Reporting in from the ABA Annual Meeting…

On Tuesday, I arrived in Chicago for the ABA Annual Meeting. The first two days of the meeting is spent with my bar executive colleagues from the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE). As always, the program has been very good. We cover a lot of ground in just about a day and a half of programming. Yesterday morning was a TedTalk format on a variety of topics including a short program by our good friend, Elizabeth Derrico on “preparing to lead.” I have good takeaways from her short program that I will be exploring further.


Next I facilitated a session on collaboration with other bar associations and law related groups. We had a great 90 minute discussion about working with other bar associations. When I had my own opportunity to speak, I was very pleased to report to my colleagues about our own work with GRAWA, RBBA, the Bar Association of Erie County, the Onondaga Bar Association, as well as the New York State Bar Association. My takeaway is that we are playing nice with all the kids in the sand-box, not everyone else at the table could say that. And when I asked the question about working with legal service agencies in their towns, most were reporting challenges. Once again, I was happy to report that we have created the Telesca Center for Justice, and just celebrated our 10th Anniversary. Many are familiar with what we have done in Rochester, and all agree, they are not certain they would want the same model, but they are curious about it. Our Rochester accomplishment is well-known on a national level; I am always eager and proud to talk about it.

NABE roundtable

I spent 90 minutes in a session about member retention. A well known fact in the association world is that it costs 7-9 times more to secure a new member, than it costs to retain a member. Membership engagement and satisfaction is not simply the responsibility of the membership team, or me as Executive Director, but instead, it is the shared responsibility of the entire team, as well as the Board of Trustees. This session was pretty powerful and I walked away with good ideas that I will be reviewing with the MCBA team next week when I get back. Member retention should not be an event, instead  it should be a strategy, and in fact, it needs to be a shared strategy.

One of the best sessions was about leadership development. This should not be something we think about once a year as the Nominating Committee convenes to prepare a slate or ballot. We should be “building our bench of leaders” all year long. Again the key word here is about member engagement. Are we delivering to you, as the member, the value you need, knowing each of you may define that value in a different way.


One of the favorite topics of these NABE meetings are about “the graying of the profession”. The reality is we are all facing significant retirements from membership in the coming 5-10 years, and the fear is that we are not filling this potential membership gap with the next generations of future bar leaders. You have heard me speak about this before, so this concern is not new. I am always ready to boast of our success with our outstanding Young Lawyers Section. This year, the Section is being lead by Curtis Johnson, a dedicated young lawyer and associate at Davidson Fink. Curt has been an active member of the Section since his arrival in Rochester. With more than 200 members in our YL Section, this group of young lawyers is not merely about happy hours and fun times, but have an extraordinary commitment to community service as evidenced in their commitment to Teen Court, including participation in the Court, as well as active fundraising for the program for more than 6 years now. In addition, we are now talking with them about partnering up to support Lawyers for Learning. In addition, they have community groups outside of the legal profession they support as well.

On the morning of Day 3, I had an early morning breakfast with colleagues, when we have a great opportunity to do some one on one catch up with close friends about life in their bar, updates on their families, and vacation plans if any.

The first morning session was by Sharon E. Jones, President and CEO of Jones Diversity Group. Sharon delivered a really good message about understanding and responding to implicit bias. Exploring our unconscious attitudes and actions to the people we interact with in our day to day work and life, both personal and professional. Sharon was asked about “diversity fatigue”, and respectfully dismissed the idea that we are done with this conversation.


Innovation within the CLE World was one of the early morning programs today. Bar associations are well-positioned to continue to teach attorneys for their future. At the State Bar of Wisconsin, they are spending a significant amount of time meeting the needs of young lawyers being forced to start a law practice due to lack of jobs. Wisconsin acknowledged that law schools did not provide business acumen when it came to starting a law practice. The Wisconsin Bar convened a focus group of small, solo and successful practitioners together to develop the curriculum. The end result was a new program called: Business School for Lawyers — Get the Business Concepts to Grow Your Practice. The program appeals to both new and seasoned lawyers that may be leaving a big firm, and forging out on their own. The successful program incorporates roundtables, just in time learning, networking, panel groups, impromptu learning, practical materials, and successful business people both inside and outside the practice of law. I really like this idea, and look forward to talking with the Academy of Law in more detail about this potential.

