Karr listed among top Women in the Law

September 3, 2010
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Grand Rapids attorney Carol J. Karr has received numerous accolades during her groundbreaking career as a lawyer, but the one she will receive later this month is an honor she wishes her father — the late lawyer and U.S. Magistrate Stephen W. Carr — was still alive to witness.

“It would have made his day,” said Karr, 57, whose father died two years ago. “It will be difficult for my mother” to see her daughter receive the inaugural Michigan Women in the Law award in Detroit on Sept. 16 — what would have been her parents’ 60th anniversary.

Michigan Lawyers Weekly announced in August the names of the elite group of 20 women who will receive the honor. Among the others are Julia Donovan Darlow, who was the first woman to serve as president of the State Bar of Michigan, and Jean Ledworth King, for whom the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan named its leadership award.

“I’m grouped with some real pioneers, and I’m kind of surprised and very honored,” Karr told the Business Journal. “Not a lot of us have been in the field long enough to make our mark. It’s sometimes difficult for West Michigan attorneys to receive statewide recognition. Most of them come from the east side.”

The Michigan Women in the Law tribute is based on:

  • Commitment to excellence in the practice of law.

  • Inspiring and accomplished leadership in the profession.

  • Successful mentorship of other women.

  • Significant contributions of time and effort to volunteerism and/ pro bono work.

“I have been very active in the community and that’s one of the things I most love about being a lawyer,” Karr said. “Grand Rapids is an easy place to become involved.”

Karr earned her J.D. degree from Harvard Law School and has been practicing law since 1978. She is the chair of Miller Johnson’s Probate and Estate Planning Practice Group and served on the firm’s management committee through December 2009. She was the first woman to chair the State Bar of Michigan’s Taxation Council.

Karr relishes the role of mentor for younger female attorneys. “My approach is to advise women to be true to themselves. Find your own style and passion. Find your own way of doing things. It’s tempting as a new lawyer, male or female, to pattern your style on someone else. That’s not the right method. You need to continue to be true to yourself.”

Karr said that while there still aren’t enough women at the top ranks of companies and on the boards of law firms, “there are clearly more women attorneys. We don’t have formal legal barriers and it’s a different atmosphere.”

In talking with a Harvard law student who was clerking with the firm this summer, Karr recalled a time when not all clubs were accessible to women. “She had no idea that when I started, we had to use a different door for a meeting at a country club or to dine on certain floors of the Penn Club.”

Karr credits “an incredible support system,” including her husband, local educator Kevin Briggs, for “amazing support on a personal level” in helping raise the couple’s four sons.

She also credited the law firm for “being very flexible and always encouraging. I was the first one to take maternity leave. They worked with me to help design my path.”

Karr is actively involved with many professional associations and community organizations including the board of directors for the Metropolitan YMCA, where she recently finished her term on the Executive Committee and is currently serving as chair of the Heritage Club Committee. She is vice-chair for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and serves on its board of trustees and Professional Advisory Committee. She is on the executive committee of Metro Health Hospital Foundation where she is the chair of the Grants Committee. Karr is a long-time member of Quota International where she has served on the board of directors. She participates in the Pro Bono Program of Legal Aid of Western Michigan.

Karr has won a number of personal and professional accolades, including recognition from Best Lawyers in America and Michigan Super Lawyers. She is a fellow with both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Michigan State Bar Foundation, and a former YWCA Tribute! Award winner.

She is listed in “The Best Lawyers in America” for both tax law and trusts and estates. She has been named a Michigan Super Lawyer for estate planning and probate and also has appeared on the Super Lawyer Top 50 Women list since its inception. Karr was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by Grand Rapids Business Journal in 2010.

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