Thanks

By Kevin Ryan, Esq., Executive Director

T.S. Eliot thought April is the cruelest month, but I think it’s November, when everything is dead or dying, the days grow shorter and darker, and the temperatures dip below freezing while flurries dance in the air. Maybe that’s why Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving Day gravitates around cooking, sharing food with family and friends, and relaxing (read: falling asleep after eating too much). When you get right down to it, there’s not much more than that happening on Thanksgiving. There’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while you’re getting the turkey in the oven. Later, there’s a string of football games in the background. But the parade can be tedious if you’re not seeing it live (then, it’s fun even when it’s cold) and the games rarely mean much and generally involve teams we neither love nor hate (though I admit to always rooting against the Dallas Cowboys). There might be a drink or two – New York Gewürztraminer is especially good with turkey – or, for teetotalers, some special non-alcoholic concoction. And oh so much food! Hors d’oeuvres, side dishes, things you don’t eat the rest of the year. The smell of turkey roasting away in the oven pervades the house.

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Later, after way too much turkey and stuffing and potatoes, desserts abound. We end up stuffed, rotund, and deeply gratified. Best of all, there’s not really anything else you have to do: no piles of gifts to unwrap, no particular reason to get all dressed up (‘cuz there’s no place to go), no religious services demanding attendance, no requirements to do much more than praise the cook(s) and eat (more than we should) of their offerings. Just put your feet up and nod off, defying the effects of the caffeine and sugar you dumped into your system just moments before. Altogether a happy, relaxing sort of day, just the thing for the cruel hours of November.

Yes, of course, we are supposed to be “thankful” on this day – for the love and food we share with others, for the other joys in our lives, for the fact that we do not live in want. We do not agree about the recipient of our thanks, but the feeling (and isn’t thankfulness a feeling more than anything else?) is much the same, I suspect, whether we thank a divinity, a nation, our parents, families, and friends, or children and grandchildren, or all those around us who contribute to making our lives what they are. We feel that for nearly all of what makes life worth living, we are beholden to others. And we are. We should never, ever, forget that.

Thank you. For everything.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Short and Sweet

By Kevin Ryan, Esq., Executive Director, MCBA

So Liz, I learn, thinks that my blog posts are too long, too wordy, too scholarly, too filled with big words – in a word, “too.” (OK, that’s not a word, at least not used that way – but it should be.) She may have a point: after all, this is supposed to be a blog, not a treatise or one of those law review articles with more footnotes than text. Yes, it’s true, I tend to wax philosophical, to go scholarly on you. I tend to develop my ideas in my writing, not toss something out there that is, in the words of the Dean of Bar PR, “short and sweet.” And I like to think deep thoughts. Sure enough, that’s probably not the best approach to blog writing, no matter how much it displays who I am. It’s just “too.”

Then I imagine the following conversation.

Ms. Short says: “Hey Kev, it’s not just your blogs that go on and on until all focus and consciousness is lost. Want to know something else that is ‘too’? Those long, long events filled with talking heads, awards, and not enough wine to ease the pain. Bar associations – or at least a certain generation of bar leaders – like such things, perhaps because they fit the image of professional events embraced by the Boomers and their parents. Follow a reception with a dinner and ruin (er, accompany) dessert with a program. The program features a passel of notable bar leaders (presidents, famous folk, partner types) all talking (too long) about each other, patting each other on the back, giving each other awards (and throwing in a stray young lawyer or poverty lawyer for good measure and good PR), and sucking the air out of the room as they drone on and on.”

Ms. Short goes on: “What if we decided to explode this old, tired concept of a bar event? What if we decided to liven things up, to cut the speeches (which nobody pays much attention to anyway), hand out awards without expecting (permitting) lengthy accolade-laden speeches from the presenters or ‘I want to thank everybody I’ve ever met’ speeches filled with plenty of mock humility from the recipients?”

Before she can go on, Mr. Sweet, clearly loving this exercise, jumps in: “What if we got people up and moving and away from their plates of banquet chicken? What if we made the events really fun and not just ‘that was a nice event’ (kind-speak for ‘that was as dull as ever’)? Imagine the possibilities! Mingling and hanging out. Some fun video clips and catchy music. Dance. An award or two, given without all the pomp and circumstance of the usual awards ceremony (no Elgar, no traipsing up the steps to the stage, no tedious speeches). Opportunities right there to do something for the community – things that bring the profession into the limelight in a positive way rather than all that self-congratulation, things like a clinic for the elderly or veterans or teachers. Tweeting!! [Now I have Liz’s attention.] Snapchatting!!! Live links to others who aren’t there through Periscope or Facebook Live, turning it into a true legal community event. Too cool!!!!”

