Female members of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County recently gave a T-shirt to the academy's new president, Patricia Dodge. The front read "Madame President," while the back said "First Lady."
Another T-shirt was awarded to her husband, Howard Schulberg, who happens to be president of the Allegheny County Bar Association. It read "Mr. President" on the front and "First Husband" on the back.
Mr. Schulberg was elected head of the bar association four months before his wife took the helm at the academy. It's thought to be the first time that a husband and wife have run two of the region's most important legal organizations.
Both organizations work to improve the integrity, professionalism and effectiveness of the practice of law. Both spouses belong to both groups and have taken up their duties with enthusiasm, firm in the belief that the legal system must constantly be working to earn public confidence.
"We've all heard the lawyer jokes," Mr. Schulberg said, "but we're proud to be members of the legal profession and want it to flourish. This is an opportunity to give back."
It helps that they both have a passion for the groups they head -- and don't take themselves too seriously, Ms. Dodge said.
"We're motivated for the good of the organizations, and we both keep a sense of humor," she said.
The bar association has 6,600 members, including judges and attorneys in all kinds of law. It has 40 staff members, and its president is elected by the members. The Academy of Trial Lawyers limits membership to 250 civil litigators, invited in through a rigorous process, and the president is appointed after moving up through committees and the board of governors.
"It's a prestigious organization and a matter of pride to belong to it," Ms. Dodge said.
A native of Scott who attended Penn State University and then Duquesne University's law school at night, Ms. Dodge has been a partner at Meyer, Unkovic & Scott since 1992 and specializes in commercial litigation.
She comes to her presidency after 20 years in the academy. The group's focus is promoting more collaboration with state and federal court judges to make civil law practice more professional and effective.
"It has worked really well," Ms. Dodge said. "We have a tremendous relationship with judges in both benches."
One of her big concerns as president is a reduction in the number of jury trials, as more contracts mandate binding arbitration.
"It's important for us to maintain a fair and impartial jury system," she said. "There's nothing like a jury of your peers, versus an arbitrator you have to pay for with no right of appeal when errors are made."
Mr. Schulberg, a native of Squirrel Hill and a partner at Goehring, Rutter & Boehm, said his goal as president is to make sure the Allegheny County Bar Association maintains its standing as a respected bar association and to focus on issues of gender and racial diversity.
He also attended Penn State and Duquesne law school, but the couple met in 1994 when he worked for the city -- she was appointed as a special master in a case he was litigating.
They became friends but kept it professional while the case went up on appeal, which took a year. They married in 1997 and now reside in Thornburg, where Ms. Dodge also is president of borough council.
As for those matching T-shirts, they haven't actually worn them yet.
"Maybe when we go to Kennywood," Mr. Schulberg said with a laugh.
Correction/Clarification: (Published January 5, 2012) Patricia Dodge is the head of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County. The academy was incorrectly identified in a photo caption that appeared alongside a story about Ms. Dodge in Monday's newspaper.
Sally Kalson: email@example.com or 412-263-1610. First Published January 2, 2012 5:00 AM