Ramo, Roberta Cooper
Ramo, Roberta Cooper
Roberta Cooper Ramo, the first woman to be elected president of the American Bar Association (ABA), was a pathbreaker in many ways.
She was also the first ABA president with a technological bent, proselytizing for decades about the need for modern management techniques and computerization in running law firms.
Ramo, the daughter of a Western clothing retailer, was born August 8, 1942, in Denver, Colorado. She graduated from the University of Colorado magna cum laude in 1964. She then entered the University of Chicago Law School, and graduated in 1967.
Ramo and her husband, Barry W. Ramo, were already pursuing their careers in tandem, to balance work and family. They had married while they both were attending the University of Colorado. When she went to law school in Chicago, he took an internship there. When he took a position at a teaching hospital at Duke University, in North Carolina, she ran into a professional wall as a woman lawyer at a time when the number of woman lawyers was still small. "I was unable even to get an interview with a law firm in Durham, Raleigh or Chapel Hill," she said. "I was the only one from my law school class without a job." Ramo's law school dean called a friend in North Carolina, the state's former governor Terry Sanford, to ask for help in finding her a job. As governor, Sanford had convinced the Ford Foundation that it ought to try developing a state foundation for distributing its grants, which led to the creation of the North Carolina Fund. In 1968, Ramo took a Nation Teaching Fellowship at Shaw University in Raleigh. After graduation, she moved with her husband to North Carolina, where she spent a year distributing Ford Foundation grants through a state foundation.
In 1970, Ramo moved to San Antonio, where she began working part-time with the 12-lawyer firm of Sawtelle, Goode, Davidson, and Troilo. She had an 18-month-old child and was seven-months pregnant when she interviewed for the job. Ramo and the law firm entered into an agreement that now is so common that it has a name—flextime. She would go in to the office earlier than most of the other lawyers, about 7:00 a.m., and leave earlier, about 2:00 p.m., taking work home with her. The agreement called for her to be paid two-thirds of what others in the firm were earning.
In 1972, the Ramos moved to Albuquerque, where Roberta had grown up, and she made a similar arrangement with another law firm, where she worked for two years. She then spent three years as a sole practitioner, from 1974 until 1977, before becoming managing partner of Poole, Kelly, and Ramo, still working in a part-time, flextime arrangement. That kind of arrangement continued until the late 1980s, when her youngest child graduated from high school. In 1993, Ramo's firm dissolved amid Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and Ramo then joined the Albuquerque firm of Modrall, Sperling, Roehl, Harris, and Sisk. Her practice has been primarily in the areas of real estate, health, probate, estate planning, and commercial real estate leasing.
Over the years, despite the demands of her family and her own desire to do more than her agreed share of work, Ramo was heavily involved in community activities. She spent six years as a regent for the University of New Mexico; served on the board and executive committee of the Greater Albuquerque chamber of commerce; was a director of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra; and was a board member with numerous other professional and civic organizations. At the same time, Ramo was active in the state bar of New Mexico, chairing its Section of Business, Banking, and Corporations, and was on the board of directors of the Albuquerque Bar Association.
In the early 1970s, Ramo took her enthusiasm about the need for automation and modern management techniques in law firms nationwide, and she wrote what one member of the ABA's board of governors later described as "a revolutionary book," titled How to Create a System for the Law Office. The 1975 book became a best-seller year after year and proved to be the most popular book ever published by the ABA. That work brought Ramo together with Miami lawyer Samuel S. Smith, who had been lecturing around the United States on the same themes. They, along with others, began traveling and lecturing together, doing so for seven years. They eventually cofounded the ABA's Law Practice Management Section.
Having worked her way to prominence within the organization, Ramo made her first run for ABA president in 1991. Only one other woman had run for that office, in 1986, only to withdraw from the race very early when she failed to gain significant support. Ramo's bid became legendary in ABA politics, where it is not unusual for someone to run unopposed for president, and where the vote usually is very quick when it concerns two candidates. For the first time, three contenders were left at the time of the election, and the voting dragged throughout the day to an unprecedented 88 ballots before Ramo finally lost.
Ramo ran again and won in 1995, serving from August of that year to August 1996. The perception and reality of the old-guard tradition in ABA leadership were so strong that a week prior to her election, the New York Times noted that even with two women on the U.S. Supreme Court and two women at the highest level of the Justice Department, "another, perhaps even more formidable barrier" would soon fall, with Ramo's incoming presidency (Feb. 4, 1994).
"Justice is too important a matter to be left to the judges, or even to the lawyers: the American people must think about, discuss, and contribute to the future of their courts."
—Roberta Cooper Ramo
As head of the ABA, Ramo supported a number of initiatives including fighting for the Legal Services Corporation, a federally funded, nonprofit organization that provides legal help to poor persons, and the ABA National Commission on Domestic Violence, which she helped to launch in 1994. She was particularly concerned with First Amendment rights emphasizing the ABA's position against constitutional amendments that would permit school prayer or prohibit flag-burning and other symbols of free speech. After her term as ABA president, Ramo returned to practice at the Modrall law firm. In February 2003, Ramo was appointed by the U.S. Senate to co-chair the committee that will review and suggest changes for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Carter, Terry P. 1994. "Roberta's Rules of Order: Ramo's Path-Breaking Rise to ABA President." Law Practice Management 20.
Eveleth, Janet Stidman. 1996. "Ramo Sets New ABA Direction." Maryland Bar Journal 29.
Goldberg, Stephanie B., and Patricia Gallagher. 1996. "Basking in a Year's Triumphs; Ramo Counts LSC Support, Domestic Violence Awareness Among Achievements." ABA Journal 82.