Proven team builder to lead WSAJ
by Sue Evans
As WSAJ’s incoming executive director, Liz Berry brings a lifelong connection to the trial bar and a history of fighting to empower people. She is the daughter of an Arizona trial lawyer, Frederick C. Berry, Jr. Berry is also a seasoned politico, an advocate for women in power, and a new mother to infant son George Arthur Hill.
“During the search process, it was clear that Liz brought the highest level of enthusiasm and skill to take WSAJ into the future – her presentation made you instantly feel inspired,” said WSAJ President Victoria Vreeland.
Vreeland helped lead a national search to replace Gerhard Letzing, but was not surprised when the WSAJ board adopted the recommendation of the Search Committee and Executive Committee to go in-house and hire its own associate director of government affairs and communications. Berry has already made a positive impression on staff and members over the past two and a half years. She brings more than a decade of experience in government affairs, development, and strategic planning.
Larry Shannon, WSAJ’s Government Affairs Director, says Berry has demonstrated a strong commitment to protect access to the civil justice system for everyone in our society. “She has an incredibly positive, can-do attitude,” he says. “She’s very grounded in terms of her own beliefs and ideas, but she’s always open to communicate with people across the spectrum. I think that’s one of her greatest strengths.”
State Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-36th, is the House Floor Leader. She says Berry understands how to recruit justice allies in Olympia and across the state.
“Liz Berry knows how to ‘work the room.’ It's a lot more than working the bill,” says Tarleton. “She makes the rounds, finds the path forward, then works the people part of politics. And that, of course, makes all the difference.”
Berry understands WSAJ’s greatest challenge is to bridge the divide between the next generation of WSAJ attorneys and retiring pioneers who have made WSAJ a force for consumers and justice locally and nationally. The departure of Letzing leaves big shoes to fill, but Berry already knows where she can build on that foundational strength. Whether it’s helping attorneys integrate technology into their practice or recruiting millennials, Berry understands WSAJ is nothing without its members. In her application pitch to the board, Berry shared this experience:
“Last year, I was asked to speak at the UW School of Law about my career in politics and lobbying. The group of students who attended was equally men and women and about one-third people of color. At the end of my presentation, the students remarked how excited they were to learn about the plaintiff side of the law because they weren’t being taught about this in school and had not received any other outside visitors or speakers to tell this side of the story. In fact, big corporate law firms flooded their halls with offers of paid internships and scholarships, luring them to careers with the ‘other side’ when they graduated. Quite frankly, these students didn’t know ‘our side’ existed. I was alarmed and it further solidified my belief that we must make this an organizational priority.”
Berry is no stranger to political campaigns and big battles over issue advocacy. Prior to WSAJ, Berry managed three separate political campaigns here in Washington state while searching for a longtime fit to match her savvy skill sets and talents. She is the former Legislative Director to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ. Berry left Giffords’ office weeks before a 2011 shooting wounded her former boss and sparked a national outcry about gun violence. She instantly flew back to Tucson to help Giffords and surviving staff.
“I think it’s a testament to her character,” said Jessica Grounds, a longtime friend who leads Solid Grounds Strategy, a Washington, DC-based consulting firm that specializes in recruiting women into leadership positions in the public and private sectors. “As soon as that happened, (Berry) dropped everything and went back to her staff. She didn’t have to do that. She did that because that’s what she cared about.”
Grounds has served with Berry in several organizations focused on women in leadership. “She is someone you don’t see often in this line of business - real authentic people in politics. They own who they are, are really deeply committed,’’ says Grounds. “Her best attribute is to own who she is as a leader. She is so clear on who she is.”
Berry has served on no less than seven organizations dedicated to recruiting women into leadership positions: Women Under 40 PAC, Women’s Funding Alliance and the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, to name a few. As the former president of the NWPC-WA, Berry injected new energy and ideas to recruit and engage younger women and women of color. During her presidency, she doubled membership and recruited a new board that reflected the next generation of women in politics.
“Since she’s moved to Seattle, she has raised money and galvanized people to lead - making a big stamp having just been there a few years,” says Grounds. “At the end of the day, it matters that we see women, regardless of political parties, as leaders. Women are just as able to lead as men. She gets it. And it’s why she’s been committed to elevating women in leadership roles throughout her life.”
Maggie Humphreys, the current president of NWPC-WA and Washington State Director of MomsRising, was recruited by Berry to take over her tenure at NWPC-WA. “Liz is a standout leader who challenges those around her to do exceptional work while pulling others up with her, especially other women,” she said. “She tripled NWPC-WA's PAC in one year while also growing the number of women candidates we trained annually to well over 70. I don't think she knows the word can’t. It will be remarkable to see what she brings to the WSAJ’s next generation of leadership.”
Observers say Berry’s success as a leader, organizer and a recruiter is linked to her warmth and upbeat energy. Friends and co-workers say she is unflappable, friendly, and grounded.
Berry gained a reputation as friendly and composed with college peers early on. She graduated a semester early from American University in Washington, DC, where she studied communications, legal institutions, economics and government. She studied abroad for one year in Namibia, South Africa and Belgium.
College friend Laura Zimmerman, an attorney practicing international law at Baker & McKenzie in New York, says Berry was a standout on the college trip abroad, always looking out for her peers. “She recommended that everyone carry their passport and travel documents in a FedEx envelope because it was waterproof,” Zimmerman said, laughing. Berry had recently travelled from Zambia where the rivers often flooded belongings. “She was very practical and took care of us.”
Sue Evans owns Northwest Media Allies, a public relations firm that specializes in media relations and law firm marketing. She is also the former communications director for WSAJ.