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Obituaries

Robert D. Raven, 80; Headed American Bar Assn.

August 20, 2004|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Robert D. Raven, a corporate litigator and former president of the American Bar Assn., who fought to bring ethnic and gender diversity to his firm, Morrison & Foerster, as well as to his profession at large, and was a vocal champion of legal services for the poor, died at his home Saturday in the Northern California town of Moraga. He was 80 and had Alzheimer's disease.

Raven joined Morrison & Foerster as an antitrust litigator in 1952, when it had one office, in San Francisco, and 16 lawyers. He eventually rose to chairman of the firm, which largely because of his efforts became one of the world's largest, with more than 1,000 lawyers in 19 offices from Los Angeles to Beijing.

He was also known as an invigorating leader of lawyers -- he was president of the Bar Assn. of San Francisco in 1971, co-president of the State Bar of California in 1981 and president of the ABA in 1988 -- who helped change the direction of those organizations from clubby trade associations into activist groups.

A self-described "maverick within the system," Raven was known for his advocacy of affordable justice. He defended the Legal Services Corp., the federal agency that funds Legal Aid, when its support was threatened in 1981 by Reagan administration proposals. Earlier, he led the state bar's drive to uphold support for California Rural Legal Assistance, an advocacy group for farmworkers, when Reagan, as California governor, sought to reduce its funding.

Raven also spoke and wrote extensively on the need for court reforms to eliminate prohibitive delays and expenses that were burdensome, particularly for low- and middle-income people.

Born on a farm in Cadillac, Mich., Raven earned a bachelor's degree from Michigan State University in 1949 and a law degree from UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall in 1952. He joined the firm then known as Morrison, Foerster, Holloway, Shuman & Clark that year and was made a partner in 1956.

As an antitrust litigator, he amassed an impressive client list, which included Bank of America National Trust and Savings, Memorex Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd.

His chief mentor was litigator Herbert Clark, who helped found the San Francisco chapter of the Legal Aid Society and molded Raven's commitment to legal work for the indigent. Clark's guidance left a strong impression on Raven, who in his later years won admiration for his generous mentoring of young lawyers.

Raven prodded the firm to hire more women and minorities. During his years as chairman, from 1974 to 1982, nearly a dozen women were promoted to partner "at a time when most big San Francisco firms had only one or two women partners," American Lawyer magazine noted recently.

Raven "just got it in his head that the face of American lawyering needed to look different," Linda Shostak, one of the firm's first woman partners, said Tuesday.

She said Raven's deeply personal commitment to diversifying the firm was demonstrated soon after she was hired in 1974, when she did not come to work one day. She was observing Yom Kippur, but Raven did not know this and was afraid that an incident the day before -- when Shostak embarrassed herself in a meeting with mostly male colleagues after uttering an unintentional double entendre -- had made her so upset that she was going to quit.

"He was trying to find me everywhere," Shostak recalled. "Here was this big-deal guy who had come down to this very personal level to make sure one of his mentees was going to survive a self-imposed embarrassing moment."

Thirty years later, Shostak is the senior woman in a firm where a quarter of the partners are women and 10% are racial minorities.

The firm has also earned national praise as an employer of gay and lesbian lawyers. It was ranked among the nation's top gay-friendly companies last year by the Advocate.

"I view that very much as part of Bob's legacy as well," said Morrison & Foerster Chairman Keith Wetmore, who is openly gay.

After completing his term as ABA president in 1988, Raven moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to guide the growth of Morrison & Foerster's operations here. He returned to the Bay Area several years ago.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Leslie Kay; children Marta, Matt and Brett; four grandchildren; four brothers and two sisters.

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