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Washington Lawyer

Meet the President: Annamaria Steward

From Washington Lawyer, June 2016

By Jeffery Leon

Q & A - RedAnnamaria Steward will be sworn in as the 45th president of the D.C. Bar on June 15 at the Celebration of Leadership: The D.C. Bar Awards Dinner and Annual Meeting. Steward is the associate dean of students at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law where she develops, leads, and oversees all aspects of student affairs in accordance with American Bar Association (ABA) standards. Before taking on this role, she was an attorney at Jack H. Olender &Associates, P.C. She also created and hosted the public access television series D.C. Law . . . Today, which aired on DC TV from 2006 to 2008.

Steward most recently was a member of the Bar's Board of Governors and served on its Executive, Budget, Leadership Development, and Publications committees. She sat on the Bar's first Strategic Planning Committee and was instrumental in the creation of the John Payton Leadership Academy, an intensive training program that helps to develop and sharpen Bar members' leadership skills.

Steward also has been very active in voluntary bars, serving in various capacities in the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section, at the National Bar Association, the Washington Bar Association, and the Bar Association of the District of Columbia (BADC). In 2010 she became the first African American female president of the BADC. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and The George Washington University Law School. Following law school, Steward clerked for then District of Columbia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Annice Wagner.

Annamaria Steward, D.C. Bar President

Tell us about your upbringing and background.

My parents, both American, met in Berlin, Germany, where my dad was in the United States Air Force and my mom was an elementary school teacher and model. My dad flew heads of state so I grew up on Andrews Air Force Base and, later, when he retired and flew for American Airlines, we moved to Fort Washington, Maryland. One community was all military and the other was mostly retired military.

It was a very structured, rule-focused, loving, and supportive way to grow up. I guess that is why I was drawn to highly disciplined sports. I spent most of my youth on ice. I was a competitive ice skater until I was 17. Every morning for 10 years, my mom and I got up at 4:30 a.m.; my mom drove me to Virginia where I skated for two hours, and then she drove me back to Maryland for school. I practiced ballet in the evenings to be graceful on the ice. It was a little easier when I started going to school in Virginia, but I am incredibly thankful for my mom's willingness to do that for me every day. My parents have been married 47 years. I do not say this lightly—they are amazing people.

A Snapshot of Steward

Early to Rise

Growing up, Annamaria was a competitive ice skater, waking up at the crack of dawn for 10 years to practice her craft.

Drawing Inspiration

Annamaria counts among her mentors former D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Annice Wagner and personal injury attorney Jack H. Olender. From them, she honed her work ethic and leadership skills, and she still calls on both for advice from time to time.

Taking Flight While Staying Grounded

Annamaria's mother, father, both brothers, and even her husband have taken to the skies manning helicopters or planes in the military, as commercial pilots, or as private pilots. Despite her little interest in flight or aircraft, "I can't get away from it!" she says.

Engaging Her Law Students

Annamaria enjoys working with her UDC law students, referring to them as "social justice warriors" who care about the community.

Moving the Bar Forward

Annamaria's goals for her presidency include enhanced technology, a focus on globalization, and increasing inclusiveness through a law school to D.C. Bar pipeline.

Do you have any siblings?

I have two brothers. My older brother was in the Navy and is now a captain for JetBlue. My younger brother is in the Army, has his private pilot's license, and is now into flying helicopters. Everyone in my family loves to fly. My mom even had her private pilot's license! Let's just say that growing up I spent most weekends at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and local air shows. Although I have little interest in airplanes or flying, I ended up marrying a Navy officer who landed planes on aircraft carriers. I can't get away from it!

When did you first become interested in law?

At St. Agnes School (now St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School), I participated in Model UN and was on a debate team. I enjoyed researching and representing countries and negotiating with others to advance my assigned country's position. I enjoyed the advocacy. I had no idea how this would translate in my life, and I actually thought that I would become an ambassador. It was not until college that I realized I really wanted to study international and environmental law.

What drew you to those areas of study?

