Kelly Waters, managing partner of the New Jersey office of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman (WSHB) is the 2022 recipient of the prestigious "Making a Difference through Community Service" award. Presented annually to one deserving individual by the American Bar Association, this award honors an attorney who has made a significant lifetime contribution to the local community through community service.
“We are thrilled the spotlight is shining brightly on Kelly with this honor,” said Stephen Henning, founding partner at WSHB. “Kelly works incredibly hard to make a difference in so many communities all while handling with ease all facets of being a successful trial lawyer. Everyone at the firm is elated the ABA is honoring Kelly this year.”
Born and raised in New Jersey, Kelly Waters has consistently dedicated her time to improving the lives of others in her community. Specifically, her efforts have focused on organizations that improve the lives of people with Multiple Sclerosis, the poor and underserved, the arts and the LGBTQ+ community. The American Bar Association Small Firm and General Practice Division's (GPSolo) Difference Makers Awards recognize extraordinary individuals who "make a difference" by breaking down barriers, through community service, pro bono work, or service to the profession.
Kelly has served as a mentor and provided legal guidance for a multigenerational women's group run by St. Joseph's Social Services. Through this group, Kelly provided legal assistance and arranged for various professionals to address the group on topics relating to housing, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, financial aid, resume building, interview coaching and debt restructuring to help break the cycle of poverty and help women become gainfully employed and/or assist them with qualifying for financial assistance.
"What I remember most about my work with the women of St. Joseph's is that I found that they had more in common with my successful female colleagues than they would ever know," Kelly said. "These women were facing the same challenges that all women face - equal pay, access to affordable child care, access to quality health care, finding a partner/spouse that is supportive, work/life balance issues, etc. I tried to impress upon these women - who often don't believe they have a voice - that they are smart, strategic and that they had it within them to change their situation."
In addition, for more than 20 years Kelly served as a Trustee for the New Jersey Metro Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and is one of the founders of the Women on the Move Luncheon, which raises money to fund research and provide services for people diagnosed with MS. In 2020, she was asked to join the Board of Directors for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, a national not for profit dedicated to raising funds to provide services for people living with MS.
Kelly is an ally to the LGBTQ+ community and is a member of the Ad Hoc Committee which advises the Union County Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs, which is part of the Union County administration. Kelly has contributed her time to participating in panel discussions on topics that are important to the LGBTQ+ community and their allies.
In 2015, Kelly co-founded and served as the President of the Vanguard Theater Company, a not for profit theater whose mission is to change social and cultural narratives through theater dedicated to DREAM - Diversity, Reciprocity, Education, Activism & Mentorship. "As a single mom of a theater kid, I saw the incredible and positive impact theater and the arts could have on children," Kelly commented. "It was my desire to be part of an organization that brought theater to all kids regardless of socio economic or cultural background."
After stepping off Vanguard's Board, Kelly was nominated to the Board of Directors of the Union County Performing Arts Center. Through her position as 1st Vice President and chair of the Legal/HR committee, Kelly has been able to guide the UCPAC through various legal challenges during and post pandemic. Her love of youth arts programming has also allowed her to collaborate with others on the Board to bring a youth education program and summer camp back to the theater post-pandemic.
Currently, Kelly is working with a group of local and international civic leaders to assist with the Ukrainian orphan crisis in Poland and will be traveling to Poland in October 2022 on a humanitarian mission. Kelly is attempting to arrange for the donation of iPads to the orphanages.
The award will be presented at the Difference Makers Awards Luncheon in Columbus, Ohio on October 7th, 2022, 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the Hilton Columbus Downtown. This luncheon is during the GPSolo Division’s Fall Leadership meeting.
Kelly is the Managing Partner of the firm’s New Jersey office. With more than 25 years of experience successfully defending complex litigation matters, Kelly is the lawyer to whom General Counsel and claims professionals turn to when they face a “bet the company” lawsuit. Kelly’s practice includes trying cases to verdict in state and federal court in New Jersey.
Kelly’s product liability practice includes defending complex product liability matters for a number of regulated products including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, consumer products, foods, automotive and construction/industrial machines in either single plaintiff cases or by way of class actions. In addition to her trial experience, Kelly has participated in numerous multi-party mediations. Kelly’s ability to identify the issue, appropriately value the case and seek an early and practical resolution has led to early and successful resolutions for the benefit of her clients. Through her work with product manufacturers, Kelly has developed a related commercial practice advising manufacturers and distributors in commercial, and consumer-related matters.
Please join us in congratulating WSHB's very own "Difference Maker in the Community," Kelly Waters!