Inspired, Ms. Short interrupts: “You could even throw in some ‘outside the box’ CLE programs before or after. Or do some cool tech demos. Or some TED talk presentations. But the key is, ‘short.’”

Mr. Sweet, not to be outdone, simply says: “Sweet!”

Is it time to be short and sweet?

First, Let’s Kill All Those Shallow Interpretations of Shakespeare

By Kevin Ryan, Esq.

You know that quotation from Shakespeare about killing all the lawyers? What are we to make of it? Critics of the legal profession (serious or half-joking) love to trot the phrase out to lend pedigree to their view that lawyers are all highly paid sharks bent on enriching themselves by impoverishing others, making everything worse (except their own bank accounts) through protracted litigation. Is there something bad and unwholesome about modern life? Well then, say the critics, blame it on lawyers. The phrase pops up at parties and political rallies, in the mouths of wannabe wits and candidates for office. The Eagles even stuck the line in a song, evidently because it captured Don Henley’s feelings towards people who look for a quick injection of cash for imagined injuries and the lawyers who take those cases to court. Even in Elizabethan times, so the critics would have it, lawyers were despised as mongrels seeking to steal your money through Machiavellian maneuverings. Generally, one hopes, these critics don’t really want to kill lawyers, let alone all of them, let alone “tonight,” as Henley’s lyrics urge. But they do want to convey the thought that the world would be a better place without lawyers, that there’s something sleazy, dirty, unsavory about the profession. And if you are in the legal profession, you’ve been overexposed to the phrase, often by acquaintances testing the waters of your sense of humor – you know the sort: a poke in the ribs, a wry smile, a comment about your line of work, “Shakespeare said we should kill all the lawyers,” ha-ha-ha.

From what we know of his life, it is likely that Shakespeare himself did not have particularly positive relationships with lawyers and the legal system: both he and his father were perpetually being dragged into court for one reason or another. Still, the idea that getting rid of lawyers would improve humankind is shallow and ignorant (we should not have to recite all the benefits lawyers have brought to us over the centuries) – and we should be very wary of attributing such an idea to a writer universally appreciated for his depth and intelligence.

The legal profession – filled with well-educated and competitive sorts – has not stood by while the quip from Shakespeare gets bandied about. And so we get the other side. Many employ the phrase in order to turn it on its head, using it as part of a defense of lawyers. The pro-lawyer faction wants us to consider not the words themselves, but the context in which they appear. The actual phrase is: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” and it’s from King Henry VI, Pt. II. You’ve read the play? No, you probably haven’t, for it’s not one of the Bard’s best loved works. (Yes, I have, since you asked.) One wag even commented that the play would have been entirely forgotten had it not been for this one line; that’s probably too strong, but there’s no doubt this play is seldom read, let alone performed. Anyway, Shakespeare, as literate readers know, put this phrase into the mouth of a villain, Dick the Butcher, a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who hoped to become king by disrupting the social order.

And there you have it – the makings of an alternative interpretation, one in which context makes all the difference. Justice John Paul Stevens, in Walters v. Nat’l Assn. of Radiation Survivors (1985), gave classic expression to this view: “As a careful reading of that text will reveal, Shakespeare insightfully realized that disposing of lawyers is a step in the direction of a totalitarian form of government.” Shakespeare, Justice Stevens believes, is telling us that eliminating lawyers permits tyrants to run amok on the rights and liberties of people; that’s why the Bard put the words into the mouth of a bad guy, a rebel, an anarchist. Shakespeare, we are subtly invited to conclude, knew the fundamental value of lawyers to civilization. Thus, far from being an attack on the profession, the exchange serves as a not-too-subtle defense of law and those who practice it against those who would establish tyranny (or, worse, anarchy – if you could establish anarchy).

