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Bill Paul is just knotting his tie as I arrive to meet him in his hotel suite overlooking Hyde Park in London. He may be the outgoing president of the 400,000 strong American Bar Association, but he is as busy as ever. Tall, earnest and white-haired in his grey suit, he is every inch the elder statesman of the profession he has been leading for the last year. “I love to work,” he says. “My wife tells me ‘You are going to die with the telephone glued to your ear’,” he adds with a chuckle. Since our conversation is punctuated with no less than four phone calls, this seems possible. Adopting a more serious tone he says: “I hope it’s because a part of me needs to make a contribution and be involved and not be limited by selfish interests. Also, the firm I joined has a rich tradition of service to the profession so I had plenty of role models.” OKLAHOMA! Paul is referring to Oklahoma’s largest firm, Crowe & Dunlevy, which he joined in 1957. Now a partner, he left the firm for 11 years in 1985 to join Phillips Petroleum Company as senior vice-president and general counsel. “The scope of that company’s legal affairs was huge and I thought it would be like having two careers. It was an opportunity and a challenge,” he says As a trial lawyer, he says, “you make hard decisions every day.” But it was at Phillips, he says, that his mettle was tested most — particularly when the company suffered the worst accident in the petrochemical industry’s history: a plastics plant exploded, killing 24 people and injuring hundreds more. The damage ran into billions of dollars and nursing the company back to health took five years of Paul’s life. But the proudest moment of his career was managing the 1,100 lawsuits and leaving Phillips in fine form. He cannot remember a time when he did not want to be a lawyer. The career path runs in his family — his father was a lawyer, his uncle a lawyer and a judge. “There is nothing finer than seeing a good lawyer at work: they’re bright, quick, intellectual. It’s a professional marvel and good entertainment when you capture the dynamism of the courtroom experience,” he says. Paul has, however, seen something of life outside the law: after leaving Oklahoma University, he saw two years’ active service with the Marine Corp in Korea. “It’s wonderful training. You learn responsibility, discipline � what duty means,” he says. THE PRESIDENCY On his term as ABA president Paul says: “There are two kinds of issues; those that confront you and those that you create and pursue with aggressive action.” Into the former category falls multi-disciplinary practices (MDP’s) — lawyers sharing profits with non-lawyers — which he calls “the major internal issue facing the profession” during his term. He declines to take a stance either way on the issue but at the New York section of the ABA conference last week, the 535-member House of Delegates decided MDP’s were “inconsistent with the core values of the legal profession”. “But the centrepiece of my presidency is the question of increasing racial and ethnic diversity at all levels of the profession. The demographics are screaming out for this to be done,” he says. Currently 92 percent of the profession is white, while the US as a whole is 30 percent of ethnic origin. A recent ABA study shows that the latter statistic will rise to 50 percent over the next 40 years, says Paul. “The legal profession is the operating machinery of the justice system. The profession must reflect the society it serves. It is the link between the people and the Rule of Law.” To that end, Paul and his law firm have set up a number of scholarships for students in minority groups. They exceeded the target of $1M after only five month’s fundraising, to Paul’s evident delight. But isn’t the US over-lawyered? “Yes,” says Paul candidly. “There are somewhat too many in the current environment. But some lawyers are under-utilized and there remain unmet legal needs.” Somewhere along the line, he says, the justice system is not matching resources with needs. The other pressing issue of his term in office, which Paul stresses his successor will pursue with equal fervour, is a moratorium on the death penalty. Standards of due process and fairness must be in place before the state takes a life, he says. THE FUTURE Having devoted countless hours over the years to ABA committees, the Oklahoma Bar, the Center for Public Resources, the Institute for Dispute Resolution and civic responsibilities, Paul — a father of four — now plans to allow himself some time “for discretionary things, like seeing my grandchildren”. Ever the attorney, he also wants to focus on arbitration and mediation work at Crowe & Dunlevy. What advice would he give to his good friend, incoming ABA President Martha Barnett? “She’s a wonderful leader � she doesn’t need my advice,” he says. After reflection, however, he adds: “Martha, there are 100 things you could do, all of great value. But you’ve only got one year. Concentrate on four or five and try to make a difference.”

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