[During] my first year of college I selected classes that were similar to the kinds of classes I took in high school: math, English, foreign language, etc. My faculty advisor pushed me to try something new and I ended up taking an environmental policy course taught by a lawyer. It was amazing, so amazing that I ultimately designed my undergraduate major around environmental studies. It was International Environmental Policy and Policy Formation, a combination of government, economics, sociology, and environmental studies. I focused on issues like toxic dumping in lesser developed countries, and I studied in Nairobi, Kenya, and Lyon, France (to learn French).

What was it like going abroad and working in those places?

I loved it. My parents met in Germany, my dad traveled all over the world in the Air Force, and my grandmother did three world trips before she passed away. I grew up hearing about other countries, cultures, and religions, so the opportunity to study in another country and learn the language, to understand the people . . . it was a gift. Dartmouth has amazing study abroad programs, and if I could have stayed in college longer and done more, I definitely would have done so!

Tell us about your clerkship with Judge Wagner.

Chief Judge Wagner is one of the hardest working people I have ever met in my life. During my clerkship, she rarely, if ever, took a vacation. She loved the work and the people of the District of Columbia, her hometown, and wanted to get the cases right. The strong work ethic that you learn from a judge like her is unparalleled. It really is one of the highlights of my career.

I enjoyed studying the cases and arguments, writing bench memoranda, watching the lawyers, trying to predict the questions that the judges would ask, and trying to figure out why they were asking specific questions. I enjoyed discussing the cases with the Chief and learning from her deep knowledge of the law. I enjoyed proofing opinions for print and reading them forward and backward for accuracy. I also enjoyed watching [her] leadership within the Court of Appeals and the Conference of Chief Justices. This entire experience helped me to develop a strong focus on details, presentation, and communication, and vastly expanded my understanding of criminal and civil law. Clerkships are usually one year, but I loved it so much I ended up staying four years. Thanks, Chief!

What's your favorite memory from your clerkship?

There's not just one great memory from clerking. Chief Judge Wagner became a second mother to me, and the other judges, clerks, and judicial administrative assistants became an extended family. There were so many wonderful things happening at the Court of Appeals when I was there. The [Old D.C. Courthouse] was being restored and I was able to learn about the challenges of building in D.C. and working within a historic building. I regularly represented the Committee on Admissions during the swearing-in ceremonies for new members of the D.C. Bar. I was able to observe the arguments of some of the best lawyers in the city. It was a great, great experience.

You worked on medical malpractice and personal injury cases at Jack H. Olender & Associates. What did you take away from that experience?

Mr. Olender cultivates leaders. He invests significant time in developing his associates and supporting their interests. He is my legal guardian angel. As a new lawyer, he ensured that I mastered trial skills. He sent me to monthly trial advocacy training such as CLEs, the [National Institute for Trial Advocacy], and even the Trial Advocacy College [at the University of Virginia School of Law]. He had daily meetings where he discussed challenging medical malpractice cases around the country. He delved into the nuances of every single case at the firm. And he supported service through bar associations. If you look at the bios of lawyers who are or were associates at the firm, you will see that they have all been active in bar associations and nearly all of them have been presidents of local or national bar associations.

On top of this, Mr. Olender has a foundation where he provides 12 scholarships to law students and additional community activist awards every year. He showed me, on a larger scale, how to consistently educate yourself on your craft, work to advance the profession and those within it, and give back to the community.

What was it like hosting D.C. Law . . . Today?

I created D.C. Law . . . Today to highlight local attorneys and their contributions to the legal profession and the community at large because when I talk to lawyers, I find out they're doing so many different things to help members of the community. It's not only that they're practicing law, but they're also volunteering in the community, on boards, in help centers, in churches, in youth groups, etc. I wanted other people to see how lawyers' service is all-encompassing, and I wanted to feature the numerous legal resources available to residents of the District of Columbia.

