November 2019 Bar Bulletin
By Tom Fitzpatrick
For Kathleen Hopkins, building a better Seattle is somewhat of a family legacy. Her great-grandfather, a builder, came to Seattle after the great fire to build a new and better Seattle. While his legacy was brick, fireproof buildings, Hopkins has built her own Seattle legacy as a talented lawyer, leader of the legal profession helping the disadvantaged, and as a wife and mother.
Hopkins is a founding member of the Real Property Law Group, a boutique real estate firm. She is recognized locally and nationally for her expertise in real estate financing. Her expertise transcends her representation of clients in complex projects. She is an author and editor, writing the Washington State section of the Law Survey from the American College of Mortgage Attorneys, and as co-editor of the Real Estate Closing Desk Book. She served six years on the Board of Editors of the ABA GP Solo and Small Firm Magazine, editor-in-chief of the ABA’s Business Law Today magazine, and eight years (two as chair) on the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal.
Hopkins’ service to the profession is so extensive that it fills five, single-spaced pages on her résumé. Highlights of her role as a bar leader include: service on the ABA Board of Governors; more than a decade in the ABA House of Delegates, currently as the KCBA delegate; the executive councils of both the ABA Business Section and the General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division; chair of the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation; president of the WSBA Young Lawyers Division; and recipient of the KCBA Outstanding Young Lawyer Award in 1994.
Helping the disadvantaged has been a hallmark of Hopkins’ bar career. She spent almost a decade as a member, and thereafter working on projects, for the ABA Pro Bono and Public Service Committee. She chaired the ABA Business Law Section’s Pro Bono Committee. Currently, she serves as vice-chair of the ABA Presidential Working Group on Unaccompanied Minors in Immigration Proceedings that trains lawyers how to handle, on a pro bono basis, the representation of unaccompanied minors. As their numbers have swelled on the southern border, Hopkins has taken those materials and convinced lawyers — such as business lawyers who never believed they could do something like that — to take on those immigration cases.
Hopkins’ devotion to helping others stems from values she was taught as a child. After helping rebuild Seattle, her great-grandfather returned to New Jersey where the next three generations of the family, including Kathleen, grew up. She is the eldest of seven children in an Irish-Catholic family. Although dollars were always tight, in her family everyone was taught that you need to give back. Her inspiration was her dad with his projects to help disabled children.
After graduating from high school in South Orange, there was no money for college. So, Hopkins took a job as a secretary at Seton Hall University. If you worked there, you could attend school without paying tuition, which is what she did. Not only did she graduate from the Business School summa cum laude, she worked her way up to be the assistant director of human relations. After negotiating labor contracts and working with lawyers, Hopkins decided she could do as well as those lawyers, so law school was where she wanted to go.
Her time at Seton Hall was more than just education and work. There she met Dave Hopkins, another student, who became the love of her life and to whom she has been married for 38 years. Also a New Jersey native, Dave spent his early years in the Pacific Northwest, where his grandmother lived, and he longed for the life and outdoors of the Northwest.
Both having graduated, Kathleen applied to law schools and was accepted at the University of Washington. So Dave, Kathleen and their young son Neil came to the Seattle area. Dave found a job, Kathleen went to law school, both cared for Neil, and they eventually settled in Snohomish County where Dave has worked in information technology for the County for many years. Kathleen graduated with honors from the UW Law School, but right before graduation, the bar exam and beginning practice, she discovered she was pregnant with their second son, Ian, now a lawyer.
Hopkins’ first job was with the Riddell Williams firm where she initially wanted to be a litigator, doing employment cases. However, the bankruptcy lawyers convinced her that if she really wanted to go to court, bankruptcy litigation was what to do. She also credits Riddell with changing her life. The firm required a personal development plan with some sort of civic involvement and a promise to support those efforts. She chose bar work and has never looked back.
“You meet great people and make wonderful friends,” she says. “It’s fun and you make a difference.” Hopkins not only became active in KCBA’s Young Lawyers Division, she also served on the KCBA Public Information Committee where she met Judge Bill Downing. Hopkins says Judge Downing gave her advice she has followed ever since: “Pick a project. Do it well. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver.”
While she enjoyed litigation, Hopkins realized its demands did not fit well with all the other roles in her life. She decided to become a real estate-financing lawyer. Although that might seem a world away from what she had been doing, Hopkins credits her time as a bankruptcy litigator as preparing her for this new practice area. “I saw how all these deals went bad, and learned what not to do,” she says.
Hopkins, who was at the Tousley firm at the time, also realized the economics of modern law firms also impacted the options of what else lawyers wanted to do in their lives. With three other colleagues, they formed Real Property Law Group, PLLC, with a unique approach to law practice. It would essentially be an eat-what-you-kill business model, with a take on keeping overhead as low as possible.
Everyone had to be technologically proficient, so for years the firm had no staff except the lawyers. Space cost was minimized by avoiding expensive space and office sharing. Hopkins has literally shared an office with her partner Vince De Pillis for years. This approach to law practice allowed Hopkins to take the time for her professional activities and personal life.
But Hopkins’ success would not have been possible without her personal traits and talent. One of those is her analytical ability. Evan Loeffler, a longtime friend from the young lawyer days and fellow real estate lawyer who has often referred complex cases to Hopkins, says, “Her attention to detail and ability to unravel complex situations sets her apart. Plus, she knows people everywhere, so anytime I need a referral in some other place, I call Kathleen.”
Another trait is her boundless energy. She is always ready for a new challenge. Llew Pritchard, who has worked with Hopkins on numerous bar projects, states, “Kathleen not only comes up with good ideas, she’s always willing to implement them.”
But Hopkins’ most important virtue is her equanimity. Constantly shifting from professional and personal demands to complex client problems is difficult. It requires real skill. It has been particularly challenging for Hopkins in the past few years as both she and Dave have faced life-threatening health issues.
De Pillis says, “Kathleen has this incredible ability to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand.” She does not waste energy worrying. She just does what she needs to do and trusts that things will work out. This quality also allows her to relax. When Hopkins is on vacation, she is on vacation, not preoccupied about all the other things going on in her life.
Hopkins is also generous and supportive of others, especially her family. She knows she spends a lot of time doing what she wants to do. Thus, when it is something Dave or the kids want to do, she’s all for it, whether it is her cup of tea or not.
Kathleen Hopkins has built a legacy with her life, personally and professionally. Through her efforts, she has contributed to a better Seattle. The benefits of her generosity will endure in the lives she has touched, like those buildings her great-grandfather built in Seattle more than a century ago.