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New ABA Pres. Issues Call to Action as COVID Ups Demand for Legal Services

Patricia Lee Refo has taken over the American Bar Association’s (ABA) top post as the legal trade group hosted its annual meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 4. Refo picks up the gavel from Judy Perry Martinez and will serve as ABA president, while the organization tapped Reginald M. Turner to be president-elect during the virtual event.

Patricia Lee Refo“I am honored to serve the ABA’s members and walk in the footsteps of so many legal giants,” Refo said in a statement from her law firm, Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, where she has worked for 24 years. “This moment presents a unique opportunity to advance the ABA’s mission and lead the profession in finding new tools all attorneys can use to better serve their clients. Now, more than ever, our nation’s lawyers will step up to help solve the challenges we face.”

During the event, she noted her term begins at a time when the demand for legal services is especially high due to the COVID-19 pandemic, namely in the areas of eviction, bankruptcy, foreclosure and domestic violence. To that end, Refo said the ABA Task Force on Legal Needs Arising out of the Pandemic, which was formed in April, will continue under the stewardship of Jim Sandman, the president emeritus of the Legal Services Corporation.

In her remarks, Refo called upon the legal profession to “own” systemic shortcomings with respect to unconscious bias and racism inhibiting Black Americans from fully participating in the “promise of America.” Refo said barriers within law firms and other practice settings make it much harder for black lawyers to thrive, especially female ones.

“We choose to get to work to help to solve these problems. We are the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. We have work to do,” she said. “[Recent events] have compressed about 10 years of change into the past four or five months.”

Refo also said she will be especially cognizant of the impacts of regulatory changes aimed at improving access to justice: “We will work with the academy and the regulators to agree on and then measure the objective metrics that will tell us whether and how innovations are bridging the access to justice gap,” she said.


Emily A. Benfer @emilyabenfer Aug 4

"BREAKING: American Bar Association passed a resolution urging federal & state gov't. to prevent: 1) #COVID19 #eviction & landlord hardship w/ rental assistance & 2) tenant screening practices that consider eviction during pandemic. #rentreliefnow @ABAesq"

According to information from Snell & Wilmer, Refo is now the 144th ABA president and the second based out of Arizona. She is also the 10th woman selected to be the trade group’s president. “Over her career, Trish has worked tirelessly to develop and advance the ABA’s key goals and initiatives,” said Matt Feeney, chairman of Snell & Wilmer. “The ABA continues to address a range of difficult and complex issues facing our profession, our country, and our global community, including those relating to access to justice, the need for an independent judiciary, and systemic racism. During these unprecedented times, I cannot think of anyone more prepared, qualified, and determined than Trish to embrace those challenges and to help drive tangible solutions. We congratulate her on this outstanding achievement.”

Refo received both her B.A. and J.D., which she earned with cum laude honors, from the University of Michigan.

According to the law firm, Refo accepted the role via video from the porch of Tempe’s Sandra Day O’Connor House and was the first ever to accept the honor virtually. Fittingly, she was sworn in by Judge Mary Schroeder, the first woman to sit as chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, on the property of O’Conner, the first woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court.


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