December 2018 Cover Story - Scoville Award Recipient Teresa McQueen: Dancing Through Fifteen Years of Service and Still Smiling

by Julie M. McCoy

It is difficult to imagine a more deserving recipient of the 2018 Harmon G. Scoville Award than Teresa McQueen. For almost two decades, Teresa has thrown herself into service of the Orange County Bar Association in a myriad of capacities, tackling tasks both large and small with the same effervescence, joy, and grace that Teresa brings to life in general. While the OCBA undoubtedly will continue to enjoy Teresa’s contributions for many years to come, this is a fitting time to recognize the many ways Teresa already has made the OCBA a better association for its members.

But first, here is a little background about the recipient herself. Teresa was born in Clarkston, Washington to parents Jim “The Knave at Knight” and Norma. Norma was a nurse and hospital administrator, and dad was the deejay for the local radio station (hence the handle). Teresa attended college at The University of Idaho, where she earned a Bachelor of Dance—not your typical pre-law degree, but a very fair indicia of the free spirit that she is. She later attained her law degree from Chapman University School of Law (now named the Fowler School of Law).

Courageous by nature, in 2003, straight out of law school, Teresa launched her own firm where she specialized in water law. A few years later, she joined the firm of Pedersen Alternative Dispute Resolution Corp. after meeting founder Neil Pedersen at her very first OCBA section meeting. At the Pedersen firm, Teresa specialized in employment litigation and employer counseling, honing her skills as a trial lawyer and becoming a named partner in 2010. In 2016, Teresa founded SAFFIRE LEGAL, PC, which offers legal advice, education, and training from a perspective that assesses risk from a knowledge base that marries both employer and employee perspectives. Drawing on her family “show biz” background, Teresa hosts an employment law podcast, “Workplace Perspectives,” that helps organizations develop and maintain successful employer/employee relationships. In a creative twist, Teresa has added “Etiquette Training” to her repertoire, as her observant nature precipitated an epiphany in which she realized how many interpersonal problems (including those in the employment relationship) are averted simply by observing good manners.

Teresa’s first foray into bar association endeavors was as a law student, when she joined Orange County Women Lawyers. There, she became friends with a number of people who would become mentors as she later rose through the ranks of leadership in the OCBA. As a newly minted lawyer in 2003, Teresa joined the Resolutions Committee, as well as the Solo/Small Firm Section and the Young Lawyers Division. At her first meeting of the Solo/Small Firm Section, Teresa banded together with the handful of others in attendance, including OCBA icon Grace Emery and Teresa’s future partner Neil Pedersen, to rescue the section from its then-imminent demise. These few dedicated lawyers quickly revitalized the section, with each taking a turn in leadership. Teresa’s tenure on the Executive Board of the Solo/Small Firm Section, which culminated in her service as Chair in 2006, quickly showcased her considerable leadership skills. She was appointed the Employment Law Specialty Group Leader for the Resolutions Committee shortly after joining that Committee, later becoming Chair of the Resolutions Committee in 2011. She also rose through the leadership ranks of the Young Lawyers Division to become Chair of YLD in 2007, the same year in which Teresa first served on the OCBA Board of Directors—a service that spanned the ensuing six years. In other leadership roles, Teresa has served as Co-Chair of the Bridging the Gap Committee and has been a member of the Charitable Fund Committee.

Apparently lacking sufficient entries on her “to do” list, in 2008, Teresa conceived the idea for the OCBA’s Mentor on Demand program. Modeled after a similar program of the Texas Bar Association, Mentor on Demand (fondly known by insiders as “MOD”) features a series of ten-minute podcasts in which prominent members of the bench and bar share advice targeted to young lawyers on a wide variety of topics. MOD predictably has become a very popular benefit for members of the Young Lawyers Division, but even more experienced practitioners also find the tips from the bench invaluable. Teresa has served as Co-Chair of the MOD Committee virtually since its inception in 2008, overseeing the attraction of additional practitioners and jurists as speakers, as well as the addition of more topics and judicial profiles every year.

In addition to her many years of service to the OCBA, Teresa has also volunteered with the California Bar Association in a number of capacities, including numerous leadership positions with the Solo and Small Firm Section, including serving as Chair, and as an OCBA Delegate to the Conference of Delegates beginning in 2004. She is also a long-time member of the Labor and Employment Section. (Ed. note: And, readers have benefitted from her helpful articles published in the Orange County Lawyer!)

