A woman for others
For Kathleen F. Howlett, a successful career in the law has been fueled by a passion for serving others
When Kathleen Fitzgerald Howlett (JD ’85, LLM ’94) is asked to talk about herself, the first thing she mentions is her late husband, The Hon. Michael J. Howlett Jr. She talks about her husband’s impressive career as a lawyer and Cook County Circuit Court judge, his years as a popular professor at Loyola’s School of Law, his advocacy for lawyers and students battling addiction, and even the time he served as a running mate to Adlai Stevenson III in their unsuccessful bid to be Illinois governor and lieutenant governor.
Howlett also proudly talks about how the law runs in her family, describing her father and grandfather’s commitment to law practices during the Great Depression and beyond. She boasts about her equally successful daughters—Elizabeth (JD '99), Melissa (JD '03), and Catherine (JD '11)—all Loyola Law alumnae who practice law in public service. She speaks enthusiastically about the people she met at Loyola and her deep connections to the school. And lastly, if pressed, Howlett will talk about her own accomplishments.
Howlett’s sense of gratitude and her connections to the legal profession go hand-in-hand. She grew up watching others in her family become attorneys, which instilled in her at a young age the value of a Jesuit education and practicing as a Catholic lawyer. After starting a family she was at first content to watch her husband practice law while she cared for their children, but she eventually decided to continue the family tradition by applying to law school herself.
She began law school at a university with a graduating class that was less than 20 percent female. But then she transferred to Loyola, where more than half of her graduating law class were women. She found that the University had a set of values that would shape her own career.
“I remember that in my last semester of law school, I was pregnant and the baby was due right before graduation,” she recalls. “I had my youngest, Catherine, and I came to class with her in a buggy. James Faught, the associate dean of the Law School, came up to me and said, ‘You go to class, I’ll stroll the baby around.’ That, to me, really epitomized the intangible support Loyola has had for its students. I suspect Dean Faught probably doesn’t remember the incident, but it made an impact on me.”
Howlett has practiced for 32 years, both in public and private practice. She also served as an adjunct professor and lecturer in law at Loyola Law School. She began as a law clerk to Judge William J. Bauer, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and ended her career at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister as a senior counsel in May 2016.
“My husband wrote a poem when he was a circuit judge. It ended by saying ‘abide with me, and from the chill of nonchalance, safeguard my soul,’” says Howlett. “Sometimes we can’t just stand by and do nothing if there’s something we can contribute.”
In January 2017, Howlett founded Rights and Regs, a nonprofit designed to connect people with free legal services. The organization is still in its infancy, but Howlett hopes that by the time the website is completed in May, it will serve three functions. First, it will be a triage for people in search of legal organizations to assist them. People in need would call or e-mail Howlett and she would connect them to local organizations that specialize in whichever area of law is most relevant to the person’s needs.
Second, Howlett hopes the website will serve as a directory of lawyers and law firms who are willing to do pro bono work and take on cases requiring more resources. They would be divided by specialty and Howlett would make the first contact. And finally, Howlett hopes the site will provide reliable legal information.
“It’s less about reinventing the wheel,” she says, “and more about trying to develop some kind of neighborhood outreach, where the rollback of regulations tends to hurt those who are most vulnerable.
“There’s so many people doing good things, maybe this is the time to advertise who those people are,” she adds. “Maybe one person can’t do everything, but a lot of people can do many things.”