One year ago today, at 11:27 p.m. Eastern time, I received a text from my long-time friend Kevin O’Keefe, the founder and CEO of LexBlog. It said simply, “Jill just passed surrounded by family holding onto her.”
Jill was Kevin’s wife of 39 years, mother of their five children, a caring nurse for four decades, and, to my memory, a friend in her own right who always greeted me with a welcoming warmth and a broad smile that seemed to stretch beyond the limits of her face.
She was also, as Kevin himself would tell you, a key player in the success of LexBlog, supporting Kevin and their family in so many ways, especially during the company’s early start-up days.
“It is said that the measure of a life is in its impact on others — and by that, Jill Marie Arneson O’Keefe lived a magnificent one, a loving matriarch of a family of seven and a selfless supporter of all she encountered,” her children wrote in a memorial to her.
Her death, of ovarian cancer, came way too early. And, although no one could have known it then, it marked the beginning of a year marked by far too many deaths, including of some involved in the community of legal technology and innovation.
Here are some of the other people we lost this year. No doubt there are others, but these are the ones I know of. Feel free to add others in the comment section below.
Steven R. Adams
In May 2017, Steve Adams, an Ohio criminal defense lawyer who I’d never met, called me out of the blue with an audacious proposal. He wanted to organize what he believed would be the best conference ever for solo and small firm lawyers. And he wanted my help.
He felt that the legal conferences he’d attended weren’t teaching solo and small firm lawyers the skills they needed to start and grow their practices. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and put on his own conference. Nevermind that he’d never organized a conference before.
The conference Steve organized turned out to be, substantively, one of the best conferences of its kind I’d ever attended. In the course of working with him to plan it, I came to know someone with infectious energy, unbridled enthusiasm, instinctive entrepreneurialism, selfless devotion to helping others, and consummate professionalism.
Tragically, in November, Steve, just 55, was killed while bicycling in his hometown of Cincinnati by a hit-and-run driver.
Charles R. Coulter
A lawyer for his entire career in Muscatine, Iowa, Chuck Coulter was also an early innovator and early promoter of the emerging field of law practice management and the use of legal technology.
Chuck was a founder of the Section on Law Practice Management of the American Bar Association and the section’s chair in 1991-1992. He he was named by the ABA Board of Governors to chair the first Coordinating Commission on Legal Technology.
He was also a founding fellow of the College of Law Practice Management in 1994 and president of its board of trustees from 2001 to 2003.
In 2017, the ABA Law Practice Division awarded him its Samuel S. Smith Award, its highest honor, for outstanding lifetime achievement in the field of law practice management.
Chuck died March 24 at the age of 79.
Early in August, one day after the American Bar Association concluded its first-ever virtual annual meeting, the organization’s deputy executive director and general counsel James Dimos suffered a heart attack and died.
Jim joined the ABA in 2015 as deputy executive director, in which role he was second in charge of ABA staff, and took on the additional role of general counsel in 2019.
He was directly responsible for several functional areas of the ABA, including membership, the Professional Services Division, Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, the Center on Public Interest Law, strategy development, and the operations of the ABA’s Chicago and Washington, D.C., offices.
Ralph D. Gants
Ralph D. Gants, who died in September while recuperating from a heart attack, was chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. That would be accomplishment enough. But I include him on this list of deaths from the community of legal tech and innovation for another reason.
Chief Justice Gants was, as the Harvard Law Bulletin said so accurately, “a tireless advocate for access to justice.”
He was co-chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, a body dedicated to ensuring that everyone in the state has access to the justice they deserve. He also served on the board of directors of the Conference of Chief Justices, and was chair of its Access and Fairness Committee.
Representative of who he was, his final hours were spent working on the looming eviction crisis brought on by the COVID 19 crisis, which he said was “the greatest access to justice challenge of our lifetime.”
In her more than a decade as executive director of the Washington State Bar Association, Paula Littlewood achieved international recognition as a leader and innovator.
Paula was one of the driving forces behind the state’s adoption and implementation in 2012 of the Limited License Legal Technician program, a first-of-its-kind initiative to license individuals without a law degree to deliver direct legal assistance.
She went on to serve on the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services from 2014 to 2016 and on the ABA’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, which issued its final report in 2014.
After her death of cancer in December, Washington Supreme Court Justice Barbara A. Madsen, who was chief justice when the court adopted the LLLT rule, said that Paula was a visionary who was “fully dedicated to her profession and the people we help, the public.”
Gayle McCormick O’Connor
Gayle McCormick O’Connor, as I wrote when she died in October, was a stalwart of the legal technology industry, an effervescent life force, the soul mate to her longtime partner Tom O’Connor, and a dear friend to so many people in the legal world and beyond.
A marketing strategist for legal technology companies for much of her career, Gayle was as comfortable standing in a vendor’s booth at a major legal trade show as she was piloting a Harley-Davidson motorcycle through the streets of New Orleans, where she’d lived for the past several years.
If you had ever met Gayle, even once, you would remember her. In the often-staid environment of legal tech, she stood out for her inimitable sense of fashion and style. But what truly made Gayle so special was not her outward appearance, but her inner soul. She was a warm and thoughtful and funny and vivacious person who lived life on her own terms.
Joel A. Rose
Based in Cherry Hill, N.J., Joel Rose was president of Joel A. Rose & Associates, where for 34 years he offered management consulting to the legal profession. He died Feb. 13 after a brief illness.
Rose spoke and wrote extensively on law office management, including as a regular contributor to The Legal Intelligencer in Pennsylvania.
Before founding his own firm in 1987, Joel provided legal management consulting for 21 years at the firm Cantor & Company.
He was elected a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management in 1995 and served for many years as chair of the Finance and Management Subcommittee of the New York State Bar Association.
Anita Carr Shapiro
As the first woman president in the 87-year history of the Practicing Law Institute, Anita Carr Shapiro was a creative and energetic leader who was devoted to developing outstanding programs, publications and pro bono resources for the legal community.
She was also a warm and gracious friend and colleague to many. I will always remember the subzero day in Manhattan in February 2019 when Kevin O’Keefe and I made the bone-chilling trudge from Legalweek at the New York Hilton to PLI’s offices to visit her. The warmth and hospitality she showed us more than made up for the cold.
A litigator before joining PLI, she served that organization for many years as a program attorney and director and executive vice president of its program division before becoming executive director. In 2018, the College of Law Practice Management elected her a fellow.
Anita died in September.