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ABA president, a Tulane alumna, is 2020 law school graduation speaker

January 29, 2020 8:00 AM
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu



The president of the nation’s largest legal organization – the American Bar Association – who also happens to be a Tulane Law School alumna and mentor to students -- will give the keynote address at this year’s graduation ceremonies.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez, who rose from humble roots in St. Bernard Parish to become a first-generation college and law school graduate, a gifted commercial law litigator and leader of the 400,000-plus member behemoth that sets professional rules and policy for the legal profession, will address faculty, students and their families at the May 16 ceremonies.

“Judy has dedicated her career to advancing – and modeling -- the highest ideals of the legal profession,” said Law Dean David Meyer in making the announcement.

“Throughout her career, Martinez has worked tirelessly to promote access to justice,” Dean Meyer said. “We are immensely proud that she will share her message of success and service with our students and their families.”

In August of 2019, Martinez became the first woman from Louisiana to lead the ABA and the first Louisiana lawyer to hold the post in more than a century. 

 A founder of the Pro Bono Project in New Orleans, she has devoted a substantial share of her practice to pro bono work and to advocating for legal services.  Immediately after being sworn in as President-Elect of the ABA in 2018, she flew to Texas and spent a week doing pro bono asylum work and visiting relief centers for arriving migrants.

Martinez has also been a lifelong champion of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, serving on the council of the ABA’s Center on Diversity and on its Commission on Women in the Profession. She has received broad national recognition for her leadership, including the Alliance for Justice Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Law Association and the Michelle Pitard Wynne Professionalism Award from the Association of Women Attorneys. 

She has also served the public and the profession through other key leadership roles, including chairing the ABA’s Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services, the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence; and the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which evaluates all nominees to the federal bench.

Since graduating with honors from Tulane Law in 1982, she has been dedicated to her alma mater, mentoring students and serving on the Law Dean’s Advisory Board.

She recently visited one of the law school’s leadership classes, and told students to remember to “take the generous approach” in their careers.

“When you see something good in someone, tell them. It takes just a second for you to say something, that you believe in someone, and change their life forever,” she said.

And, she reminded students that the true heroes of the profession are the legal aid lawyers and public servants on the frontlines every day. She encouraged a career that brings pro bono service into their work, too.

 “As you go forward, take that risk for something that is bigger than you.”