Bill Gates, Sr. to Receive ABA’s Highest Honor
William H. Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been chosen by the American Bar Association to receive its highest honor, the ABA Medal. He will receive the award during the meeting of the ABA House of Delegates at the ABA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago on August 3.
“It will be a true honor to present the ABA Medal to Bill Gates, Sr.,” said ABA President H. Thomas Wells, Jr. “Not only has he been a leader in the legal profession, he also has distinguished himself in the field of philanthropy and found a new career as an author, both pursuits begun after his retirement from the law. He is known as a ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ among his colleagues, a civic force in his native Seattle area and a benevolent friend to disadvantaged people around the world.”
The ABA Medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer to the cause of American jurisprudence.
In nominating Gates for the medal, several prominent ABA members described him as “a learned lawyer who always knew there was more to the profession than just serving your clients well. He knew that (lawyers) have a responsibility to give something back to the community and to the justice system.” Another colleague said, “Bill is the personification of professionalism and the standard for unselfish, tireless dedication to justice and community service.”
Gates grew up in a middle-class family in Bremerton, WA, just across the Puget Sound from Seattle. He attended public schools and became active in Scouting, achieving the Boy Scouts of America’s highest rank of Eagle Scout. He served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines and Japan during World War II and returned to college and law school at the University of Washington under the GI Bill.
Gates’ legal career began working in private practice and serving part-time as City Attorney for Bremerton. He joined a prominent Seattle law firm, and after 12 years in practice he formed a new firm with two partners. As managing partner, Gates helped grow the firm and today it is known as K&L Gates, one of the world’s largest law firms with 1900 lawyers in 32 offices. Gates retired from the firm, then known as Preston Gates & Ellis, in 1998 after 48 years in the practice of law.
During his five decades of practice, Gates served the profession at every opportunity. He has been president of the Seattle-King County Bar Association, the Washington State Bar Association and the National Conference of Bar Presidents. In the ABA, Gates served 13 years in the policy-making House of Delegates and gave particular service in promoting excellence in the judiciary as a member of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary and a trustee of the National Center for State Courts, and in improving legal scholarship as a member of the ABA Commission on Public Understanding About the Law and of the visiting committees of both his alma mater and the University of Puget Sound Law School.
While an active practitioner, Gates also devoted time and energy to many causes, including access to justice, diversity in the profession and improving practice skills. Long before federal funding for legal services, Gates served on the Seattle Legal Aid Bureau and remained involved in access issues as recently as 2007 when he co-chaired the Washington Campaign for Equal Justice. Throughout his career, Gates worked to open the doors of the profession to young lawyers, women and minorities and helped start the Minority Law Student Program at UW Law School. Known as a national authority on lawyer professional liability, Gates steered the ABA in the direction it still follows, led by its Standing Committee on Lawyer Professional Liability.
While practicing law and working for the betterment of his profession, Gates was also working on behalf of the larger society. The recipient of many awards and much recognition for public service, Gates has worked on the local and national levels for such organizations as Planned Parenthood, United Way and the Initiative for Global Development. His greatest contribution, however, may have been the spirit of public service that he and his late wife, Mary, instilled in their children, which led ultimately to the establishment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private philanthropic institution. Today, as co-chair with his son and daughter-in-law, Gates is a strong advocate and benefactor of causes such as health, poverty and education in countries around the world.
Gates is also an author and recently published the book, “Showing Up for Life: Thoughts on the Gifts of a Lifetime.” He previously co-authored, with Chuck Collins, “Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes.”
The ABA Medal is given only in years when the ABA Board of Governors determines a nominee has provided exceptional and distinguished service to the law and the legal profession. Among previous recipients are legendary justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Frankfurter, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy. Other recipients include Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, human rights activist Father Robert Drinan and Judge Patricia Wald, member of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.