But is this really any better than the crude “Shakespeare as lawyer-hater” interpretation? Having spent many of my (many) years in the groves of academe, I can hear the teeth-gnashing that this interpretation provokes. The Bard has been the victim, perhaps more than any other writer, of people hijacking a phrase here and a phrase there (like this one about lawyers) in order to enlist him in support of whatever position they want to espouse. I think it’s a fair observation about lawyers that, of all professional groups, they may be one of the most likely to commit this offense. Further, interpreting great literature (the teeth-gnashers would say) is a difficult, controversial, and endless endeavor. (Yes, I know: the notion of “great literature” is pretty darn fuzzy and controversial itself). And Shakespeare is notoriously challenging to interpret: library shelves are filled with competing attempts to explain the “meaning” of his works, and the Shakespeare industry rumbles on into the twenty-first century unperturbed by the passage of time. How can we know for certain what he meant, especially in a relatively obscure line in an even more obscure play?

But inconclusiveness of interpretation aside, Justice Stevens’s use of Shakespeare suffers from a host of difficulties. For one, it is painfully anachronistic. Shakespeare would’ve had no idea what a “totalitarian form of government” might be – in fact, it’s not clear that we do either, given the ongoing disputes among scholars about exactly what totalitarianism is and isn’t. Writing hundreds of years before the 20th century (and without the “benefit” of all that scholarship), Shakespeare could have had no inkling of the depth to which dictatorial power could extend into the everyday lives of people. He was aware of the force of royal absolutism: Queen Elizabeth was not reluctant to use her power to destroy her internal enemies (both religious and political), and her successor, King James I, did have grand visions of himself as an “absolute” ruler. But neither came close to being a totalitarian dictator: Elizabeth was not Hitler in skirts; royal power, even under the assertive James, did not come close to extending its tentacles deep into the everyday lives of individuals; and, in any event, James I ruled some years after Shakespeare wrote Henry VI, Pt. II. In short, Shakespeare could not have been saying anything about totalitarian government at all.

Even assuming we could agree (which, as I say, we can’t) on what “totalitarian government” is – that it’s something like Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union – then we have to recognize the part played by lawyers in those very systems. Had it not been for the work of thousands of lawyers, those systems could not have functioned. And so the proper contrast may not be between totalitarianism on the one hand and the presence of lawyers on the other, as Stevens would have it, but between two kinds of systems, both of which make use of legal professionals (albeit in somewhat different ways). But that is not nearly so gratifying a portrait of lawyers as the Stevens camp likes to paint.

And finally, returning to the play itself, does it make any sense at all to refer to Cade and his anarchist henchmen as proponents of “totalitarian government”? Isn’t it rather the case that they proposed the elimination rather than the expansion of government? As for Shakespeare, he seems, if anything, to have been more disturbed by the threat of chaos represented by Cade and his band of thugs than worried about the prospect of a state that sees no limits to its power and that seeks to control every aspect of public and private life. He was, to be sure, wary of the royal power to shut him down (or worse), but it was the existing system that came closer to total power than anything the rude peasants tagging along with Cade might construct. If the views espoused by Dick the Butcher lay out a contrast to the rule of law, it depicts a world without law of any sort, not a world of total control by government.

Thus, even when we read the famous phrase in context, it is not all that clear what that context tells us. And it certainly doesn’t give us much insight into Shakespeare’s own views. Despite the comfort Justice Stevens offers a profession frequently laughed at, criticized, and even vilified, his interpretation of Shakespeare seems no sounder than those he opposes. Reading Shakespeare with Stevens may make us feel good, but that is hardly an appropriate standard of truth (certainly, we don’t use it as a standard in most other aspects of our lives). We may gain a feeling of superiority over those (other) “shallow” readers who cite the passage as if Shakespeare was endorsing the idea it expresses. But when examined more closely, this interpretation isn’t much deeper: it too just seems to be a way to snatch a line out of a play and make it mean whatever you want it to mean. And that, I suggest, falls short of the standards not just of critical interpretation, but of our profession as a whole.

Doing the COMBA

By Kevin Ryan, Esq.

Naples, Florida, is hot in mid-September, in case you were wondering. Daytime temperatures climb into the 90s, and the humidity creates a wall of dampness into which you crash each time you leave air-conditioned interiors (and has the incidental effect of making you a damp mess at the same time). At night it cools all the way down to the low 80s, permitting wonderful walks along the beach but making outside dining (something we northerners will do any chance we get) a steamy affair relieved only slightly by multiple orders from the bar. (I know what you’re thinking.) One can imagine oneself as a character in a Hemingway tale set in South Florida or the Keys (though would any of us really want to be one of those unsavory characters?) – or, for modern readers of lighter fiction, someone wandering through the pages of a Carl Hiaasen novel. The heat, the fans, the beach and the waves, all contribute to that daydream. Given the heat, daydreaming is a strenuous activity.

