American Bar Endowment executive director to retire

The American Bar Endowment announced Wednesday the planned retirement of its longtime executive director, Reneé Z. Leskiw, in August of this year. Leskiw is one of only three individuals to have served in this role and is the first female executive in the organization’s 70-year history. For the last 22 years Leskiw has been responsible for the strong financial performance of the 501(c)3 not-for-profit. Her duties include running the Endowment’s affinity insurance program with $25 million in annual premium, in-house administration and promotion of that program and oversight of the Endowment’s permanent endowment fund. Both the insurance program and the endowment fund are key to the organization’s charitable grant-making ability.  Leskiw’s decision to retire will bring to a close a laudable career spanning more than 35 years in the association group insurance industry.

“The American Bar Endowment is here today to support good works. For the last several decades our trusted executive director, Reneé Leskiw, has been at the center of all the great things the Endowment has accomplished, and she has paved the way for a successful future,” said Martha W. Barnett, board president of the Endowment. “We are more than fortunate to have had her driving the success of this organization for all these years. She has helped create real value for the people who depend on us: our insureds, and their families, and those populations who are the beneficiaries of the charitable and public service work we fund annually.”

During Leskiw’s tenure as executive director, from June 1994 to August 2016, she oversaw the introduction of numerous new insurance plans made available to American Bar Association members and their families, including 10- and 20-year level term life, new versions of long- and mid-term disability and the Endowment’s newest insurance plan, 50+ multi-benefit term life, which is a hybrid life insurance program geared toward lawyers over age 50. She has dramatically strengthened the long-term viability of the plans and smoothed out funding for grants by building up plan reserves. She successfully led the Endowment through the changing insurance landscape brought by the rise of the digital consumer, helping bring the Endowment’s first online insurance application to lawyers in 2010, one of the first available among affinity insurance programs.

Part of that success can be attributed to strong relationship management. When Leskiw joined the Endowment it was already benefiting from a long partnership with one of the most highly rated insurance carriers, New York Life Insurance Company, which Leskiw has helped steward and enhance. In 2015 the Endowment and New York Life celebrated the 60th anniversary of what is New York Life’s first and longest affinity partnership.

“The 60-year partnership we have enjoyed with the American Bar Endowment provides us with an opportunity to recognize the good work that has been accomplished through this partnership and to renew our commitment to continued success,” said Scott Berlin , New York Life senior vice president, group membership. “We are proud of the role we have played in the American Bar Endowment’s continuing effort to offer its members proper financial planning from a trusted company and the peace of mind that brings. We have worked closely with the endowment’s executive director to build this important level of trust, and we wish Ms. Leskiw the very best as she steps away from the insurance business.”

Arguably more important than having successfully leveraged this partnership to provide quality insurance to attorneys and their families, Leskiw’s work has contributed to the advancement of the American justice system and the rule of law. Through the Endowment’s insurance plans, participants can choose annually to donate any available dividends to the Endowment to support its charitable mission. The Endowment then makes grants each year, funded primarily through these insurance dividends, to support the good works of the legal profession. The Endowment’s more than $270 million in total historical grants has helped support more than 200 law-related research, educational and public service projects touching every corner of the nation.

A long-time recipient of an annual grant from the Endowment, the American Bar Foundation executes ground-breaking empirical research on issues impacting the justice conversation in our nation, such as community policing, the impact of incarcerated parents and the importance of early childhood education.

“The Endowment’s grants have allowed the ABF to conduct research on issues of fundamental importance to the American legal profession and the system of justice it serves. We are thankful for our longtime relationship with the Endowment. Simply put – the American Bar Foundation could not conduct and distribute our important research without the Endowment’s generous support and the professional partnerships that have been cultivated over time,” said David A. Collins, president of the American Bar Foundation. “We are sad to see Reneé depart; she has been a dedicated steward of the Endowment’s finances, from which the Foundation has been a longtime beneficiary. We wish her well and are looking forward to a strong ongoing partnership with the Endowment.”

“Ms. Leskiw has served the Endowment tirelessly for the last 22 years and we are better today because of her stewardship and expertise. She has ushered the board of directors through complex negotiations with partners and has deftly managed relationships in a way that each side walks away a winner.  Most importantly, she been a tireless advocate for the insured members we help protect through our insurance, and the general public that benefits from the good works we support,” said J. Anthony Patterson Jr., vice-president of the board of the Endowment. “We are thrilled to celebrate with Ms. Leskiw as she embarks on her next chapter of life, and we also have high expectations for continued success for the Endowment, as well.”

The Endowment anticipates an orderly transition of management and is looking forward to continuing to offer attorneys important insurance coverage and making grants in support of the important work of its grantees.

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