How the President of The Federal Bar Association Intends to Improve Our Society, An Interview with Kip Bollin, President of the Federal Bar Association
I’m focusing a lot on a lawyer’s role in a democracy. I think we lawyers have a special duty to our country and to our fellow citizens to lead. We have specialized knowledge of our government, Constitution and laws, and we have a duty to share that with our fellow citizens. So I take part in the national civics program in which we teach high school students about the judicial branch of government and the importance of judicial independence.
I had the pleasure to interview the national president of the Federal Bar Association Kip Bollin. Mr. Bollin works to further the Association’s initiatives to educate the public about the work and independence of the federal judiciary, and to foster the development of the next generation of lawyers. Bollin is also Chair of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Advisory Group, a court-appointed panel charged with providing information on matters of interest to the court, assisting in the implementation of court-adopted programs and bringing to the court’s attention matters of interest to the bar and the community. He has also served on the board of trustees for Circle Health Services (formerly The Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland) for the past eight years, including six years as chair of the Advocacy Committee. He is a 1995 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, and received his B.A., cum laude, from New York University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up outside of Toledo, Ohio; the son of two public school educators. After going away to school in New York (NYU) and DC (Georgetown), I found my wife Cathy, and I convinced her to come back home to Ohio where I clerked for federal District Court Judge, Sam Bell. Working for the judge, I honed my research and writing skills, I spent a ton of time in the courtroom learning what works and what does not — it was like picking up a master’s degree in law. But more importantly, I started to learn a lot about what it means to be a lawyer. I saw how the judge worked with the lawyers who appeared before him and with their clients. He was fair and firm, and he made sure that he heard all voices, and people knew that about him. After clerking, I came to work at Thompson Hine in Cleveland in 1997. My practice involves the defense of class actions, product liability claims and the representation of companies in business disputes. Since my clerkship, I’ve always stayed involved with the federal courts, often through the work of the Federal Bar Association. I started off as a Younger Lawyers Committee member and chair, putting on programs and organizing book drives. Eventually, I got more involved and took on bigger roles. I planned scores and scores of seminars, most involving members of our federal bench. As a lawyer, you’re required to attend a certain amount of continuing legal education programs, but my goal was to create some programs that had value — that people would actually be happy they attended. In any case, I climbed the local ladder and became president of my FBA chapter in 2010. Sometime around then I became more aware of the national FBA and all that it had to offer. I developed an extensive personal and professional nationwide network through the FBA — some truly wonderful people and great lawyers.
Can you share the interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?
Well, the first one that comes to mind is my first jury trial back in 1999. I’d seen a number of trials while clerking, and even had administrative responsibilities during trials, so I knew how they worked and I’m sure I’d pictured myself in the advocates’ seats many, many times, but this was my first trial on my feet. I was first chair and I had an even younger lawyer sitting second chair next to me. I was listening to a witness’s direct testimony — it was perhaps the plaintiff’s second or third witness — and I heard an inconsistency, or maybe an outright lie. It was at least an exaggeration. The witness said that he was qualified to talk about the plaintiff because he had worked with him for a many years. Now on cross, you’re not supposed to go off script. You’re supposed to ask only questions that you know the answers to. But I took a little bit of a detour and ended up having my first Perry Mason moment. I took the witness back through the years and asked if he’d worked with the plaintiff in 1997? In 1996? And so on for a number of years. He said that he had. Then I looked at the jury and asked the witness how that was possible, considering the plaintiff was working overseas during most of that time. I watched the jurors’ heads tilt to the side, their eyes roll, and a few eyebrows raise — the question had its desired effect. They didn’t believe another word this witness had to say. And I was hooked on being a trial lawyer.
How have you used your prominence to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story of a particular person that you helped?
So goodness happens in big ways and in small. I think the small things are probably more important because they happen on a day-to-day basis and affect how you live your life, not just how you might step up to the plate on occasion. The small things that I’ve done aren’t necessarily that dramatic but they fit my life and career. So early on I did things like organize book drives. These days, I take a real interest in looking out for my colleagues, both those at my firm and my FBA colleagues nationwide. I’m at a 400 lawyer firm and we have weekly requests for lawyers across the country. Whenever I receive one, I stop what I’m doing and connect those who need help with the lawyers who can help them. I do this every week.
I’ve been a mentor to law students. I meet with them, take them to lunch, listen to their plans, their questions and I do my best to smooth their transition into the world of law. In fact, this year I’ve established a new nationwide mentoring program within the FBA, in order to connect law students with practicing lawyers and judges. We’ve got hundreds of people involved. It’s tough out there for new lawyers. I hope we can make things just a little bit easier through this program.
