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Asked and Answered: Karen Lockwood

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This month, “Asked and Answered” went straight to the top to put someone in the hot seat: NITA’s own Executive Director, Karen Lockwood—and not a moment too soon, either. After a successful, gratifying career as a D.C. trial lawyer and five years guiding the tiller at NITA, Karen will be retiring at the end of this month. With her interests wide-ranging and her to-do list extensive, Karen is a veritable Renaissance woman who’s saved the best years for last. If she’s anything like the other adventuresome sorts we’ve all known throughout our lives, she will be even busier in her retirement than she was during her years hard at work. We hope you’ll join us in thanking Karen for her service and great “NITA-Love,” and wish her an abundance of joy, rest, play, and good health in the coming years. (And Karen, don’t be a stranger, ok? NITA loves its volunteers!)

What accomplishment during your five years as Executive Director made you happiest?
Do I have to decide? We did many things in those five years, focusing on NITA’s strength. So it gets hard to isolate the “most happy.” But here is my answer. I chose three principles for the theme of my first annual meeting of NITA’s Program Directors: Quality, Content, Engagement. They were right for that time—happy enough. Even more happily, they have remained central to who NITA is today, why we excel through change, and how we will excel into the future. But most happily, it turns out that I can continue to be happy about them: the staff embedded those as the Core Drivers in NITA’s 2017 Operating Plan. They live on in the 2018 Operating Plan as well. An Executive Director strives to focus on our truest needs and strongest imperatives, and it is gratifying that these imperatives continue to inspire.

Can you talk a bit about the trial work you did in D.C.?
My commercial trial practice included trials, federal appeals, and SCOTUS briefs. I love this practice! If you think about a giant hotel burning on New Year’s Eve, with deaths and rooftop evacuations (arson, Puerto Rico), IBMs designing and building its first semiconductor plant (fast-track design, Burlington Vermont), the value of the eastern railroad properties that the U.S. carved up to create Conrail and Amtrak (trial before a remote, one-time federal court), and trial-testing a merger of the four largest drug wholesalers into two, then you have an idea of some of my most visible cases. Think of an amicus brief on handicap accommodations on cruise ships (for winning side, SCOTUS), Medicaid for persons with disabilities (Texas, Fifth Circuit), and child support/divorce repping an indigent mother (D.C.), you have an idea of my pro bono work. Starting with posing the questions in two-week expert depos in my first year, moving to my first jury trial for four weeks as lead, it has been learning-by-doing. Learning early—but not too early—from NITA built a strong base for courtroom instincts and conference room foresight. That was the right way to do it!

How did it lead you to meet “The NITA Tribe”?
You know that I talk about us as the most inclusive tribe in the U.S. And yes, that is exactly how I met NITA. A colleague who started practice with me at Hogan—he after his clerkship and I after my JD—waltzed into my office that first year and asked, “When are you taking your NITA program?” (It was 1978.) “What is NITA?” I responded. There began my anticipation. I got ready, with some deposition and trial work already accomplished. It was up to me and timing was perfect.

The Tribe took it from there. Progressively, a suggestion that I teach, an invitation to fill in as faculty at a custom program, a formal invitation to join the deposition faculty, then onto the faculty roster and eventually program director of the D.C. Trial Program. It was like a drumbeat of learning/teaching/loving NITA. No matter how busy, my vacation plans always started with the NITA commitment. When the Executive Director position came along, it continued to be NITA-Love.

That is still how you join in. It starts with taking a program. Meeting us. Joining us.

What do you think you’ll do on your first morning of retirement?
Run and lift weights, for as long as I wish instead of as long as I have! Follow with a hot protein breakfast. If weather holds, fill the gas tank, pick up a friend, and explore parts of the Front Range I have not seen yet. Ahhh . . . sounds good to us all, I’m sure!

