Charles R. Coulter

Charles R. Coulter, the fourth President of the College of Law Practice Management, died on March 24, 2020, in Iowa City, IA.

Chuck was a truly good man, whose still bearing veiled the extraordinary service and contribution he gave in every aspect of his very full life. He was a Founding Fellow, involved in the College of Law Practice Management from its 1994 inception. Chuck served as President of the Board of Trustees from 2001-2003 and his gentle support was welcomed by every subsequent President. To see Chuck chair a Trustees meeting – or any meeting, for that matter – was to witness a master of calm intelligence, empathy, wisdom and organizational dexterity. Chuck was well-loved as President – the only one ever "piped out" at the end of his Presidency with a kazoo version of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

Through example, Chuck Coulter taught us about quiet passion, commitment to community, respect for the unique contributions of all people in groups and a selflessness and patience not often seen in today's world. He was a world-class listener with words to get us through the tough times, too. We can hear him even now, saying, "The dogs bark; the caravan rolls on" (with a bit of a twinkle) when it seemed progress would never be made in the face of loud opposition.

Chuck practiced law his entire life in Muscatine, Iowa, where he successfully served corporate and personal clients in business and corporate matters, including real estate, wills and estate planning. He was always an innovator in his firm and an active promoter of the emerging field of law practice management and technology – first within the Iowa Bar, then the American Bar Association where he held many leadership positions in the Section on Law Practice Management before being elected to chair the Section in 1991-92. An early advocate for the use of technology in law practice, he was selected by the ABA Board of Governors to Chair the first Coordinating Commission on Legal Technology, which drove much of the ABA's thinking on technology. He spoke often, wrote books and articles and shared his expertise generously.

In 2017, Chuck was presented the Samuel S. Smith Award, the highest honor bestowed by the ABA Law Practice Division, for outstanding lifetime achievement in the field of law practice management. In 2011 The University of Iowa College of Law awarded Chuck their Alumni Service Award. The Iowa State Bar Association awarded Chuck the 2001 Community Service Award in recognition of his long history of community service.

Chuck's love and admiration for his wife, Elizabeth, was a large part of who he was. Working in entirely different fields – Elizabeth Coulter became an Episcopal Priest in mid-life – it often seemed they worked as one. With him by her side, she started New Song Episcopal Church in Coralville, the first new Episcopal Church in Iowa in over 20 years.

A celebration of life is tentatively planned by his family for late summer. Memorial contributions may be made to Iowa City Hospice or New Song Episcopal Church in Coralville. In addition to Elizabeth, Chuck is also survived by his daughters, Anne Coulter and Carol Carlson; son-in-law Tim Carlson; and his grandchildren, Maya Coulter and Ethan Carlson.

To write this tribute is to remember – so many memories. We are both truly grateful that we knew Chuck.

Our warm thoughts go out to Elizabeth and the family. We won’t forget Chuck – and all he stood for.

Simon Chester, COLPM President, 2008
Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, COLPM President, 2004-2007

Tributes from COLPM

Chuck Coulter had a smile and twinkle in his eye that revealed a completely open heart and unbiased great brain. He had the kind manner of everything you wanted in a lawyer if you were scared or overwhelmed or in need of sage advice. He lived up to his Oath, not only to Protect and Defend the Constitution, but to be a foot soldier for democracy and a leader for his community. He may not be here in person anymore, but he stands as a living icon for what every lawyer is supposed to be.

Roberta Cooper Ramo, President American Bar Association 1995-1996; Charter Fellow, College of Law Practice Management, 1995

John Wooden, the legendary coach, said, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching." Chuck Coulter didn't do the right thing because he had an audience; he did things because they were right. He taught through his actions and many, including me, benefited as his students. And if there were still dictionaries, you would find Chuck's picture next to the following: selfless, kind, generous, loyal, resourceful and thoughtful. While I won't go on, my fond memories of Chuck surely will.

– David R. Hambourger, CIO, Chapman and Cutler LLC

Chuck Coulter was one of the very good people in this world. I am so sorry to lose him to such an arbitrary fate. When I entered the College I thought it was a bit stuffy, formal and quite dignified. When I became President I thought I would stir it up a bit and I tried to be energetic and loud and enthusiastic when I was the emcee at our annual gatherings. At our formal induction dinner during my last year as president, I did my best to warm up the crowd. Then I introduced Chuck who was assigned to induct the first group of our new Fellows. As he took the mic from me, he smiled his crooked smile and said, "My father always told me never to follow an animal act, but tonight I'll make an exception." We will all miss him.

Ron Staudt, COLPM President, 2013-2014

People often think innovation arises from the largest law firms in the biggest cities but Chuck was proof that is not true. Although he lived and practiced law in a small town in Iowa, he made a huge impact as a thought leader in the field of law practice management. And, on top of it all, he was a true gentleman.

Sally J. Schmidt, President, Schmidt Marketing, Inc.

I was so sorry to hear the news about Chuck. He was a man of extraordinary integrity, and a true leader. He opened doors to allow others to accomplish great things, and he inspired people to do what they hadn't yet imagined. I am fortunate to have counted him as a friend – in my mind's ear I can hear his voice right now. I am saddened, but I am also so very pleased that he was part of our world. Thank you, Chuck.

G. Burgess Allison, IT Director, MITRE Corp, 1983-2016

Chuck Coulter was a Renaissance man – a leader in the ABA Law Practice Division, liaison to the ALA, founding trustee of COLPM, great husband, father and grandfather, outstanding tennis player, and strong supporter to advance women. Chuck participated with intellect and energy, enriching every organization he joined.

