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The Life and Career of Anne Auten, Partner, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, Chicago

published October 24, 2005

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( 47 votes, average: 4.9 out of 5)
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<<As a partner and litigator with a large firm, Auten is skilled at trying commercial cases. But Auten is about to embark on the biggest plaintiff's case of her career—representing thousands of foster children from Nebraska. Auten is one of many attorneys involved in the class action, which alleges the state of Nebraska endangers children with an "understaffed, underfunded, and unresponsive" foster care system.

The lawsuit was filed September 19 in U.S. District Court in Lincoln by Children's Rights; the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest; and several private law firms, including DLA Piper.

The case Carson P. v. Heineman alleges Nebraska is failing to provide legally required safety, protection, and basic healthcare services to thousands of abused and neglected children in state custody and is forcing them to stay in foster care for long periods of time without opportunity for a permanent, loving home.

Auten said the case is the biggest plaintiff's class-action case she has been involved in and that she normally has been on the defense side of such cases. As a partner in the litigation department, Auten handles class-action consumer fraud and some insurance work, and she often represents officers and directors of companies.

"I've done class-action defense, and I think it's always good for you as a lawyer to see the other side of a problem," she said. "It will be interesting. I've never represented a class on behalf of a plaintiff in a class action. In that sense, the class-action part of it is similar to what I do in commercial practice, but I think the issues are really interesting because a lot of what I do is contract or statutory, and these are really more constitutional issues of substantive due process and others."

Although not an expert in foster care, Auten said she has discovered through Children's Rights and other sources that Nebraska has one of the worst systems in the country for children and that too often, siblings are separated from each other.

"We have a claim for right of familial association as well," she said. "[We are] working toward reuniting [foster children]—if there is a possibility of that—with biological parents and also siblings. Because the kids in foster care are very often split up from their siblings and may go years without ever being able to see their siblings, it makes their situation much worse."

Because the case has been filed, Auten said there have already been positive repercussions, with neighboring states examining their own foster care systems.

"After we filed our suit, a number of newspapers in Wyoming were running stories asking if their on foster care system would stand up to these tests and should we be looking at our foster care system," she said. "So I think that's a great impact of the lawsuit."

Children's Rights has filed similar lawsuits in other states.

Auten, a Pennsylvania native who followed in her father's footsteps by attending law school, said she knew from a young age that she wanted to be an attorney. Her father has been a real estate attorney with Reed Smith in Philadelphia for 40 years. Auten's sister is also an attorney, and so are a few of her uncles. Auten said there was no doubt in her mind that she wanted a career in litigation.

She said DLA Piper encouraged partners and associates to take on pro bono cases and that it is viewed as a great way to help the less fortunate while helping attorneys gain more varied professional experiences.

"In my firm, pro bono is very important, and I think I've learned that it's something that really rounds out your practice," she said. "Do great work for your clients, but also have a few pro bono things in which you can help individual people that don't have that power that most of your clients have, and it really rounds you out professionally."

Making time for volunteer cases becomes easier the longer you've been in practice, she said. But associates, not just partners, should pursue pro bono cases, perhaps on a smaller scale. Auten said attorneys should always put their clients first and remember the law is a service industry and good attorneys need to understand their clients' businesses in order to provide excellent service.

"If you don't love it, don't do it. Being a lawyer is an extremely stressful profession that demands a large time commitment, but it is also one of the most intellectually challenging professions. The personal sacrifices are worth it because you love what you do, you enjoy the people you work with, and you learn something new every day."

published October 24, 2005

( 47 votes, average: 4.9 out of 5)
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