Q&A: Tom and Kathleen Wilkinson

As attorneys, spouses and heads of the two largest bar associations in the state, the duo knows a thing or two about keeping life in balance.

Photo by Jared CastaldiMLT: How did you meet?
Kathy: We were both new law students at Villanova back in the day. They sat us alphabetically, so he was a “W” and my maiden name was Yesenko. There were two students with the last name of Wolf who were between us, so we sat next to each other in every class, and his locker was right next to mine. We had our first date after school ended at Gullifty’s in Bryn Mawr.

MLT: How do you balance your personal and professional lives?
Kathy: It’s not always easy, but we’re both very organized. When I’m at work, I’m focused on work and I try not to let other activities interfere with my legal work. So then, when I’m at home, I can really be focused on what’s going on there.

MLT: And with three kids in the mix?
Tom: Like many lawyers, we’ll often bring them along to the various conferences and meetings we have across the country.
Kathy: We’ve been fortunate to have an excellent backup team of nannies and au pairs, and my father always pitched in. When my girls got older and could drive and watch our son, that definitely helped, too. But you need to have a backup plan for your backup plans.

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MLT: What traits do you share and what makes you different?
Tom: We’re both good at delegating to be sure things are done the way we expect them to be done.
Kathy: We share a strong work ethic, but we do have different skill sets. He works mainly with legal ethics, whereas I’m a litigator. I’m in court a lot and working with different personalities. As a litigator, you’re very people-oriented. My husband always says, “You’re the last one to leave the party.”

MLT: Have you ever faced each other in court?
Kathy: I don’t think that would be likely to happen. There’s that old Spencer Tracy movie, Adam’s Rib, and they did have a husband and wife who were going against each other in court. It was a lot of fun, but probably not realistic today.

MLT: What new responsibilities does heading up the two largest bar associations in the state bring to the table?
Kathy: For me being one of the few women to lead the Philadelphia Bar Association is phenomenal. In over 200 years, I’m only the sixth woman chancellor, and I may be the first female defense litigator.
Tom: We’re focused on maintaining our increasing membership numbers, which is a challenge for these voluntary associations. We’re making more of an effort to spotlight pro bono work, the issues surrounding the bill on the sales tax of legal services, and making sure the judiciary is adequately funded.

MLT: When you’re not on the clock, what do you do as a family?
Kathy: We like to travel, and we just came back from Cape May. We also hang out at the Merion Cricket Club, since most of the family plays tennis on a regular basis.
Tom: Anytime we have a retreat for work or an association function, we usually bring the kids along. We’re big into tennis, and Kathy is definitely a competitive shopper and bargain hunter.

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