BETHESDA — The Bar Association of Montgomery County held their 125th Law Celebration and annual meeting on May 31.
Debra S. Katz, who has served as litigator for high-profile cases, such as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in front of Congress, was tapped to be the keynote speaker of the event. She was the founding partner of Katz, Marshall & Banks in Washington, D.C.
The Bar Association of Montgomery County was founded in 1894.
According to William Canby, a former president of the association, many lawyers who are members of the local association today can trace their roots to the original founders in Montgomery County. Canby, for instance, was one of those lawyers before his death in 1994.
“These ties endure through time: for example, I am related by blood to four of those founders, and other association members enjoy similar links,” Canby wrote. “The founders were pioneers not only in the county but in the state.”
Over the years, Montgomery County grew, and so too did the Bar Association.
The 125th Law Day celebration included workshops that included strategies to drum up more business, getting tricky evidence admitted in a trial, and methods to avoid burnout.
After the workshops, bar association members gathered for lunch, an awards ceremony and the keynote speech.
Heather Hostetter, a partner at Hostetter and Strent, LLC, serves as president of the bar association.
In her remarks, Hostetter urged her fellow members to donate their time and effort to work on pro bono cases.
She noted that the number of hours dedicated to pro bono cases in that Bar Association of Montgomery County is low.
“Our county has one of the lowest pro bono participation rates in the state,” Hostetter said. “We have to be able to do better; it’s not only our legal obligation but it’s our moral imperative.”
She suggested that instead of having a few lawyers clock huge amounts of hours for pro bono cases, all the members of the bar association should pledge just 10 hours of their time to dedicate to free services.
“I know with certainty that everyone in this room can do just 10 hours,” she said.
Hostetter said that pro bono work is fulfilling and gratifying even if it is still work. She also noted that the need for free legal services in Montgomery County cases far outweighs what the bar association can provide, especially because the county council did not allocate money toward the association’s pro bono fund this year.
The keynote speaker, Katz, noted the important role lawyers play in shaping laws.
Katz, who specializes in employment discrimination, civil rights and whistleblower protection, was a part of Ford’s legal team when she testified against Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court last year.
“As a civil rights lawyer, I have to be optimistic; you cannot do this work without a great deal of optimism,” Katz said in her opening remarks. “So, I want to talk today about not only the challenges we face but the opportunity to make the law more just for everyone in our communities. These are truly extraordinary times.”
She noted how much the landscape of women’s equality has changed in recent years, from the revelation of President of the United States of America Donald Trump’s comments on the Access Hollywood tape when he was running for President, to the Women’s March following his inauguration, to the #Metoo movement.
Katz speculated that the #MeToo movement opened the door for Dr. Ford’s testimony, and said her courage has inspired other women to speak out as well.
“Speaking out was a demand for change,” she said.
Katz noted that there has been an epidemic of inequality in this nation and that fairness is the bedrock principle for the rule of law that lawyers should be fighting for.
Audience members said they found Katz’s remarks inspiring.
Maura Lynch who practices law at Rismiller Law Group in Rockville called the speech “amazing.”
“I give talks a lot in high schools and practice divorce law so I’m always dealing with empowerment with my clients,” she said.
Theodore Stein of Offit Kurman in Bethesda said that he welcomes the challenge of promoting equality. He explained that in his field of employment law there are many opportunities to improve equality practices, in hiring, training, payment and other areas as well.
“Be brave and relentless in your pursuit of justice,” Katz said in her final remarks.