal profession and/or for extraordinary contributions to the advancement of women in the profession.

The theme for the 2012 Annual Dinner is “Re-envisioning the Path: Being a Woman Lawyer in the 21st Century.” This theme is in concert with Phase IV of the WBA’s Initiative on Advancement and Retention of Women, and recognizes that woman take or navigate different pathways to success, and that the pathway navigated along the road to success isn’t always a “straight line.” Prior phases of the WBA Initiative addressed barriers to women advancing in law firms (Phase I, “Creating Pathways to Success”); women of color in law firms (Phase II, “Creating Pathways to Success for All”); and women in –house counsel (Phase III, “Navigating the Corporate Matrix”).

Ms. Garrett exemplifies the “Re-envisioning the Path” theme. She has been deeply committed to justice and fairness throughout her entire legal career. The choices she has made, the directions she has taken, and the work she has done have had a consistent theme: pursuing ways to strengthen the justice system for women, minorities, and those without a voice.

After graduating from the George Washington University School of Law, Ms. Garrett clerked on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, having turned down a clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in order to have an opportunity to spend two years of work in a trial court. Given traditional legal pathways to success, her choice was an unusual one, but it gave her the experience that cultivated her interest in the courtroom and informed her of the desperate need for access to justice.

Determined to use her legal skills to further the rights of women and minorities, Ms. Garrett joined the-then Kator Scott & Heller, at the time one of the few employment discrimination firms in the country representing plaintiffs. She handled discrimination matters at all levels: administrative, state and federal. Among other matters, she supported the team that successfully litigated Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989) on behalf of Ann Hopkins, which established that sex stereotyping is gender-based discrimination, and she played a lead role in one of the earliest Equal Pay Act cases decided at the then U.S. Court of Claims. Ms. Garrett subsequently served as the Executive Director of the D.C. Circuit’s Task Force on Gender Race and Ethnicity, the first federal court study of gender, race, and ethnic bias within the District of Columbia court system. The work of this Task Force helped lay the groundwork for similar initiatives around the country.

After a brief return to trial work, Ms. Garrett joined the U.S. Department of Justice, working first in the grants offices addressing crime victims' issues and violence against women, and then as Chief of Staff to Assistant Attorney General Eleanor D. Acheson in the Office for Policy Development. During this time, she represented the United States on domestic violence issues at the United Nations Crime Convention in Geneva, worked to design the Department's first grant program to fund civil legal services for domestic violence victims, and oversaw the Department's relatively new pro bono program.

After her time at DOJ Ms. Garrett began working a reduced schedule, in order to balance her family and work life. Ms. Garrett became a role model for other working mothers who looked for different ways to maintain a meaningful career and a strong family. She developed her own private practice consulting on major class actions; she branched out into the growing area of Alternate Dispute Resolution, starting an ADR practice with a former colleague who is now the Chief Circuit Mediator in the DC Circuit; and she taught courses as an adjunct professor at both the American University Washington College of Law and at the George Washington University Law School. Soon after the birth of her second child, she was tapped to be the chair of the DC Circuit Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. Under her leadership, the Committee developed and then launched the '40 at 50' Pro Bono Breakfast, the Bankruptcy Court Pro Bono Panel, and administered the Gribbon Pro Bono Award.

In 2005, Ms. Garrett became the second Executive Director of the DC Bar Foundation. Under her leadership, the organization has grown from a one person, $1 million operation to a nationally respected Bar Foundation with a staff of five and a budget of nearly $5 million. She helped design and launch the Bar Foundation's poverty lawyer loan repayment assistance program; expanded the reach of the Bar Foundation's grants by putting in place a training program for poverty lawyers; and strengthened the operations and governance of the Bar Foundation. Under her stewardship, the Bar Foundation has garnered awards and recognition for its work, and has worked as an effective partner with both the legal services and philanthropic communities.

In a profession historically marked by straight career lines, Ms. Garrett recognized early on that the most rewarding path for her was anything but a straight line.

Founded in May 1917, the WBA is one of the oldest voluntary bar associations in the United States dedicated to the advancement of women in the law. The WBA Foundation, the charitable arm of the WBA, leverages the generosity of lawyers and friends to support nonprofits that serve the legal and related needs of women and girls in the DC Metropolitan community. The WBA recognizes excellence in the legal profession with the Woman Lawyer of the Year Award. A list of recipients of the Woman Lawyer of the Year award can be found here.

The 2012 WBA/WBA Foundation Annual Dinner and awards ceremony will take place at the National Building Museum at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday, May 22, 2012. For additional information about the WBA/WBA Foundation Annual Dinner, including tickets and sponsorship opportunities, call 202-639-8880.