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Katherine Courtney leads GRAWA

Runner hopes to strengthen foundation of organization

By: Bennett Loudon//June 11, 2018

Katherine Courtney leads GRAWA

Runner hopes to strengthen foundation of organization

By: Bennett Loudon//June 11, 2018//

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As a veteran of the sport, Katherine Courtney knows “you can only be as good a runner as your bones let you.”

Katherine Courtney
Katherine Courtney

“It’s like the foundation. It’s the base,” said Courtney, an attorney adviser for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Hearing Operations.

“You can have all the heart in the world, but if you don’t have the joints you’re not going to be able to run,” said Courtney, the new president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys (GRAWA).

“With GRAWA I want to make our bones really strong,” said Courtney, who is looking forward to the completion of a strategic plan during her time in office.

Courtney is hoping the strategic plan will not only address organizational and governance issues, but find ways to make GRAWA more accessible to members.

“I want everyone in GRAWA to be at this point next year and say there was something with GRAWA that touched me, or I participated in. I want to make sure we’re being responsive to those needs, be it through CLEs or other collaborations with non-legal entities,” she said.

“We’re good at collaborating with other bars, but maybe there’s other groups out there we should be collaborating with,” she said.

In addition to implementing the strategic plan and developing relationships with other organizations, Courtney listed growth of GRAWA as her third goal for the coming year.

Courtney was a cross-country and track runner at Niagara University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in social work, with a minor in law and jurisprudence.

She decided to become a lawyer after taking a constitutional law class as an elective at Niagara “just to kind of fill out my schedule as a junior.”

In her senior year, she had an internship as a domestic violence victims’ advocate in Erie County Family Court.

But even as she attended the University at Buffalo School of Law, Courtney retained her passion for social work and completed a dual degree program and received a master’s degree in social work as well as her juris doctor degree.

“I felt like a lot of skills that I was learning as a social worker would be beneficial and translate well to the legal field,” she said.

“There are a lot of social work skills that are amazing for lawyers — the ability to communicate, the ability to effectively listen. Those aren’t taught in law school, but they’re taught in social work,” she said.

While in law school she had a summer job with the state Division of Human Rights. She worked in the school’s special education law clinic, which got her interested in education law and led to a summer job with a Buffalo law firm that represented Buffalo-area school districts.

Her first job out of law school was in the disability advocacy program at the Empire Justice Center, where her supervisor and mentor was Kate Callery, a past GRAWA president who invited Courtney to her first GRAWA meeting.

At the Empire Justice Center, Courtney focused on Supplemental Security Income clients.

She became so knowledgeable in the field that she provided training to parents and professionals across the state and the country.

A lot of her work at the Empire Justice Center was done before administrative law judges at the Social Security Administration. When a job opened up there, she was encouraged to apply and was hired in October 2011.

As an attorney in the Social Security Office of Hearing Operations, Courtney prepares decisions for the ALJs.

Courtney, 37, lives in Spencerport with her husband, Dan, a vice-principal and athletic director in the Holley Central School District, in Orleans County, and their four children.

When she’s not working or busy with her family, there’s a good chance Courtney is running. She finished 151st out of more than 1,100 runners in the Buffalo Marathon on May 26.

Courtney’s time of 3 hours, 33 minutes and 58 seconds was eighth among women ages 35 to 39 and good enough to qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon.

“People say that exercise is the most underutilized form of therapy and I’ve really found that to me more and more true,” she said.

“It’s time to be selfish, but I think it makes me a better person at the end of the day — a better mom, a better employee, a better president because I have that time to just be focused on what’s in my head at that moment,” she said.

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