The two lawyers running for D.C. Bar president-elect for the 2013–2014 term, Brigida Benitez of Steptoe & Johnson and Lorelie Masters of Jenner & Block, pitched their candidacy during an election forum Wednesday.
Both candidates advocated for more funding for access to justice programs, support and training for younger lawyers and increasing pro bono work.
Masters said if she’s elected she will address two main challenges her profession faces: the crisis in civil legal services and the lack of support and training for younger lawyers. She added that she would work on creating an official history of the D.C. Bar. “I think that it is important to know the past in order to form the future,” she said.
Masters serves on the D.C. Bar Board of Governors and chairs its Screening Committee. She has also led the Nominations Committee and the Steering Committee of the Bar’s Litigation Section. Formerly, she served on the Bar’s Judicial Evaluation Committee. At Jenner & Block, where Masters is a litigation partner, she focuses her practice on complex commercial disputes and international arbitration.
“I would want to use my contacts in the community and more broadly in the American Bar Association to advocate for maximum funding for access to justice programs,” Masters said.
Masters said she would encourage partnerships between legal services providers and law firms as well as outside and in-house counsels to encourage maximum participation in pro bono work.
To counter young lawyers’ unemployment, Masters said she would work with the sections to find ways to refocus their content to provide support and training through mentorship programs on pro bono cases and expert litigation skills training, for instance.
Benitez said access to legal services and maintaining pro bono work remain the D.C. Bar’s key priorities. “The need is as great today as it has ever been and there is still much work to be done,” she said.
As a partner at Steptoe & Johnson’s Washington, Benitez focuses her practice on global dispute resolution, investigations, and compliance issues. She offered a more personal approach to her candidacy, characterizing it as “a sentimental and important journey.”
“I care about the D.C. Bar, it is an organization that I believe in, whose mission I share,” Benitez said. She continued, “I think if you believe in an organization you have got to be willing to roll up your sleeves and step up and lead it.”
Benitez serves on the D.C. Bar Board of Governors and the Bar’s Budget Committee. Previously, she served on the Bar’s Strategic Planning Committee, Nominations Committee, Pro Bono Committee, and Steering Committee of the Bar’s Courts, Lawyers and the Administration of Justice Section.
Benitez said her background and experience at different levels of the D.C. Bar offers “a solid foundation for serving as president-elect and for making a valuable contribution.”
Benitez praised former D.C. Bar president John Payton for first getting her involved in the bar. “He exemplified that great combination of private practice and public service that I have tried to model in my own career,” she said.
Benitez underscored the use of technology as a means to get people engaged, citing the current D.C. Bar web site redesign as an example. She also said she would like to address how globalization affects the legal profession.
Both candidates stressed the importance of pro bono work and diversity.
Masters said she is very proud of her work on diversity and inclusion. As chair of the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia, she oversaw the diversity summit and published a report on issues affecting women of color in their profession. Her pro bono work specifically focused on voting rights issue in the District of Columbia.
Benitez has served as president of the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia and as a member of the board of directors of the women’s bar association. “We have a tremendously diverse bar. Diverse in the broadest sense and that is a value and it is strength,” Benitez said.
The D.C. Bar president-elect serves for one year before becoming president, and continues in office a third year as immediate past president. Active members can vote online for candidates in the Bar’s general and Sections elections beginning April 30.