His work for ALA was remarkable – he helped organize programs that brought members together to share ideas that benefited the legal community. For the ABA Law Practice Division, he promoted the participation of women as leaders in the Division. What he did for COLPM, is get it started! I remember a meeting with Sam Smith, Roberta Ramos, and others, discussing the original idea. Chuck invited me to the meeting to make sure administrators were involved in creating an organization to serve the legal community in a way we could only imagine. And look at what COLPM is today!

My favorite recollection of Chuck is how he played tennis. I think tennis players show their true character on the tennis court. Chuck was strategic on the court, supportive of his partner, yet making good suggestions, calling the lines correctly (no "out" when the call was in), and, yes, winning! Of course, we won because of Chuck's tennis skills, not mine.

– Carol PhillipsALA President, 1988-1989; Charter Fellow, College of Law Practice Management, 1995

Chuck was always kind and considerate. I remember his impish grin when the circumstances were right. I am truly sorry to hear of his passing.

– Dave Bilinsky, Chair, Pacific Legal Technology Conference, 2002-2015

Through my years in the ABA LPM Section and the College of Law Practice Management, I acquired the best kind of friend in Chuck Coulter. He was to me an unflappable, wry-humored, insightful, principled and steady confidant. Chuck was always frank and honest as we addressed challenges in the College during a period of transition. He became my sounding board for which he was eminently qualified and which was so important to me. I expect that "Now what would Chuck do?" could be read in the thoughts of many who had the pleasure and honor to know him.

– Robert Greene, COLPM President, 1997-1998

Chuck Coulter was the third Chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section with whom I worked. Chuck clearly was an excellent lawyer as well as a wise, natural leader. Whether as Section Chair (whose job, according to Chuck, was "to herd cattle"), as a committee chair or a member, Chuck worked to find common ground. Chuck listened. Deeply. As a leader, Chuck knew how to laugh, to prod, to encourage, to correct in a way that could be heard, to praise, and to be friend. My life has been richer by his friendship.

Alice Tully Atkins, COLPM Administrator, 1999-2001; ABA LPM Section Director, 1987-1995

I knew Chuck from 1985, the year that I got involved in the ABA Law Practice Management Section, until his passing. I was a young lawyer with only a few years of practice under my belt. Chuck was one of the leaders of the group. He helped mentor a generation of future ABA leaders and helped them find their way in the organization. His main strength was his ability to gain respect of others in the group by showing them respect. I tried as much as I could to adopt some of his traits as I was developing my own style of dealing with others in the organization. He set a great example. He was calm under pressure, had a great sense of humor and never took himself seriously. I am thankful for the opportunity that I had to get to know him.

– Bill Gibson, COLPM President, 2011-2012

Chuck Coulter was always thoughtful, respectful of others' contributions and comments, but wouldn't hesitate to speak up if he thought differently. He also had that edge of confidence that comes from a great leader. He had a sense of humor about him that seemed to permeate among the group; that always came out with our tightly knit group. When the time came to make necessary and quick decisions, he was one of the leaders that spoke out, but still listened to everyone without prejudice.

– Andy Adkins Chair, ABA TECHSHOW, 2000-2001

When elected as a Fellow in 2004 I had not heard of the College. When I arrived at the first meeting I did not recognize anyone in the room, but Chuck (who had volunteered to be my mentor) found me, introduced himself, and warmly introduced me to just about everyone in the room. Since then, we sought each other out at every annual meeting (now conferences), including five short months ago. My introduction to the College of Law Practice Management was wonderful, because of Chuck Coulter.

– Mark T. Greene, COLPM President, 2019-2020

In my 45 years working with lawyers and accountants, Chuck Coulter was one of my favorite "bosses." But my fondest (and most lasting) memory of Chuck is that he suggested a change of my first name from Sandra to Sandy. I had become Sandra years earlier at a law firm that employed two other Sandy secretaries to relieve some of that confusion. I believe that Chuck saw me as not quite that fancy, so upon retirement in 2005, I became and stayed "Sandy." Except that my husband Jim always called me "Dandy." Peace, dear Chuck.

– Sandy Geist, COLPM Administrator, 2002-2005

Chuck Coulter was a pillar in the legal management community, from the ABA to ALA to the College, and everyone knew Chuck. I first met him through my service on various ALA boards and committees, because we could always depend on Chuck to provide a lawyer’s perspective in what we were doing. Chuck was very kind and helpful to me when I was President of ALA, and while also serving as President of the College. How very sad for all of us who cherished him, especially his family. I sat next to him at lunch in Nashville last fall and we talked about everything – including the future. He always sought me out for a conversation whenever we were together. He was interested in how I was adjusting to retirement and said he was cutting back but not quite ready to retire. That was Chuck – thoughtful and always concerned for other – from his clients to the Fellows. He is missed already.

Bill Migneron, COLPM President, 2017-2018

Chuck was one of those people that was a mentor to all. He along with Harris Morgan and Jimmy Brill gave us "upstarts" a chance to contribute. He was a strong force in making the ABA see the "Section" then as the leader for the future of the ABA. He pioneered our introduction of the Sections ideas on the coming changes in technology and communication (we were the first to use e-mail messaging) into the fabric of the ABA. I will miss Chuck. He seemed to always know what I was thinking and as Roberta said: "had twinkle in his eye" as he looked at you and smiled. He was a promoter of people, a listener, and a mentor to all.

William C. Cobb, COLPM Charter Member