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MCBA President Mark Moretti and I spent several days in Naples recently, attending the Conference of Metropolitan Bar Associations (COMBA) and hobnobbing with other bar association leaders. It was the first time doing the COMBA for both of us. I had heard from others that this was a tremendous conference – and they were right. Mark and I came back inspired with new ideas, bursting with new enthusiasms, excited about new approaches to perennial bar association issues. (Mark has actually composed a lengthy list of things he’d like to try here in Rochester.)

It’s amazing what you can learn from conversations with others who do what you do. For one, you learn that they face many of the problems and issues you face. For another, you learn that many of the ideas you have for facing them have been tried by others, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. For yet another, you sometimes get a glimpse of the future when you learn that others have confronted something that has yet to appear on your radar – but as you listen to them you find that some of the advance warning signals they received are beginning to be faintly heard back home as well. Those have long been the benefits of professional development conferences. That’s why I am a big supporter of professional development: one comes back excited and filled with new ideas; one comes back having tapped the collective mind of the profession and taken away the best it has to offer (see Mark’s list).

There is no normal time for bar associations, and metropolitan bars nationwide are starting to take notice. Business as usual can no longer be permitted; it’s “business as unusual” that the times require. Things are going to change – indeed, things are changing – and bar associations must either get on board or get left behind. Much has been written about this – some of it by me. And this theme lay at the heart of COMBA this year: bar associations face a drastically changed environment and we need to figure out how to thrive in it – or face disaster (not too strong a word).

The eye of this particular hurricane is a change in the nature of membership. Lawyers no longer join their local bar association because “it’s what you do.” No, they pick and choose their commitments and must be shown why bar membership is valuable to their lives and careers. (I’ve had managing partners ask for my help in getting their younger attorneys more involved in the bar association.) What is the key benefit bar associations offer their members? I’ve had this conversation many times with bar leaders at the local, state, and national levels – and the most common answer is CLE, though sometimes the answer involves some variation on the word “networking.” But in a market featuring more and more suppliers of “free” CLE, a member’s discount on programs is no longer a draw – just as it has never been a draw for government attorneys. Discounts on things (especially things tangentially related to the life of a legal professional like rental cars and life insurance) may be nice, as add-ons to something more substantial, but they are not enough in themselves. And some of the things we have sold to members – for instance, printed things such as directories, magazines, or materials – resemble DVDs where they don’t resemble eight-track tapes: the need for them, their place in the life of a twenty-first century professional, is diminishing rapidly where it has not disappeared altogether. It won’t be long before our members don’t want or need these things at all.

In addition, in a world in which networking happens in dozens of newfangled ways, a world filled with people who have grown up (or grown accustomed to) connecting with others online or through apps of various sorts, the opportunity to enter a room with hundreds of other lawyers and be talked at by some series of speakers or set of panelists just doesn’t have the same cachet or seductiveness it once had. Don’t believe me? Check out the attendees at your next big “event.” My bet is that most of them will be people over fifty (maybe over sixty), people who have grown up in receptions and dinners and who have the money to pay the (usually sizable) entry fee. A world with Tinder and Uber and Yelp is fundamentally different from the world of annual dinners, and unless our big events give off the same vibe as Tinder and Uber and Yelp, we will find attendance and revenues dwindling – and members going elsewhere.

Newer generations expect their association to mimic the engagement experience they get in nearly all other aspects of their lives – the experience one gets from Google, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Lyft, and a host of others in the new economy. They expect us to make the “membership experience” exceptional; they expect us to make it smooth and easy; they expect us to offer interesting ways in which they can connect with each other, offer opinions on products and services, and get tips from each other. They expect it to come at little or no cost, perhaps in a subscription format, and to come “just in time,” when they need it rather than when they don’t. They expect things to happen quickly, almost instantaneously. Spend hundreds on bar association dues and get . . . what? CLE programs where you go somewhere, sit in a chair, and listen to a panel of talking heads? Discounts on hotel rooms less than what you can get on Hotels.com? A “member’s price” on over-priced and under-flavored “banquet chicken” dinners at convention centers? A totally static print magazine or book of phone numbers and email addresses? A website designed years ago, cluttered with text and photos of the (gray-haired) attendees at that over-priced dinner, and requiring a series of clicks to get where you want to go (assuming you can figure that out)?