D.C. Law . . . Today enabled me to meet stalwarts of the bar, like Ambassador [to The Gambia] George W. Haley, . . . . brother to Alex Haley of Roots; Martin Mendelsohn, a lawyer from the Simon Wiesenthal Center that hunted down Nazi war criminals and brought them to justice; Philip Hirschkop, co-counsel in the Loving v. Virginia interracial marriage case; and numerous Bar leaders, public interest lawyers, law school deans, and other attorneys. It was a great opportunity to highlight attorneys for their great work and share them and their resources with the community.

How long did the show run?

D.C. Law . . . Today ran twice a week for two years. If I were to start it up again, I'd love to add visual interest such as videos and pictures. It was a small shop—just me, a teleprompter, and the guest, but I greatly enjoyed doing it.

How did you become involved with the BADC? Tell us about your experiences as its president.

When I was a 2L, I met Narda Newby, who was an associate at Jack H. Olender & Associates. In addition to introducing me to the firm, she introduced me to the BADC. She was chair of the Young Lawyers Section and asked me to be her Fundraising Committee chair. Together we raised a lot of money and paid for all of the Young Lawyers Section events that year. Although I had been involved in numerous organizations in school, [BADC] was my first professional organization, and I was hooked. The BADC was a great community of lawyers—it was interesting, very social, and everyone was always thinking about how to improve the profession. Over the years I was elected to and served in multiple positions in the Young Lawyers Section and in every single position of the larger BADC. I was the fourth woman, the third African American, and the first African American female president in the now 145-year history of the BADC.

What brought you to the University of the District of Columbia?

[UDC David A. Clarke School of Law] Dean Shelley Broderick and I served on the board of the BADC together. During this time, the BADC celebrated its 50th year of integration. This was an important milestone, but there had never been an apology to lawyers of color for the previous segregation and its impact. More specifically, for decades the BADC owned the only law library in the city. If you were not a BADC member, you could not access the law library. Without the key materials needed to practice, many African American lawyers had to pursue other careers.

The BADC was integrated in 1956, and in 2006 Shelley, Mr. Olender, and I wrote an apology to lawyers for failing to integrate sooner. This was modeled after the 2005 congressional apology for failing to enact federal anti-lynching legislation. It was important and necessary to recognize the impact of discriminatory practices on lawyers of color and note how far the organization had come. That year, at the Annual BADC Luncheon, the apology was presented to many lawyers who were alive and impacted by the practice. It was a powerful day for all involved.

A couple of years later, Shelley reached out to me to apply for the associate dean of students position at [the law school]. She cited my leadership on the apology, my work within the Young Lawyers Section and the BADC, and my legal experience. When I asked her what the job entailed, she responded, "Everything you are currently doing in your spare time." She was right.

How does the university environment differ from that of a law firm?

Legal academia, more specifically law school administration, is a highly collaborative environment. Decisions require input from all of the stakeholders, and that's a much larger group than what I faced at the law firm. Instead of one client or one family as I had in catastrophic medical malpractice cases, I have about 300 student "clients" whose interests must be addressed on a regular basis.

What do you enjoy most working at the law school?

I love the students, faculty, staff, and administration . . . They are truly social justice warriors—they care about the community, and they're focused on making systemic change to increase access to justice. It is a wonderful place to work.

What are the pressing issues currently facing law students?

Law students are facing major challenges, including increasing mental health issues (or greater awareness of the issues), reduced employment opportunities, and crushing student loan debt. The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program does an excellent job of providing mental health support to students and attorneys in D.C., but throughout the area law schools we are seeing a rise in the number of students who need these kinds of services.

As for employment and student loan debt, these are issues that UDC David A. Clarke School of Law is laser-focused on for our students. Our tuition is one of the lowest in the country and we are proud of that fact. However, we are the only public law school in D.C. The high salaries for new lawyers that we saw in the late 1990s, early 2000s, are gone and students are living in the District of Columbia where rent is extremely high. Most students have to take out significant student loans. However, we need these students to live and practice here.

The larger community is suffering. In the District of Columbia, affordable housing has diminished significantly, more than 50 percent in the past five years. The lack of housing means residents are living further out, which means increased costs associated with transportation to work—if you're fortunate to have a job. Add to this the skyrocketing bankruptcy filings and significant income disparity in the District, and it is clear that we need public interest lawyers more than ever before.

