Janet Jakubowicz named Louisville Bar Association president and profiled in Bar Briefs
Meet the President
As a new year dawns, the Louisville Bar Association welcomes its 2008 President, Janet P. Jakubowicz, who will lead us over the next twelve months. An LBA member since 1982, Janet has a long history of service to our organization, having served on the Executive Committee for the last three years as President-Elect, Vice-President/Treasurer and Secretary, respectively. She has previously served on the Board of Directors and chaired the Member Services Committee, among other activities.
Janet is a member of Greenebaum Doll & McDonald and chairs the firm’s teams on Class Action Defense, Appellate Practice, Covenant Not to Compete and Trade Secrets, Intellectual Property and Securities. She received her Juris Doctor from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1982.
Janet recently sat down with LBA Executive Director Scott Furkin to talk a little about her personal journey and her thoughts about the legal profession.
Can you tell us a little about your family history?
My parents are European—my father is Polish, my mother is German—so I am first generation. In 1957, they came to the United States with two suitcases, two children and one on the way. They didn’t realize that I was the one on the way! They went first to Philadelphia where their sponsoring family was, but my father had a friend in Louisville who told him about a job so he came here and went to work for Ford Motor Company. Later my mother joined him and I was born here. I have an older sister, Bluma, and an older brother, Ben. My parents, Abe and Frieda, are both still alive and we consider ourselves very fortunate to have grown up and lived in the United States.
Have you and your family been back to Poland or Germany?
We traveled to Poland as a family in 1992. My father is a Holocaust survivor and it was the first time he’d gone back in 50 years. We went to Buchenwald, where my father was liberated, and to Treblinka, where he lost his mother and little brother. And we went to Auschwitz, where he had spent several months during the War. We also went to his hometown, where he was raised—a small town outside of Warsaw called Piotrkow. The building his family had lived in was still there, but is now owned by the government. There was an older woman living there and after we had gained her trust, she let us come into the apartment. She still had the same cooking stove that had been my grandmother’s. It was a very touching and emotional for all of us, but especially my father.
So you’re a native Louisvillian?
Yes, I’m a product of our public schools. I graduated from Fern Creek High School and later the University of Louisville, majoring in political science.
And you’re married?
Yes, my husband, Kevin Crawford, and I were high school sweethearts. But we wanted to make sure we knew one another really well so we dated for 11 years! We both got our educations first—I went to the University of Kentucky College of Law and my husband went to optometry school in Memphis.
You retained your maiden name?
Yes, it was a decision I made before I got married. I loved my name and I didn’t want to give it up—it is my heritage. It was important to me and my husband knew it.
What sparked your interest in becoming a lawyer?
This may sound trite, but growing up in the ‘60s I watched Perry Mason and I wanted to be just like him. No one in my family had graduated from college and I had no lawyers as role models, but I just thought I would love doing what Perry Mason did. I considered being a teacher or a journalist, but by my sophomore year in high school I had settled on a career in law.
Perry Mason handled mostly criminal cases. Did you fancy yourself as a criminal defense lawyer?
(Laughing) Absolutely not.
Perry Mason was also a man. When you were growing up, there weren’t as many women lawyers as there are now. Was that an impediment for you?
I didn’t know the difference. It never even occurred to me that there were any barriers.
As you made you way through college and law school and entered the legal profession, did you encounter barriers?
I don’t believe so. I came to Greenebaum Doll & McDonald right after law school and at that time it had more women partners than any other law firm in Louisville. So by the time I arrived, many of the women pioneers had already broken down a lot of barriers. If I encountered any issues, it was more when I traveled to the smaller towns in Kentucky to practice. And I can’t say it was because I was a female so much as it was because I was from Louisville and I was younger. I think that made it more difficult to be taken seriously, but I never got the impression it was because of my gender.
What do you like to do for recreation or to let off steam?
