By: Sakina Foster
Trailblazer. It is a word we use to describe someone who forges a new path through uncharted territory to help others find their way. The Honorable Karen Gren Scholer, this year’s recipient of the Dallas Bar Foundation’s prestigious Fellows Justinian Award, embodies every aspect of this word.
The Fellows Justinian Awards is awarded to an attorney who has achieved and consistently demonstrated the highest levels of professional excellence in a substantive area of the law. Recipients are recognized for making extraordinary contributions through their professional achievements in an area of the law. Judge Scholer’s impeccable professional reputation, commitment to legal excellence and fortitude are a perfect reflection of these ideals espoused by the Fellows Justinian Award.
As Judge Scholer has been known to say, being “the first” helps break down barriers for other people and what they think they can do in their own lives. Fittingly, Judge Scholer’s professional excellence is marked by the many “firsts” she has accomplished during her career.
Judge Scholer was the first Asian American elected official for Dallas County when she was elected as state district judge for the Ninety-Fifth Judicial District, where she resided from 2001 to 2008.
Now, as the sitting judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Judge Scholer is the first Asian woman to become an Article III judge in a court within the Fifth Circuit. As detailed in the book chapter dedicated to Judge Scholer in The First Fifteen: How Asian American Women Became
Dallas Women’s Lawyer Association Louise B. Raggio Award and the Dallas Asian American Bar Federal Judges by Susan Oki Mollway, this is especially impressive given that women did not enter the federal judiciary until less than a century ago and that, as of 2019, Asian women made up roughly 4% of women sitting Article III judges.
And, as the Texas Lawyer noted in 2019, Karen Gren Scholer’s decade-long journey to become the first Asian-American federal district judge in Texas is evidence of her exceptional qualifications and the universal respect she has earned from her colleagues throughout her career.
In another important “first,” Judge Karen Gren Scholer is the first Asian American to receive the esteemed Fellows Justinian Award.
Some may say that Judge Scholer was destined to be a trailblazer. She is the daughter of a Japanese mother, who is a college graduate, a rare and impressive accomplishment for a woman in 1940s Japan. Her father was an American World War II veteran, son of Polish immigrants and the first in his family to attend college.
Judge Scholer was the first on her father’s side of the family to complete college, which she did when she graduated from Rice University before going on to obtain her J.D. from Cornell Law School.
Judge Scholer then went on to private practice focusing on business litigation, complex tort litigation, and alternative dispute resolution at Strasburger & Price (now Clark Hill), Andrews Kurth (now Hunton Andrews Kurth), Jones Day, and Carter Arnett (then Carter Scholer). As a further testament to Judge Scholer’s trailblazing career, she was a partner at each of these firms at a time when women of color partners made up only 1.5% to 3% of lawyers at firms1.
Judge Scholer’s commitment to legal excellence is also illustrated by her willingness to use her extraordinary advocacy skills and brilliant legal mind to serve on the judiciary. As Mollway notes, when Judge Scholer was urged by others to pursue a state judgeship, she said they were telling her what was already in her heart – a willingness to serve.
Judge Scholer’s service goes beyond the courtroom. As anyone who knows her can attest, Judge Scholer is passionate about mentoring women lawyers and giving back as a way to recognize the support she received as she rose through the ranks in her legal career.
In the words of E. Leon Carter, a principal of Carter Arnett, recipient of the 2019 Dallas Bar Association’s Trial Lawyer of the Year and Judge Scholer’s former law partner, “Having appeared before Judge Scholer when she was on the state court bench and having been a partner with her for a number of years, I can truly say that Judge Scholer is the epitome of integrity, competence and patience, and she has the unique yet necessary ability to make sound, practical and impartial decisions in all matters that come before her. She is truly an inspiration for our profession and a model jurist for our judiciary.”
Judge Scholer’s contribution to the bar spans the local, state and national levels. She has served in leadership roles for the Dallas Bar Association, Dallas Bar Foundation, State Bar of Texas and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. In another trailblazing achievement, Judge Scholer created the Inspiring Women Luncheon & Seminar, the most popular and well-attended CLE program in DBA history – an event that celebrates women in the legal profession and consistently sells out within a matter of hours. Judge Scholer is also a past recipient of the National Asia Pacific American Bar Association Trailblazer Award, Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
Judge Scholer lives in North Texas with her husband, Gunnar, and is the proud mother of three sons.
It is with great pride and honor that the Dallas Bar Foundation presents the Honorable Karen Gren Scholer with this year’s Fellows Justinian Award. We can think of no better recipient that captures this barrier-breaker, inspiring lawyer – someone who is the “first” in many important ways, but ensures through her legacy that she will not be the last.
Sakina Rasheed Foster is a Partner in the Financial Transactions practice group at Haynes and Boone, LLP. She is the immediate past Chair of the Fellows Committee of the Dallas Bar Foundation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared in the March 2022 edition of Headnotes.