The question is how to address that issue so our social justice warriors can take public interest jobs, which traditionally are not high-paying positions, without being buried under student loan debt for the rest of their lives. I hope to expand the conversation on how we can raise additional funding and support for public interest lawyers.

How did you first get involved with the D.C. Bar?

I was chair of the Young Lawyers Section of the BADC from 2003 to 2004, and immediately thereafter I was approached about running for secretary of the D.C. Bar. I was excited because I just provided 39 events in nine months for young lawyers, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to participate in the largest bar association in the area. I ran and was elected secretary [in 2005]. It was a phenomenal year where I sat at the table with experiencedattorneys who were intimately aware of the challenges facing lawyers.

At that time I was a fairly young lawyer. I had only been practicing for five years. I decided that I needed more experience to contribute to the conversation on the fate of the Bar, the needs of the members, and be an asset in the high-level decision making of the D.C. Bar Board of Governors. For that reason, after serving as secretary I did not run for the Board. I went back to the [BADC] and I moved up through the ranks. I was still involved with the D.C. Bar, however. I was on the Publications Committee [and] the first Strategic Planning Committee, and I was appointed to and served on the Leadership Development Committee. There I chaired the Potential Leaders Subcommittee, which created the John Payton Leadership Academy. After serving as president of the BADC, I felt that I had more experience in the profession and would be able to contribute more to the Board of Governors, and I ran and was elected in 2011.

What did you learn from these experiences serving at the Bar?

Everyone at the D.C. Bar, from the attorneys to the staff to other lawyers that you meet there, puts countless hours and thought into advancing the organization. It's a forward-looking organization that truly strives to meet the current and future needs of its members, and the energy toward fulfilling that goal is palpable.

What do you plan to emphasize as D.C. Bar president?

This is an exciting time for the Bar. We are building our new headquarters, launching broad initiatives through the Global Legal Practice Task Force to reach our members in other countries, and implementing new technology to better communicate with our current members and expedite the process for those seeking to become members. This year, I hope to increase our inclusiveness by extending the D.C. Bar to law students and harnessing the vast knowledge and expertise of senior attorneys. They are a great asset to the Bar and we must keep them involved. Strengthening this pipeline of members and soon-to-be members of the Bar will enable us to serve as a great knowledge resource for our members and help us to maintain our position as one of the premier bar associations in the country. Hopefully this pipeline will also allow us to provide more pro bono assistance.

While there are exciting things happening for the Bar, there are real challenges currently facing residents of the District of Columbia. My goal is to highlight the great work of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center and other legal services providers and actively promote a culture of service throughout the Bar. The District is a wonderful place to work and live;however, growing income inequality, diminishing affordable housing, and skyrocketing bankruptcy filings are resulting in more [people becoming] homeless, unemployed, and in need of pro bono or low bono services. If our 100,000 members, or even just a greater fraction of our members, can spend a few hours at or a few more dollars for the [D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's] Advice and Referral Clinics, or the many other clinics offered, or volunteer with other legal services providers, we can positively affect the District's landscape.

How did the John Payton Leadership Academy come together and why do you feel it's important for Bar members?

The John Payton Leadership Academy was one of D.C. Bar past president Kim Keenan's great initiatives. I was honored to spearhead the team that designed and implemented the Leadership Academy. Our focus was to equip lawyers to "inspire, educate, and lead." More specifically, the Potential Leaders Subcommittee recognized that lawyers often find themselves in positions of leadership within the profession and in their communities. Lawyers serve in churches, on school and condo boards, in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and in various other capacities, and people often look to them for advice and expertise. For this reason we wanted to train lawyers to be great leaders. This program focuses on leadership styles and strengths, communications skills, teamwork and consensus building, conducting effective meetings, problem solving, strategic thinking, [and] civility and professionalism, and also [includes] a day of service with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's Advice and Referral Clinic. The John Payton Leadership Academy is now in its fourth year, and we are proud that the graduates affirm that this experience has benefited them personally and professionally.

