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Alumni Profile: Carolyn Lamm

Alumni Profile: Carolyn Lamm

Posted: May 18, 2011

A lot has changed for the better over the past 40 years, and Carolyn Lamm, ’70, has had something to do with it. Just a generation or two ago, American society still clung to some notions that, in retrospect, seem more suited for the Dark Ages. One of those antiquated ideas was that high-powered professions were not appropriate for women. Men were welcome to be lawyers and doctors and CEOs, but not women.

Fortunately, ordinary notions like those crumble when extraordinary individuals decide to use their talent and determination to change things. Lamm, now one of the most powerful attorneys in the country, has done just that.

“As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a lawyer,” Lamm said. “I knew that I wanted to make a difference, and I knew that I could make a difference given the chance.”

This year, Legal Times named Lamm one of its prestigious “Visionaries for 2010.” In 2007, the National Law Journal named her one of the “50 Most Influential Women in America.”

In August, Lamm wrapped up a successful year as president of the American Bar Association. The ABA is the largest voluntary professional association in the world, representing nearly half a million members, and Lamm was only the fourth woman to lead the group in its 132-year history.

As president, she led the effort to analyze information from the ABA’s nationwide hearings on diversity. The published report, “Next Steps,” with companion podcasts, includes specific recommendations for promoting diversity—racial, ethnic, gender, disability, sexual orientation—and eliminating bias throughout the profession.

She also appointed commissions to examine two timely concerns: the impact of the global economic crisis on the legal profession, and the ethical issues relating to lawyers’ use of technology.

“We want to make sure that lawyers who practice online are doing so in a manner consistent with standard practices,” Lamm said. “We also want to make sure that the public is educated about virtual law firms, especially in regard to the crucial issue of confidentiality.”

Last year, Lamm worked full time both for the ABA and as a partner and international arbitration, litigation, and trade lawyer in the Washington, D.C., office of the global law firm White & Case LLP. “I’d say I put in about 2,000 hours on each job,” she said, “and thousands of miles in travel. The thing is, I thoroughly enjoy working. I really enjoy the intellectual challenge.”

Lamm initially enrolled at Buffalo State with the idea of becoming a teacher, at the encouragement of her father. As graduation approached, however, she recognized her true calling and applied to—and was accepted at—the University of Miami (Florida) School of Law.

“I loved my time at Buffalo State,” Lamm said. “It provided an excellent foundation for my career. Majoring in education and minoring in English, I learned how to write and analyze writing, and appreciate other perspectives and cultures.

“Being trained as a teacher has been invaluable to my law career. There is a significant amount of teaching skill needed in law. You have to be precise when conveying the facts, and you have to be able to clearly explain your case to judges. And, in both law and teaching, you have to be motivated by the desire to change things for the better.”

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