One of the annual traditions for an incoming bar president is their participation in the ABA’s Bar Leadership Institute (BLI) which takes place in Chicago every March. No matter what the weather brings our way! The determination of the president-elects to get to Chicago despite the challenges of balancing 2-3 days out of the office, family responsibility, and inclement weather is admirable.
So I missed what sounds like “the storm” of 2014 because I went out one day early for the Chief Staff Executive Session. Fortunately, this time Chicago was spared the wrath of Vulcan. However, MCBA President-Elect Steve Modica had his bags packed and was ready to go yesterday, but alas, mother nature had different plans. His flight, along with thousands of others, was cancelled. But Steve was tireless and determined to get here, and by the time you read this, he will have already arrived. I heard of one president-elect that boarded a train at midnight last night, and arrived in Chicago this morning. Another bar group out of Indianapolis piled into a car, and drove through the storm to arrive safe last night.
They get here, because they have an opportunity to sit in a room full of hundreds of bar leaders from all over the country, and to better understand this great responsibility they have assumed as next year’s President. The emphasis about BLI is to assist these leaders with new trends for bar associations, governance, media and communication tips, as well as working with the Executive Director, and so much more.
Depending on the president, it has been said that serving as president can consume as much as 1,000-1,200 hours during their term. That is close to 20-30 hours per week for 52 weeks. Some weeks it may be less, and other weeks I have witnessed more. And in case you are wondering, for the presidents, this is not a paid gig. This becomes a part-time job to their full-time job as practicing attorneys. And to be fair, their term as president-elect has also become pretty demanding as the president-elect assumes additional responsibilities to support the president.
This tireless commitment of these bar leaders really is extraordinary, and I don’t just mean because of their willingness to travel. When they receive the call about their nomination, there is excitement, a sense of honor, and all reports being humbled. When I finally begin to prep the president-elect for their term, one of the things I suggest to him or her is that they save room on their dance card for the “unknowns” that develop in their term. As we all know, “stuff happens.”
Our current president, Diane Cecero, is a great example. Diane is in the process of a negotiation on indigent legal care services with Monroe County involving the Conflict Defender Office and the Assigned Council Panel. This is a very complex negotiation, and Diane with the support of many criminal defense attorneys, is spending an enormous amount of time on this matter. I have enjoyed watching and learning from Diane in these negotiations. Her tireless commitment to ensuring that the result is quality legal representation is her single priority in this negotiation.
I’ve watched in awe over the years Presidents handle difficult issues with professionalism and commitment, and this year is no different. I, more than anyone, know what a president puts into their year, and how much time they put into difficult issues. They struggle to field the different opinions and come to the best solution through dialogue within the bar, the community, and sometimes, even the media. This was not training they received in law school – it’s learning by fire. The responsibility is great, and even greater, because they are your peers. The MCBA is a diverse bar with a diversity of opinions, so there will be disagreements. It simply cannot be avoided.
So I guess what I am suggesting is that until you walk in the shoes of the president, perhaps learn a little bit more about the responsibility that your colleague has taken on. It is significant. Can you imagine walking in their shoes for 1,000 hours for one year not knowing what’s coming? I think it takes very special people to say, “Yes, I would be honored to serve as MCBA President.”
I know I am honored to have worked with so many great presidents — 13 to date: Mike Dwyer, Gene Clifford, June Castellano, Mike Wolford, Jim Grossman, Jill Schultz, Tom Smith, Andrew Brown, Harold Kurland, Sue Laluk, Bryan Hetherington, Connie Walker and Diane Cecero. And in the next few months, we will welcome Steve Modica. All of them worked incredibly hard, and when they get together they continue to talk about “those moments” in their presidency that will be with them forever. Next time you see one of them, thank them for their service.
Thanks for checking in,