Alumni Spotlight

Betty Southard Murphy

Murphy's Law may have met its match in WCL alumna Betty Southard Murphy, a partner at Baker & Hostetler, LLP in Washington, D.C.

As one of the top labor and employment lawyers in the country, she has tried cases or appeared in federal and state courts in 29 states, nine of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The D.C. Bar Association's 72,000 plus members selected Murphy to be one of 24 "Legends in the Law," a prestigious nod to her prominence in the profession and her impact on the law. When she expressed misgivings about being hailed a "legend," her husband, Dr. Cornelius F. Murphy, said, "Look at it this way, being a living legend is better than being a dead one."

Murphy has had seven presidential appointments. President Ronald Reagan offered her a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but she declined because she wanted to stay involved in Republican politics and do other things. She is the first and only woman to chair the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)óand the only person to have served as both NLRB chair and as administrator of the Wage & Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor. In 1997, Murphy became the first and still only lawyer in full-time private practice elected to the National Academy of Human Resources. She received the United States Information Service Award for Outstanding Service in recognition of her "contribution to international understanding and the foreign policy of the United States."

And the accolades keep coming. Murphy received the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the D.C. Circuit for 2006. This award is given annually to the judge or lawyer who demonstrates "the highest standards of the legal profession and the rule of law." Murphy says, "It was a great honor and a humbling experience to receive this award." In late October, Murphy was among those honored at the American Inns of Court Celebration of Excellence dinner held at the Ronald Reagan Building.

Murphy takes her most recent accomplishment in stride. "Every day, I enjoy what I do. If I did not, I wouldn't do it. I think that being a lawyer is the greatest of privileges because we have the opportunity to solve problems and change things peacefully. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction." Working at Baker & Hostetler, one of the country's largest law firms, is a source of satisfaction, too. "Our lawyers have changed the face of American law in a respectable, low-key way. We are a dignified, ethical firm with a long historyó90 years so faróand that is important to me. Our executive partners, Steve Kestner and Alec Wightman, intend to keep it that way as does Bill Schweitzer, our D.C. managing partner."

Even though she has a busy practice, she stays connected with the law school, teaching Dispute Resolution one semester a year at Dean Grossman's request. "The law school is the reason I am a lawyer, and I believe in paying back," she says.

For Murphy, there is little difference between today's students and her own class. "Students have the same desires. The basic philosophy or challenges have not changed. The main challenge is to have the discipline to do your work, to study on a daily basis, and to become a good lawyer."

The journey to success, Murphy also tells her students, should involve a strong commitment to service. She encourages new lawyers to join one bar association committee and set their sights on serving as committee chair. She strongly suggests they also join one non-legal organizationóagain with the goal of becoming chairóand then move on to another organization within a few years. Murphy, who is active in various bar associations, heeds her own advice. She is a member of the Board of the American Arbitration Association, chairs the International Committee of the ABA Dispute Resolution Section, and is the U.S. chair of the Labor and Employment Law Committee of the U.S.-Mexico Bar Association.

"The privilege of practicing law is fantastic," she explains. "You have to give back. There are such great opportunities for lawyers to make things better and to make a difference."

Murphy's passion for the law is contagious and perhaps even hereditary. Her daughter, Ann '93, is also a WCL alum. At a young age, Murphy's son, Neil, decided not to follow his mother's footsteps. When he was just 4 years old, Neil informed his father that he "would never become a lawyer because all lawyers are women!"