Maria Z. Vathis is of counsel at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP in Chicago, IL. She is also the current President of the Federal Bar Association, an organization she has been a member of since the beginning of her legal career. Maria began service to the FBA as a Board Member in 2012-2015. Her term began in October 2018 and is a one-year term.

Newest President of the Federal Bar Association

Maria Z. Vathis, President of the Federal Bar Association
Maria Z. Vathis, President of the Federal Bar Association. Photo courtesy of Laura Orrico Public Relations.

The Federal Bar Association (FBA) was founded in 1920 with 438 members and is committed to “the advancement of the science of jurisprudence and to promoting the welfare, interests, education, and professional development of all attorneys involved in federal law.” As president, Maria upholds these principles and presents an example of leadership that is not only inspiring for FBA members, but also for young women who look to pursue a career in the legal profession. She is one of only 10 women in the organization’s 99 year history to have assumed the role of president and one of the three youngest to serve.

When asked about leading as a woman, Maria says, “It has been an honor. I believe I was the right woman at the right time and that we are likely to see more women continue to serve in these types of leadership roles in the future.”

Winning Battles for Diversity

Maria Z. Vathis (center) at Hellenic Bar Association Ball 2018. Photo courtesy of Elios Photography.

With more than 19,000 member lawyers and judges across the country, the FBA stands alone as the premiere membership for those in federal practice. The organization’s membership is diverse and their programs reflect that diversity including a very tempered response to the #MeToo movement and sexual assault against women, and education for those in the legal profession about Native American treaty rights and tribal law at the Indian Law Conference.

There are some issues where the FBA remains neutral and allows the process play itself out in the courts. There are also others where they do not render an opinion on as a matter of practice, so as not to taint the justice system.

On their website, there are issues they do have an opinion on as an organization. One of those is immigration where they support the establishment of immigration courts because there is a need. As for the laws governing those courts, that is best left to the branches of governments tasked with making those laws.

Leading Beyond the FBA

Maria’s stride comes, not just in talking about the FBA as an organization, but what it gives back and the many outreach projects she gets to work on in Chicago and across the nation. These include chairing the Audit Committee and Convention Committee, chairing the Social Events Committee for the 100-Year Anniversary Planning Committee, judging the Annual Civics Essay Contest, and hosting a series of mock trials where Chicago students get to have lunch with lawyers, talk to them about the legal profession and to see what happens in a real courtroom. This is perhaps the thing she is most passionate about: civics education.

“Not everyone can name the three branches of government. It wasn’t always that way. So, it is nice to see these young people excited about learning the three and what each does as co-equal branches.”

Maria Z. Vathis

The FBA, says Maria, also has some interesting niche conferences coming up, including the Fashion Law Conference and the Art Law Conference. The FBA will have its Annual Meeting and Convention for members in September in Tampa. To learn more about the FBA, visit their website. To learn more about Maria Z. Vathis read her profile on the FBA website.

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This article was originally published by GREY Journal.