Finally, this year as president I’m focusing a lot on a lawyer’s role in a democracy. I think we lawyers have a special duty to our country and to our fellow citizens to lead. We have specialized knowledge of our government, Constitution and laws, and we have a duty to share that with our fellow citizens. So I take part in the national civics program established by former President Judge Mike Newman, in which we teach high school students about the judicial branch of government and the importance of judicial independence. I also work with the FBA’s lobbying efforts to support the third branch. Maintaining judicial independence — the ability of judges to apply the law fairly and with neutrality without concern for political ramification — is critical to a democracy and it will only be maintained if the third branch is fully funded. The judges can’t lobby Congress but the FBA can, and we work to make sure that our judges have the means to accomplish their important constitutional task.
What exactly does the Federal Bar do every day? What is the role of the president?
The Federal Bar Association, founded in 1920, is a voluntary, membership organization representing attorneys in both the private and public sectors as well as the federal judiciary. We advocate on issues that impact the practice of federal lawyers and the court and provide educational opportunities and networking events for our members. As President, I chair the Board of Directors, the governing body of the national association. My favorite part of serving as President is the opportunity to meet with leaders of our local chapters across the country. The FBA is unique as a bar association because our members enjoy the benefits of a national organization along with a local connection through our more than 95 chapters.
This is clearly not an easy job. What drives you?
I’m driven by the example of those who came before me — I want to live up to the example set by so many other like Judge Newman, who selflessly gave up his time to set up initiatives to help students, veterans — all those who we as an organization are in a position to help. And I’m also driven by the weight of the expectations that come with being the President of a national bar association. I owe a duty to our members and to our judiciary to work as hard as I can. I’m particularly driven by what I see as a need to help our younger lawyers in a time of change in the legal industry. There is less opportunity and less stability for younger lawyers. I think the FBA can and should help those lawyers by providing education, mentorship and the professional connections that you need to build a practice. I’m driven to make things better for the next generation of lawyers.
Is the Federal Bar working on any interesting projects in the near future?
The FBA is presenting the Rising Professionals Symposium on February 2–3, 2018, in Las Vegas. A first of its kind FBA conference, this symposium will provide an informational experience to elevate younger lawyers’ careers. These rising professionals will have opportunities to build their national networks by interacting with peers, FBA leaders, and in-house counsel during the program discussion and then engage and connect during the evening and after-hours receptions. In this time of increasing career mobility, we’re looking to build a professional home within the FBA for the next generation of lawyers, and this Symposium is an important step.
Can you give me some examples of the type of community outreach the Federal Bar Association does to engage more young people in civics and knowledge of the constitution?
The Federal Bar Association continues its successful series of outreach programs with ongoing efforts to reach out to various demographics across the United States. From a civics essay contest to a national community outreach project to civics education resources, this organization has made a positive impact nationwide and continues to attract national press.
- This year’s FBA Civics Essay Contest recognizes the 150th Anniversary of the 14th Amendment and poses the question: “What does equal protection mean to students?” The contest includes both an essay contest and a video contest for high school students, with winners in each category receiving cash prizes. This year’s contest is cosponsored by the Federal Judges Association.
- The Federal Bar Association continues to instill confidence in the judicial system through the National Community Outreach Project (COP) and has officially declared every April as “National Community Outreach” month. This year’s project expanded to include 25 participating districts. With events like tours of the federal courts, viewing federal court proceedings, tours of federal agencies, and providing citizens with free legal advice, the COP provides people of all ages with the necessary means to become educated citizens.
- The National Civics Initiative and Resources for Civics Education promotes learning about civic matters. This program provides the association’s 19,000+ members — including 1,600 federal judges — with quality educational material to take into any middle or high school classroom in the United States. Aside from the classroom education, the FBA encourages hands on learning by bringing students into the courthouses, meeting with lawyers, observing court proceedings, and talking directly to federal judges. With material ranging in content from “Pathways to the Bench” to the Bill of Rights, students are inspired to learn more about the American judicial system. Educational materials are available on the Federal Bar Association’s website. Lawyers and judges can access lesson plans for audiences ranging in presentation time from fifteen minutes to three hours.
- Wills for Veterans is a new initiative of the Federal Bar Association that began at the national level in February 2017. This is a pro bono project where participating FBA chapters are providing will drafting and signing services to any veterans in the local area. Twenty FBA chapters nationwide took part in this program on Thursday, November 9 to coincide with Veterans Day (November 11).
- The FBA has implemented the SOLACE program on a national scale with the help of its local FBA Chapters. SOLACE stands for “Support of Lawyers/Legal Personnel — All Concern Encouraged.” SOLACE provides a way for the FBA legal community to reach out in small, but meaningful and compassionate, ways to FBA members and those related to them in the legal community who experience a death, or some catastrophic event, illness, sickness, injury, or other personal crisis.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspiring