Q&A with outgoing MBA President Kathleen M. O’Donnell

Issue August 2005

Kathleen M. O’Donnell completes her one-year term as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association on Sept. 1.

In the past year, O’Donnell has testified at Statehouse hearings opposing the death penalty and supporting higher wages for public service attorneys. The MBA also implemented its online judicial evaluations.

Lawyers Journal Associate Editor Bill Archambeault spoke with O’Donnell about what kinds of expectations she had at the beginning of her term, whether she accomplished them and what her plans are as she returns full time to the Marcotte Law Office in Lowell.

Q. What were your goals when you became president?

A: Every president starts out with lofty ambitions; I had hoped to do a lot of public outreach, but issues always come up. Two major issues emerged this year that are very important to lawyers. One is the bar advocate pay issue, which I had hoped would be resolved long before now. We were in a crisis last year at this time. That’s an issue that’s taken a lot of time and energy at the MBA. My only regret is that the issue is not resolved. I’m sure the MBA will continue to devote time and energy to this important issue. The other issue that we did not expect was the Middlesex Courthouse issue. It presented a real health issue to the people who work in and who use the building. The MBA task force, chaired by Judge Fenton, did a great job in helping to resolve that crisis.

Q: How did you balance your private career while representing the MBA and all of its attorneys?

A: Administratively, it took a lot more time than I thought it would. The time commitment really ebbed and flowed during the year. There were times when I worked almost solely on MBA issues. I’ll be playing catch-up for a few months, but it was certainly worth the time and effort.

Q: Did you accomplish what you set out to do?

A: You want to change the world when you’re in a position like this. I didn’t accomplish everything on my agenda, but we made significant progress this year on a number of issues. The volunteers and staff members did the real, substantive work this year.

Q: What disappointed you, or would you like to have turned out differently?

A: I wanted to do more public outreach. I wanted to have a full-time law practice management advisor on staff. We just didn’t get to that with all of the other staffing issues we had (at the MBA). The year just blew by.

Q: What would you do if you had another year as president of the MBA?

A: I would continue on the same road. I’m sure (President-elect) Warren Fitzgerald will do everything to work on the bar advocate issue and deal with whatever issues come up. At the beginning of the year, any MBA president has her priorities; in the end, the agenda changes as different issues emerge. The person has to know that going in.

Q: What kinds of issues are likely to come up this year?

A: The courts face some tough issues. The legislature faces some tough issues. The court system desperately needs funds to improve the physical plant. That’s an issue that faces the legislature and the court system.

Q: What is your advice for Warren Fitzgerald?

A: Enjoy every minute. It goes quickly.

Q: What’s next for you? Are you going to remain active in the MBA or concentrate on your personal career for a while?

A: I’ll always remain active in the MBA. It’s been a very valuable experience. My level of activity will diminish dramatically after Sept. 1, and I will be happy to get back to private practice.

Q: Any other thoughts on the past year?

A: It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime and I appreciate having the chance to serve as MBA president. I know how fortunate we are to have so many dedicated staff members. It’s been a pleasure for me to work with the MBA staff and with the MBA members who give so much of their time. I now have a real appreciation of how many people work so hard on issues important to lawyers and to the citizens of Massachusetts.