September 2013 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Caitlin Davis Carlson

How Her Garden Grows

By Andrea D. Axel and Naria K. Santa Lucia


"The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before."
—Vita Sackville-West
English author, poet and gardener

You can find Caitlin Davis Carlson, executive director of the Legal Foundation of Washington, at many events in the legal community. One day she may be meeting with the Supreme Court about access to justice issues, another day you'll spot her attending an auction to build support for a legal aid program, and another day she can be found serving punch to immigrant workers to celebrate a legal victory.

She is not often front and center at the microphone, but she is always busy planting seeds, cultivating relationships and growing a sense of community. Those who know her agree — Carlson is an expert gardener, both in the literal sense and in creating an environment for justice to thrive in our state.

A Deeply Rooted Sense of Justice Leads to a Budding Career

From an early age, Carlson had a clear sense of fairness and was ready to take action for what she believed in. Her mother, Alice Schroeter, recalls that when Carlson was nine she wrote a letter to Schroeter's supervisor at work, protesting what Carlson viewed as an unfair employment practice. As a high school student, Carlson showed a willingness to think outside the box, attending Bard College at Simon's Rock at the age of 16 and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English at 20.

After college, Carlson worked for the King County Bar Association raising support for legal aid programs and law school scholarships for students of color. She also managed membership recruitment. Alice Paine, KCBA's executive director at the time, remembered, "Caitlin could take a routine task like a membership renewal mailing and bring it to life. Her committee of attorney volunteers stayed engaged thanks to her always high-energy level and enthusiasm."

In 1997, Carlson turned her energy to working for justice full time, managing grants at the Legal Foundation of Washington, an organization that funds programs and supports policies that enable the poor and most vulnerable to overcome barriers in the civil justice system. When longtime LFW Executive Director Barbara Clark retired in 2005, Carlson was selected by the Board of Trustees to fill the role, in part due to her experience managing changing environments. She modeled equanimity and optimism in the face of uncertainty then and has been at the helm leading LFW ever since.

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