Several other great ideas came out of this program. We need to change the mindset that professional development is ALL about securing CLE credits. It is not! Professional development goes beyond what the mandating organizations require, and as bar associations, though we have a responsibility in delivering those CLE credits, we need to explore other types of adult learning. An example provided today is that a program on marketing is not credit worthy, however, if you wish to grow your practice, you do need to know how to market your practice, even if it means, no CLE credit.

The Colorado Bar is willing to work with us to offer a collaboration on CLE & Ski! What do you think about a week long program in Vail, for some daily CLE and skiing while meeting great lawyers from around the country? May not appeal to everyone, but what a great opportunity for a group that might be interested. Those seeking CLE & Sun, there are plenty of bars that we could collaborate with on a CLE Cruise. What do you think?

Now in the final session of the NABE portion of the conference. Once again, we are hearing a series of smart speakers on short topics. Technology, technology, technology…we need to find a way to support you more on this. One speaker suggested that we need to be supporting you better in your practices. We have a very successful Solo & Small Bar Committee, chaired by Brad Kammholz, and bringing incredible energy to this growing population of members. I would like to invite more dialogue on this topic. What more can we do? Whether you are a solo or a large firm, how can the MCBA help you be more successful in your practice? Please talk to me, talk to Neil, talk to Liz, Louise or Kathy. We are all here to help. If you have an idea, please reach out. If we have missed your willingness to be more engaged, please, please, please, call me. I want to hear from you.buddies

As this session wraps up, I will be awaiting the arrival of my president-elect, Mark Moretti, Phillips Lytle. Mark’s portion of the program begins this evening with a gathering of Metro Bar Associations, followed by dinner with the bar leaders from the Bar Association of Erie County. This annual dinner is a great opportunity to meet with our neighbors to talk about opportunities for collaboration, and issues facing upstate lawyers. In the days ahead, Mark will learn about the changes in the legal landscape, and the role of bar associations in those changes. Always a session on strategic planning, another on improving the perception of lawyers, unbundling of legal services in order to improve access for clients, micro-volunteering, and these are only a few.

Tomorrow evening, the New York State Bar Association hosts a dinner for all of the NYS bar leaders, and this is a wonderful time to join our colleagues from around the state. The dinner will be hosted by NYSBA President, David Miranda, and is a great opportunity to meet the new bar leaders that are coming into leadership.

Once Saturday afternoon arrives, I will turn off the bar-mode, and switch over to the mom-mode, as I fly from Chicago to Boston to visit with Claire for a few days. She has now been a working woman for 2 full months, and we are both in need of hugs, and no doubt, a trip to replenish to the cupboards.

Though only part way through the week, it has been a great week already. Even after the sessions end, and over a glass of wine, our talk as we gather is about new ideas and innovations, challenges and solutions. This group of people that have become friends and colleagues over the last 14 years have become my go-to people with questions, and I play the same role for many of them. These opportunities for engagement and learning have been one of the best aspects of my role because I have a network that I can call on day or night to pose a question and gain a solution. We support each other through list serves, emails, texts, phone calls, webinars, and video chats.

The single common denominator is that we are all extremely dedicated, some might say, addicted, to what we do as bar executives. We love what we do. We love to observe the trends and challenges that we face each year. We love the people we work with both volunteers and staff. We love that our single purpose is really quite simple — ensuring a strong and fair justice system for our communities.

Continued thanks for allowing me this incredible opportunity to be YOUR bar executive. I am proud of this title, and proud of all of you, and all that you bring to the MCBA.

Thanks for checking in…


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