Looking farther down the road, what opportunities are you most looking forward to in your retirement?
I thrive on making change, for communities and professions. Retirement is often described to be when one can “volunteer.” But I see it differently. It is that period when the 99 things you would like to have done along the way are open for you to pick up and do. Some 14 of those 99 things are still on my mind. So I’m looking forward to making a difference in the lives, politics, and hope of people. That may touch diversity training; women professionals striving for success; non-profits and small businesses; democracy and the courts and the vote; students from high school on who may love NITA someday; and avocations like singing, fiber arts, cooking, and fun with family. (That is 9 of 14!). I have no idea how they fit together. But I will take them on as a retired person bringing new ideas to the table. It starts with three months to gaze without decision or plan at how they intersect, what is possible, and how to start. Sound like fun? Keep in touch:

You’ve got a fiber arts workshop set up in your garage at home. What exactly is that, and what do you do? (I know: “Objection, compound question.” #sorrynotsorry)
Yeah, you know those three months? I will set up and dwell in that creative studio. The loom still bears a tartan plaid I warped onto it a number (ahem) of years ago. Fabrics for costumes and more sit in the attic back at my Shenandoah Valley farm. The skill of tatting is in notes written to my grandmother’s description. (Ok, I probably will never “tat.”) Get to work, Karen! What better way to let the brain settle and ambitions meld for three months?

What was your dream job as a kid?
Looking back, every dream revolved around changing things for the better, writing, and connecting with smart people. Thanks to distant relatives’ stories about China, there was the early embodiment of “I want to be a missionary,” but I figured out that was a child’s vocabulary. (May I go beyond the “kid” in your question?) In high school, it was journalism, thanks to many 2 a.m. nights as the high school newspaper editor, getting to decide how bold The Tunlaw could be in 1967–68 (so much material at hand!!). The odds of making a living seemed better with medical school, since I entered college with a jump on science and math. Finally, Urban Studies off-campus, plus Kent State (near my Ohio college), cemented my focus on law.

We lawyers make change. We write. We connect with smart people. Voilà! What luck for me.

During what moments in life do you feel most at ease and in your element?
Laughing with fun and daring people, sharing stories, and challenging each other!

What is one activity you do every day without fail?
Eat. At least one square meal. (Awaiting your question about a certain drink.)

People are surprised that you . . .
Sing in a choir, play classical piano, and cry at symphonies.

How would you spend a million dollars?
Start an awesome non-profit that educates communities to engage with each other in teaching why democracy works. Education. Freedom of speech. Talking with those “unlike” us.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Omnipresence! (Wow, that feels sacrilegious.) (Web 3.0?)

What could men learn from women?
Wisdom. That is, self-restraint of the type that observes, encourages others to contribute, balances, and thus leads with the future in mind. (P.S., I am a woman.)

What could women learn from men?
Aggression. That is, “using power,” which really amounts to what can feel like aggression of the sort that might halt progress. We can figure this out, but it takes a few good women to lean in together. (P.S., I am a woman.)

For all of us—me, too—I would say we need to learn about the “other,” no matter the gender.

iPhone or Android?
iPhone. It made no difference that one of my law partners in the mid-’90s preached constantly about his “user-friendly” Mac. He demonstrated. He extolled. He bragged. We had to start meeting in my office to shorten the meetings. But when the second-gen iPhone promised entry into a connected system of computers and devices, I converted business and to the Apple platform. Still there. Still great. Still simple.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee. COFFEE!! Why do I have so many teas at home? Perhaps my friends are living by example, hoping to teach me better ways.

Early bird or night owl?
Both. Sometimes in seriatim, sleep being what it is.

Winter or summer?
. . . (thinking . . ) . . . Summer, I guess. The possibilities—fly-fishing, hiking, river trips, colorful vistas for photography, farm gatherings under a large maple tree with horseshoes nearby, laconic laughter into the night, movies shown on the wide white garage door . . . . (I can hear “Someone make her stop!!” among your readers!) But winter . . . . people willing to gather indoors to exchange their best selves. That, too.

Eat in or dine out?
Out! No matter how much we love to cook and bake, what’s better than dinner with friends and new menus?

Asking questions or answering questions?
Asking, for sure. First, to know what occupies someone’s attention in the moment. Second, to talk about something interesting to that person. It’s easy to think that one’s own thoughts are fascinating when we are (a) old (seasoned), (b) lawyers (hard-charging), or (c) well-traveled (with important friends). Truth is, our society is quite transactional—we connect with people who can get us something. If I want to make a difference in the moment, I try to start with questions immediately after “hello.” I constantly try to be better at this . . . .

Finally, what’s your motto?
If you build it, they will come.

Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate. Incoming Executive Director Wendy McCormack is a great one to start with.

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