On any given day, Linda Klein '80 can find herself trying a complex civil litigation case in an Atlanta courtroom or enjoying a catfish dinner on the Oconee River while speaking to lawyers from the Ocmulgee Circuit Bar Association.
Such is life for the first female officer of the State Bar of Georgia.
Klein began her climb up the Georgia Bar Association's ladder in 1990 when she was elected to the Board of Governors. “It's just so easy to make a difference,” Klein says of
her work for the state bar.
Four years later, Klein had become accustomed to the feeling of making a difference and wanted to take her work for the bar to the next level. She decided to run for the office of
secretary even though a race for secretary had not been contested in fourteen years and she faced an opponent who declared his candidacy several months after she did.
No matter-Klein won, and won big, taking nearly two-thirds of the vote.
“If you work hard, show you want to help, and
take the time to meet people and listen to their problems, they'll vote for you,” Klein says of last year's campaign. “I'd get in my car at 6 a.m. to make it to a breakfast in Macon with a group of lawyers there, then head to Albany (Ga.) for lunch. Then I'd eat catfish dinner with another group. I'd listen to what they had to say, and even if I didn't agree with them, I'd be honest with them and hope they would respect me for that.”
Georgia has 26,000 practicing lawyers, many with small practices in remote rural areas. Klein has developed programs to encourage lawyers to reach out and help people in their communities.
She also has a keen interest in reform of the juvenile justice system in a state that she says has a shortage of beds for teenage offenders and not enough prevention programs.
“Mostly the state has responded by trying to provide more beds,” she says. “Since we know that preventing truancy is the first step in stopping juvenile crime, we are trying to expand a program that intervenes when kids
start to become truants.”
Despite spending what an estimated 1,500 hours a year on bar-related activities, Klein squeezes as much time as she can into her private practice at the Atlanta law firm of Gambrell and Stolz. It helps that she puts in seven-day work weeks and sixteen-hour workdays. During a typical workday last month, Klein spent nearly eight hours at the executive committee meeting of the state bar. Afterwards, she returned to her office for twenty minutes to work on two client matters, then addressed the Georgia Association of Black Women Lawyers during its conference on legal difficulties for women and children with AIDS. Finally, she arrived at home at 8 p.m. and began several hours worth of work for one of her clients.
“Then I woke up the next morning at 6 a.m. and started all over again,” she says.
Her civil practice includes everything from personal injury cases to complex construction litigation.
After a government-owned A-7 airplane crashed into a suburban Atlanta apartment building in 1988, killing a mother and injuring her daughter, Klein represented the daughter in her suit against the government that also included what she calls a “complex custody battle.”
The government admitted responsibility for the crash but refused to compensate the daughter for her loss. The case settled before going to trial. Though the details of the settlement remain sealed, she says the case was settled “on a satisfactory basis for the little girl.”
Trying to help people is the bottom line, Klein says when asked if there is a common theme that runs through all of her work. “As a lawyer, you have to remember that the most beneficial result for your client isn't always the one that costs the most to get there.”
Klein says she doesn't have any interest in pursuing a political career. °I just want to serve my clients and serve my profession,” she says.