There are generations of people coming up who don’t want these things, at least not bad enough to shell out a big chunk of change each year without more. What they want has more to do with a sense of belonging to something they believe in, and with a need to further their careers and their lives. Indeed, they often see career and life as tightly integrated: my generation started thinking about work-life balance; this generation thinks about life as composed of closely connected experiences involving profession, family, and commitments – holistic rather than linear. And their views are influencing older generations as well. Simon Sinek, whose TED talk “Start with Why” (based on his bestselling book of the same title) has been seen by more than two million viewers (the third most-viewed video on the TED site, according to Wikipedia), insists that “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it” (emphasis added). That means, he argues, that “The goal is not to do business with people who desire what you have . . . [but] to do business with people who believe what you believe.” So just doing stuff, just providing stuff, no longer meets the needs of today’s members and won’t keep them tied to you. Rather, businesses and associations need to offer potential members a picture of why they do what they do – a vision that strikes a chord with potential members because they see themselves in it, a vision that jibes with what potential members think of themselves and who they’d like to be.

This is heady but important. If we want lawyers to see joining the bar association as “the thing to do,” we must show them how membership is part of their vision of themselves. They must come to feel (I use that verb intentionally, not as a flabby substitute for the verb “to think”) that the bar association is modern, hip, attuned to their needs, alive in the same atmosphere of the other sorts of (mostly online) interactions they have. The bar association needs to be felt to be more like Google than the Rotary Club, more like Amazon or Pandora than like Montgomery Ward or the Columbia Record Club. That requires a major refocusing of bar association work: a shift to a nimbler, online, member-driven kind of interaction – a shift away from providing things toward fitting into (even helping generate) a vision of professional and personal life, a shift from what to why.

So, while the sand no longer filters through my toes and the sweat no longer streams down my forehead upon setting foot outdoors, I have not forgotten my adventures in Naples. It’s taken me a while to distil the essence of what we learned in that chilly conference room on the Gulf, to strip away the incidental details from the underlying theme. But I think I’ve done it: it’s the theme I’ve written about before, the idea that we are hurtling toward a future we can’t yet see, and looking backward won’t help. It doesn’t hurt to repeat this message over and over again. Old habits die hard, and old institutional habits die even harder. That means that we live in interesting times. May we be up to the challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

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On the Edge

By Kevin Ryan, Esq.

I said last time that I would write a series of posts describing some of what I learned at the National Association of Bar Executives annual meeting in San Francisco last week. This was to fulfill a promise to the ever-vigilant Liz, who I think was concerned that, if I didn’t give some indication that I was actually awake in the substantive sessions, readers would think I was simply wandering the streets of San Francisco, reliving the Sixties (perhaps one toke over the line). I think she thought that I needed to prove that I picked up some useful stuff sitting in a chair, rather than by wearing out shoe leather, that I was not just a peripatetic in search of enlightenment outside the hotel conference rooms. OK, so here goes.

Conferences often feature big (or biggish) name plenary speakers with slick presentations designed to teach you something they have learned from whatever it is they do. You know the sort: people who have been successful in one kind of endeavor and are here to tell you that what they learned in, say, the tech industry or golf applies to whatever you do, no matter how dissimilar it may be. The so-called lessons tend to be simplistic and banal – on the order of “try hard,” or “keep a positive attitude.” Duh. And it is remarkable how alike the lessons taught by these speakers are – seldom, it seems, does anyone offer anything really original, though the colorful illustrative stories may differ. What the rest of us really learn, I suspect, is that one can make a ton of money saying things that have been said before (over and over).

Athletes are particularly common among such speakers – women and men who have done well at their sport, cashing in on fame after their playing career (or even during it) by telling us stuff we already know. Their hearers must get some thrill out of seeing and hearing a star, even if there’s nothing really new to learn from the star’s experience. I’ve been to coaches conventions where some unknown college coach says to take a deep breath before each pitch (a good practice, by the way) and the (sparse) audience merely nods. But when some major leaguer gets up and says exactly the same thing (usually not as well, and too often filtered through a war story or two), the (huge) audience sits up, takes note (and notes), and afterwards throngs the stage (stars are generally on stages, not just at the front of the room) for a brush with greatness. Star status forgives sins, especially the sin of having nothing new to say.