Teresa was first inspired to become involved in the bar association by her father-in-law, an engineer who understood the importance of giving back to his profession and dedicated himself to endeavors that promoted and supported his colleagues in their professional development. Her initial involvement introduced her to more and more members of the Orange County legal community, spurring Teresa to become further involved, as she was drawn to the collegiality of bar association activities and to the “fascinating” attorneys she met. Teresa has found that she loves contributing to the legal community and making this a better place for attorneys to practice law. She is constantly looking for fresh ideas to support members of the bar and finds a receptive audience in the OCBA staff, whom she says continue to “say yes” to her always novel suggestions. A natural leader, Teresa leverages her personal charisma and charm to inspire others to be of service. The author can attest that the grace and good humor Teresa brings to every endeavor make it a pleasure to serve with her, and her thoughtfulness and careful preparation ensure that anything she manages is accomplished with efficiency and professionalism.

While those unfamiliar with Teresa might dismiss her extensive volunteerism as mere “résumé building,” those who know her can attest to the fallacy of this assumption. A genuine public servant, Teresa works selflessly and without expectation of recognition or praise. She can be counted on for the unglamorous tasks that others might shirk as unbefitting of them, never asking what is in it for her. As her long-time law partner, Neil Pedersen, put it: “In almost thirty years of working with other attorneys, I have not seen one more dedicated to other attorneys than Teresa.” He added: “Not once did I get the feeling that her tireless efforts in OCBA and State Bar sections, committees, and boards were simply résumé fillers. Teresa has a genuine desire to be part of the solution in whatever organization she becomes associated with.”

Nor can Teresa’s efforts be dismissed as the dalliances of someone lacking enough to do, looking to fill the days. To the contrary, Teresa has balanced a demanding law practice with her bar association obligations, working hard all day on behalf of her clients only to head out for an evening meeting or event without complaint. When asked what motivates her to opt for a “rubber chicken dinner” rather than the comfort of her pajamas at the end of a long day, Teresa replies that she finds the association of other lawyers energizing and that, as such, she leaves bar-related events more “light-hearted” than when she arrives.

Asked what advice she has to offer to attorneys just starting out from her years of bar association experience, she replies that they should avoid the mistake of hibernating in their offices, hostage to the demands of their workload. Participating in the bar association offers a host of social, networking, and mentoring opportunities that should be exploited at the earliest opportunity, as they will open doors in the future and can prove great boons to rain-making. Now at the approximate mid-point of her career, she offers a slightly different advice to attorneys who find themselves in the mid-career doldrums: The energy and enthusiasm that many others bring to bar events is contagious and is the best antidote to the waning enthusiasm that tends to stalk some of us in mid-career.

Looking back on her years of service, Teresa recounts the many ways her life has been enriched by the OCBA and her service to it. Some of her closest friendships have been forged among the other leaders and volunteers with whom she has served. The network of friends and attorneys she has developed landed her first law firm job and has contributed to the success of her current firm, providing a stream of referrals for SAFFIRE LEGAL, PC. In addition, Teresa recounts how bar leadership positions have required her to stretch herself, forcing her to learn how to work with all types of personalities and still “get the job done.” Most importantly, though, she shares that she can no longer say “I don’t know that many people!”

In the words of OCBA Past President Cathrine Castaldi, “Teresa is an extraordinary asset to the bar, who never stops giving of her time, intellect, and talent. She has served with distinction on nearly every bar committee.” Past Scoville Award recipient Alan J. Crivaro, who has served in numerous capacities with Teresa over the years, offers this eloquent summation:

I firmly subscribe to the belief that it is incumbent upon any recipient of the Scoville Award not to simply be content with their past achievements. Having personally known Justice Scoville, he never rested upon his laurels but continued to serve as a role model and mentor for all. I am confident that Teresa will likewise uphold the standards that are embodied by this award’s namesake.

Well said, Alan. In the opinion of the author, Teresa McQueen is the last person in the world to “rest on her laurels.” She will continue to lend her considerable talent and intellect, as well as her not-so-considerable free time, to make the OCBA better for everyone it serves. And she will do it with the ease and grace that only a trained dancer can summon.

Julie M. McCoy is a Past President (2006) of the OCBA and 2018 recipient of the Franklin G. West Award. She is proud to call Teresa and her husband, John, her friends.