November 2012 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Mark Johnson

You Gotta Have Heart

By Sal Mungia


He has the usual accolades you expect to find at the top of our profession: member of the American College of Trial Lawyers; listed in every edition of the Best Lawyers in America since 1995; named in 2011 as Seattle Plaintiffs' Legal Malpractice Lawyer of the Year; AV rated by Martindale Hubbell. He has served as president of the Washington State Bar Association, was the treasurer for the association when he served on the Board of Governors, and will be president of Legal Aid for Washington starting in January.

But the quality that sets him apart from others who are similarly smart, talented and devoted to their profession: the size of his heart.

Yes, Mark Johnson's heart, as was the Grinch's post-epiphany, is three sizes larger. As WSBA Executive Director Paula Littlewood says: "Mark is wicked smart and leads with the heart." I'll second that description.

He does lead with his heart. It was his heart that moved him to use, not just a little of his time, but, in legal parlance, gobs of his time to change the way the WSBA approaches funding for civil legal aid. In 2009, with funding for civil legal aid dropping faster than turkeys in November, Mark went on the road, literally, and traveled across the state to talk to whomever was willing to listen to him, and even some who weren't, to spread the news that we, as lawyers, as a legal association, had to act and act now.

It was only because of Mark, his leadership, his courage, and his tenacity that in 2009 the Board of Governors considered, debated, and then decided to transfer $1.5 million from reserve funds to literally save civil legal aid throughout our state. Because of Mark's leadership, the WSBA changed its procedures so that lawyers throughout the state can contribute to The Campaign for Equal Justice through their WSBA annual bar dues renewal. As Caitlin Davis Carlson, the Legal Foundation of Washington executive director has said, "Mark Johnson will always have the access to justice community's enduring gratitude."

When I talked to a number of Mark's colleagues and friends about the piece that I would be writing about Mark, I asked them to use three adjectives to describe Mark. I heard the same ones being used repeatedly: "creative," "courageous," "generous," "loyal," "persuasive," "ethical," "compassionate," "tireless," "smart," "competitive," and "a global thinker" (okay, "global thinker" was only used once - sorry to burst your bubble about that one Mark). I know that Mark, as he is reading this now, is thinking, "Wait a second, no one said 'funny?'"

Well, I'll admit that one person did give that as an adjective, but qualified it with "even if he doesn't intend to be." Personally, I think Mark's chance of being described as "funny" took a hit a few years ago when Mark told what he thinks is the funniest joke in the world at an Access to Justice Conference. It has to do with a snowman and carrots. Whatever you do, don't ask him about it because he will, with a gleam in his eyes, tell you the "joke." If by chance you find yourself the recipient of that joke, then do your best to, if not laugh out loud (which will nigh be impossible), at least give a smile because if you don't, he'll merely repeat the joke waiting for that expectant laugh.

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