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Former State Bar, ABA president Robert Raven dies

Robert Raven

Robert Raven, who rose from hardscrabble beginnings to help mold a powerful global law firm, all the while championing women and minority newcomers to the legal profession, died last month at the age of 80.

Once called “a revolutionary in pinstripes,” Raven stood out as a bar leader and modern-day founder of Morrison & Foerster, who fought for greater access to justice for the poor throughout his career.

He was elected president of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of California (a job he shared for a year) and the Bar Association of San Francisco.

When he received the Bernard E. Witkin Medal last year from the State Bar, an honor that goes to California’s “legal giants,” he was described as a tireless, magnetic lawyer’s lawyer who delighted in his work.

“There is nothing quite like walking into a room with Bob Raven on a case,” wrote colleague Peter Pfister in an introduction to Raven’s oral history.

“There is in that man a strength — a combination of respect for the legal profession, respect for people, commitment to the client and the process, absolute ethics and principle.”

An anti-trust expert and powerful litigator at Morrison & Foerster, Raven was one of three partners who engineered a major firm restructuring in the 1960s, paving the way for the hiring of women and leading to the firm’s expansion.

One of eight children raised by sharecroppers in Michigan, Raven flew bombing missions in World War II and eventually received his law degree from Boalt Hall. When he joined Morrison, he was the firm’s 17th lawyer.

When Raven became senior counsel in 1994, his partners endowed a chair at Boalt and funded an annual lecture series on access to justice.

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