I “try” to exercise. I love to read. I have two children—Jacob who is 19 and a Jessica who is 15—and when they were younger, trying to juggle work and family, I stopped doing some of the things that used to be hobbies. Now I’m at that age where my children are getting old enough and I’m going to have to reinvent myself a little bit.
You continued to practice full-time while raising a family. Did that present any particular challenges to you as a lawyer?
(Laughing) Are you kidding?! If any woman tells you it’s a breeze, she’s lying. It is a real challenge. I could say I made it work because I’m so organized, but that’s not true. The reason I’ve been able to do it is that I have a great husband and a wonderful supportive network in my parents and my husband’s parents who all live here in town. So I tell the young women who are trying to do it all that they have to have a strong support network. Because there will come the time when your husband will say, “I have a meeting,” and you’ll say, “I have a deposition,” and the baby will be sick. That’s when the stresses really come into play. You’ve got to have that safety net of people to help you out. I’ve been very blessed to have that.
How did you get involved in bar association activities and what has been your experience over the years?
I first became involved by working on the LBA’s Professional Responsibility Committee, which used to be the investigative arm for the Kentucky Bar Association. We investigated all disciplinary complaints against Jefferson County lawyers. We would do the fact-finding and supply the information to the KBA and they would take it to the next level.
So you interviewed witnesses?
Yes, but it wasn’t just me. We had a wonderful group of lawyers who served on the Committee. We’d each get assigned a particular complaint and it fell to us to interview the lawyer involved and any other witnesses we felt were appropriate as well as getting all the documents that were necessary to address the complaint. We would first present our findings to the Committee and then make a written report with recommendations to the KBA. It was all kept very confidential. But I think we provided a great service to the KBA. We would sometimes spend 30–40 hours investigating a complaint and we had the volunteers to do it. Since the KBA disbanded that program, it must be a tremendous task. Even though they’ve increased the number of lawyers in Frankfort, they don’t have the ability hour-wise to do what we were able to do.
How many years into practice were you when you began doing that?
Probably about 10 years. That’s when I first got involved with the LBA. From there it evolved to serving on the Member Services Committee and then on the Board of Directors. Ultimately I was fortunate enough to be asked to become an officer.
What is the nature of your law practice?
Primarily business litigation. I concentrate in particular areas such as class actions, securities and RICO litigation. I also represent a number of brokerage firms. While I get into the courtroom, I also handle a number of arbitrations because brokerage firms tend to more cases arbitrated.
Beyond the LBA, are you involved in any other law-related activities?
I am actively involved with the Louis D. Brandeis Inns of Court, which is a group of lawyers and judges whose goals include promoting civility and professionalism amongst the bar. Our members include lawyers from all levels of practice as well as law students. I’m also a trial commissioner appointed by the Kentucky Supreme Court. I conduct evidentiary hearings in lawyer disciplinary matters at which the KBA and the lawyer involved both put on their proof; then I make recommendations to the Inquiry Tribunal as to whether or not there has been any violation of ethical rules. I have been doing that for a number of years. I used to have aspirations of being a judge. Having gone through that, I now understand and appreciate how difficult a judge’s role is.
Have you seen any changes in the types of complaints that are made against lawyers over the years?
Unfortunately, it’s the ones that could be easily corrected—not communicating with clients, taking on practice areas that you’re not trained in and simply not being responsive.
Each LBA president seems to have areas of special interest. What are yours?
I’m interested in programming for lawyers in transition—for example, older lawyers slowing down, new lawyers trying to get a foothold in the profession, lawyers with mental health issues. I also believe we have to be aware of trends in the profession so we continue to attract young lawyers—especially those from diverse backgrounds—to join the LBA.
What do you anticipate will be the focus of your year as LBA president?
I hope to work with the Board in developing a strategic plan for the future. We last did this 5–6 years ago and it’s time we revisited the process. We have so much going for us and I just want to see us build upon the great foundation we already have.
D. Scott Furkin, Executive Director
Louisville Bar Association