Michael Traynor has shown by example the importance of giving back through service to organizations like The American Law Institute. He was elected to ALI in 1972 and to ALI Council in 1985. He served as ALI President from 2000 to 2008, the eighth person to hold that office and the first president from the West Coast.
Michael took office in the most difficult way (when then-President Charles Alan Wright died unexpectedly) and dedicated himself to leading the ALI into the 21st century.
One of Michael’s first events as ALI president took place in London, England, at a reception to celebrate the increased globalization and international influence of ALI’s work. During his tenure, ALI finished and also began some of the most important work of its history. As president, he encouraged the Institute both to assume appropriate responsibility in the international community, and to make sure that ALI understood that there was a great world from which we should draw ideas and colleagues.
“The ALI is a prized institution in the life of our country,” said Michael. “We need to keep it that way. It is an oasis for people with sometimes very different points of view. We have a grand opportunity to participate and exchange and learn from distinguished judges, academics, and lawyers, including foreign members. That opportunity includes working actively on matters that are within as well as outside your particular specialty, and simply learning and participating in matters that interest you but that you're not necessarily a specialist in.”
In 2011, ALI awarded Michael the Distinguished Service Award, given from time to time to a member who, over many years, has played a major role in the Institute. While he has certainly undertaken significant responsibility in several institutional roles—including president, Council member, and officer—he also has given additional time as an Adviser or participant on several projects. He currently serves as Adviser for Restatement of the Law Third, Conflict of Laws, and previously participated on completed projects Restatement of the Law Fourth, The Foreign Relations Law of the United States (Jurisdiction); Restatement of the Law Third, Restitution and Unjust Enrichment; Restatement of the Law Third, Unfair Competition; for both the Products Liability and Apportionment of Liability segments of Restatement of the Law Third, Torts; and for the 1988 Revisions to the Restatement of the Law Second, Conflict of Laws.
When asked about his continued involvement in ALI projects, Michael explained, “In a time of great political dissension and other polarization, this is one place you can come and have your view respected and considered, and to learn from others in a very courteous and productive discussion. It has been and is a great privilege to participate in ALI’s varied projects, and I learn something new and get to know new colleagues at every meeting. The ALI also affords us the welcome chance to take a kindness break from the current frenzy and strife in our country and enjoy and appreciate each other’s company.”
Michael’s professional and public service is not limited to the work of the Institute. He was a member of the committee of volunteer lawyers that preceded the creation in 1971 of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now known as Earthjustice), and served as a trustee, and board chair, and member of the Earthjustice Council. He is an Honorary Life Trustee of Earthjustice and of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Leadership Council of the Environmental Law Institute, and a past president of the Bar Association of San Francisco. In 1995, Michael was recognized as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for research and publication on issues at the intersection of science and law in biotechnology, the environment, and information technology. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers and the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers.
In 2004, he received the John P. Frank Outstanding Lawyer Award from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. It was given in recognition of outstanding character and integrity; dedication to the rule of law; proficiency as a trial and appellate lawyer; success in promoting collegiality among members of the bench and bar; and a lifetime of service to the federal courts of the Ninth Circuit.
As the ALI approaches its 100th Anniversary, Michael shared what he hopes to see from the Institute in the next 100 years, “I would like us strengthen our ability to address important public law issues. It would be heartening to see a room full of wonderfully diverse and dedicated judges, academics, and lawyers, foreign and American, with different perspectives and backgrounds. It would be useful also to strengthen our ability to help pay the travel and expenses of eligible participants who could not otherwise attend. I would also like to see some retrospective work on and systematic assessment of the unique and distinct contributions The American Law Institute has made, and to see a plan of action for how the second century is going to begin in a marvelously productive and constructive way.”
A native of California, Michael graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a B.A. in Economics, served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School. After serving as a Deputy Attorney General of the State of California and as Special Counsel to the California Senate Committee on Local Government, he joined Cooley in 1963, became a partner in 1969, then senior counsel, and retired in 2008. He is now senior counsel at Cobalt LLP.
Michael’s influence on the legal profession and ALI has been profound. The Institute is tremendously thankful to Michael for his support of the Second Century campaign. At his last Annual Dinner as ALI President, incoming President Roberta Cooper Ramo said of Michael, “He is a first-rate advocate, not only for his clients, but for the environment, for the justice system, for The American Law Institute, and for our democracy.”
“I believe that if you are committed to an organization, you give of yourself, your ideas, what you can provide in terms of leadership and organization,” said Michael when asked why he contributed to ALI’s Second Century Campaign. “If you have the financial capacity, you give what you can financially, as well as of yourself personally. And for this organization particularly that’s important because our dues are relatively modest; they don't finance completely all our good work. We depend on publication revenues, investment revenues, and so forth. We can’t count on those for a long-term future, so we need to build the organization where we have less dependence on different sources of revenue such as publications. Strengthening our ability to make our publications free at a time when people are seeking free access to important information would help our mission to simplify and clarify the law, our profession, and our country, and that takes money and support. I would like to see ourselves get to the point where we are completely financially independent. Achieving that goal would enable us also to take on projects of greater public law significance and international significance, and make them available, not only within this country but also to judges, academics, lawyers, policy-making groups, public and private, educational institutions, and other relevant institutions in various countries across the world.”
Michael lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife Shirley W. Traynor, a retired clinical psychologist. Married in 1956, they have three children and four grandchildren.