Why do you think the Bar should focus on engaging law students and recent graduates?

There are six law schools [with] roughly 7,000 law students here in the District of Columbia, but they are not meaningfully integrated into the Bar. This is a lost opportunity for a few reasons. First, law school faculty and administrators are on the front line of issues that will ultimately affect the Bar—generational perspectives on work–life balance, rising mental health issues, shifting interest areas, professionalism. This information can assist with the Bar's strategic planning.

Second, the Bar could capitalize on the ABA's new accreditation standard that requires law schools to include six credits of experiential learning by coordinating these programs and sending well-trained and well-supervised law students to specific areas in the city. Concentrated efforts will have a greater impact than dispersed programs in working with legal services providers to address the justice gap.

Third, the depth and breadth of our members' knowledge, conveyed through CLEs, can serve as an additional resource for students and supplement their classroom education. Hopefully this would start a lasting relationship where graduates obtain and maintain their D.C. Bar membership no matter where they ultimately practice.

The Bar currently has several wonderful programs that benefit students and graduates. The Lawyer Assistance Program participates in orientations and classes all around the city. It has also helped countless law students and graduates address mental health challenges. Dan Mills' courses—"Basic Training &Beyond," "Successful Small Firm Practice," and the new "Small Firm Lunch and Learn" series—are great free resources for students and attorneys hoping to start and build their law practices.

But with each entering class and the changing law school landscape, there is more to do and learn. I hope to regularly convene members of each of the law schools and begin the conversation on extending the Bar and its resources to the legal academia in an effort to recognize the value and role of law school faculty, students, and administration;address the needs of students;and prepare the Bar for the next generation of lawyers.

What do you look forward to as president of the D.C. Bar?

I am looking forward to serving the D.C. Bar in a larger capacity. I have loved being a member of the Bar and the Bar's Board of Governors, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to serve and represent the organization in additional capacities.

What are some of the challenges you expect to face during your term?

This is an interesting time in the legal profession. Technology is impacting the practice of law, and there is a rise in public use of online, rather than human, legal resources. In addition, globalization is expanding many members' practices and we need to ensure their needs are being met no matter where they are in the world. Finally, the Bar will face contracting membership due to the decreasing number of students entering law school and the aging out of some of our stalwarts of the Bar. The question is how to attract more people to the profession and, more specifically, to the D.C. Bar, and how to harness the experience and knowledge of the stalwarts and keep them engaged after they retire from their practices.

Who have served as your mentors during your career?

I have a family of professional mentors that is strongly rooted in the Jack H. Olender & Associates law firm. The current and former members of that firm regularly support, advise, and celebrate each other. It is undoubtedly my professional home base.

Do you volunteer?

I was raised in a culture of service. As I mentioned, my mom was a teacher;my grandfather, my dad, both of my brothers, and my husband are military;and throughout my life my family reinforced the concept that you really do have to serve the community to make it better for everyone.

When I was a competitive ice skater, I volunteered with the Special Olympics and taught people how to ice skate. Throughout high school and early college, I took sign language classes at Gallaudet and worked at Lions Camp [Merrick] for the deaf in Nanjemoy, Maryland. I taught sign language in college. In law school, I was co-president of the Equal Justice Foundation. After law school, I held a fundraiser at the Kenyan Embassy for the Maji Mazuri Center's water well program.

Throughout my life I have tried to incorporate community service in some way. Now my contributions are through bar associations. I also enjoy volunteering with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's Advice and Referral Clinic, and this year I pledge to attend every single Advice and Referral Clinic.

What do you do to unwind?

I like bar associations and have a lot of friends in them, and when I'm interacting with people that I've known for years and addressing issues that face the community, it's reenergizing.

I also prioritize maintaining relationships with people I've met throughout my life. Every morning before work, I call roughly six people. Two from college, two from law school, and my parents. After work, I talk to people I've known in high school or through other activities, like Lions Camp or the Washington Bar Association. I'm not a big Facebook person—I'm a telephone person!

Reach Jeffery Leon at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JLeonDCBar.