The time spent by the general counsel of the Boy Scouts of America as a young scout and adult volunteer led him to merge his profession with his passion. The national organization, based outside Dallas, was so impressed by Mathews’s volunteer efforts that they offered him the job of deputy general counsel in 2002. Mathews hesitated. “Eventually, I decided the best way I could serve scouting was as a professional.”
A prospective employer once asked Richard Mathews to name a challenge he’d overcome. Mathews could have told a story from his years as a state prosecutor in Flint, Michigan. Instead, he described how, as a teen, he conquered his own fears, performed a mock water rescue, and won the merit badge for lifesaving.
Mathews reveres the Boy Scouts of America. He credits his involvement with giving him the confidence to try jury cases — a skill that eventually landed him an in-house job at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan. As an adult, he spent his weekends volunteering with the Boy Scouts, even after his two sons grew out of the program.
The national organization, based outside Dallas, was so impressed by Mathews’s volunteer efforts that they offered him the job of deputy general counsel in 2002. Mathews hesitated. He’d have to relocate his family. He’d also be taking a pay cut. “I prayed on that decision,” says Mathews. “Eventually, I decided the best way I could serve scouting was as a professional.”
We chatted with Mathews, now general counsel, about what happens when you merge your profession with your passion.
Describe some interesting legal issues you face.
There’s a bit of trusts and estates law, because people make charitable donations. I remember one trust involved mineral rights and oil rights, so it literally took 20 years to get resolved. Some trusts even implicate water rights claims and claims by Native American tribes. I also get a lot of calls from leaders of our 300 or so regional councils around the country with corporate governance questions.
The Boy Scouts prohibit atheists and agnostics from becoming members, and also prohibit openly gay men from leadership positions. Do you advise the organization of the First Amendment implications of its policies?
I advise on those issues, and I also help with external communications about our membership policies. We try to help people understand that, as part of a private membership organization, our members have a constitutional right to freedom of association, and that these policies are what most of our members want. Smaller organizations probably don’t have the wherewithal to defend that position. We’re actually seeing fewer disputes over these policies than we used to.
Has anything surprised you?
As a volunteer, you see all the good things. When I went in-house, I was surprised by some of the claims that scouting families bring. I didn’t expect people to sue over such things. We’ve really become more litigious as a society.
What are the Boy Scouts like when they’re litigants?
One of the most important things the Boy Scouts has is its goodwill. When we have a claim or mediation, I bring a human feel to it. I try to show our compassion and understanding. It’s refreshing to be part of that kind of organization. But it’s also a challenge, because there are business aspects to what we do.
During tougher times in the job, it can be wonderful to do some volunteering. I still sit on the board that reviews Eagle Scout candidates. It’s not really a test. It’s more of a review of what they’ve done. You get to know this kid. And I always leave feeling invigorated. It reaffirms to me that we are making a difference.
Jan Wolfe writes for Corporate Counsel, a Daily Report affiliate.