By Lori AthertonSeptember 24, 2019
One of Patricia Lee (Trish) Refo's first trips as president-elect of the American Bar Association (ABA) was to visit an immigration detention center along the Texas border with ABA President Judy Perry Martinez, where they met with lawyers "who are deeply involved with the immigration crisis." It was an opportunity for Refo to see firsthand how lawyers are addressing the issue on the front lines.
Meeting with both lawyers and law students throughout the country is what Refo wants to do more of as president-elect, a role she assumed in August during the ABA's annual meeting. "This is an extraordinary opportunity to serve our profession," said Refo, '83, who will take over as ABA president next August. "I am humbled and incredibly excited as I embark upon what I know is going to be personally a very meaningful journey."
As president-elect, Refo will work closely with the ABA president to advance the goals of the organization and serve as a resource for lawyers across the nation. Issues they will address over the next year range from the rule of law and lawyer wellness to diversity and inclusion and voting rights. With 2020 marking the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, "we'll be doing a great deal of programming over the course of the year related to voting rights and the importance of exercising the right to vote," Refo said.
A longtime member of the ABA—the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world—Refo said she has formed enriching professional and personal relationships through the organization, and calls it "a great place for someone who loves being a lawyer." She has held numerous leadership positions within the ABA, most recently as chair of its House of Delegates. She also has served as chair of the Section of Litigation, the ABA's largest practice group, and as chair of the Standing Committee on Membership, among other roles.
A partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, Refo focuses on complex commercial litigation and internal investigations and chairs the firm's Professional Liability Litigation Group. She said she loves practicing law, for the main reason that she has an opportunity to help others. "At our core, lawyers help people, and what higher calling can there be to help people?," she asked. "When I was on the Texas border [last month], talking with lawyers who work with detainees and their children, I was reminded again of the power of lawyers to help people and make a difference in their lives."
What made a difference for Refo was attending Michigan Law, where being taught by Professors John Reed, Jerry Israel, and Ted St. Antoine—whom she calls "legends of the law"—gave her the fundamentals to succeed in the profession. "The foundation for everything I am doing came from Michigan Law School," Refo said. "My experience during my three years there formed me and has been the foundation of my professional career, including whatever success I've had at the American Bar Association. Go Blue!"
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