And so when I saw that the first plenary speaker at the NABE annual meeting in San Francisco was going to be a mountain climber, I thought, “Here we go again.” But I was wrong.

Alison Levine has climbed the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents – the so-called Seven Summits. She’s climbed Everest twice (long and touching story). She has skied to both the North and South poles, making her one of only thirty or so people to have completed the so-called Adventure Grand Slam (the seven peaks and the two poles). She speaks movingly about the lessons of mountain climbing, lessons that translate into life lessons, work lessons, organizational management lessons. (See her book, On the Edge.) Levine is a truly exceptional athlete, in some ways far more impressive than some dude who has simply learned to hit a curveball hard one out of every three times he’s thrown one. And I learned afterwards, when looking at her book, that she actually has considerable practical experience in the business world (Goldman Sachs), as well as graduate degrees and consulting experience, so she’s not just offering lessons for a world she doesn’t know, as so many of these athlete-orators do.

Alison Levine at the South Pole.

Alison Levine at the South Pole.

As could be expected, some of the principles Levine has gleaned from her experience on the mountain differ not a whit from the standard truisms that populate the leadership literature. Network – on Mt. Everest a good network of relationships can save your life, as she explains. Nobody gets to the top by themselves – we all depend for our success on other members of our team, on those not on our team but with whom we have developed positive relations, on those who are hired (like Sherpas) to carry our baggage and lay out our ladders. Be relentless in pursuit of your goals. We don’t need an extreme climber to tell us these things – we already know them; we hear them all the time; we say them to ourselves.

What struck me about Levine, however, was that some of her lessons were unorthodox, offbeat, edgy, counterintuitive. They were not – at least not all of them – the same lessons we could have heard from boxers, synchronized swimmers, or washed-up CEOs.

For instance . . . In a world in which organizations tend to be structured hierarchically, Levine contends that everyone on the team must be a leader. Success, she tells us, depends upon the ability and willingness of everyone to step up from time to time, to take charge when needed, to make the tough decisions. This is as important among citizens as it is among staff members, as crucial for lawyers as for mountain climbers. Sure, some people may have a title or a status, but when the chips are down, everybody on the team must be able to lead. The implications of this might be truly revolutionary, for if everyone is a leader, no one deserves to be treated as more special because of their title (as Levine puts it, “Your mother lied to you – you’re not special”). This is a call for true democracy. Following Levine’s idea, perhaps beyond where she would take it, one could end up with “holacracy,” the notion that structural hierarchy should be flattened to take advantage of the insights and leadership potential of everyone in an organization. Bye-bye CEO. Bye-bye executive director.

And what does it take to be a good leader? Levine points out that a real leader takes action based on the situation rather than based on some “plan” decided upon under different circumstances. This is important because, as she puts it, you have “zero control” over the circumstances. While you can’t control your environment, you can control how you react to the environment – a common theme among “mental game” coaches but one rarely heard outside the world of sports. It’s a theme that many business leaders and association executives fail to heed when they adhere rigorously to their “strategic plans” even in the face of significant changes in the circumstances. As association management expert Mary Byers puts it, we should think in terms of “strategic frameworks” that set guidelines for action, rather than strategic plans that specify what you will and won’t do under all circumstances.

But Levine pushes even closer to the edge on this point, for she doesn’t believe in rigorous adherence to the rules. There are always situations when you need to break the rules, Levine tells us. Of course, she doesn’t mean ethical rules, and she’s not counseling illegal activity. But she is calling into question our sheep-like tendency to follow the paths laid down. Rigidity, she argues, is dangerous. And leaders should not be the only ones permitted to break the rules to achieve better outcomes; that same freedom should be extended to the people on their teams, who must be given the power to be flexible when, in their judgment, it is for the good of the organization. Everyone on the team (remember, everyone is expected to be a leader) should use their judgment and do the right thing – no matter what the “rules” say. Rules, then, should be treated as guiding principles, as suggestions rather than absolutes. We are not robots (yet) and should not act like robots when the situation requires us to be nimble.

Mount everest

Of course, when team members have that kind of freedom, some mistakes will be made – one hopes not too many of them, especially at 28,000 feet. Mistakes, however, do not spell the end of the world; most are minor and, more importantly, they provide us with opportunities to learn. Great hitters might be fooled once or twice, might look like clowns at the plate sometimes, but they learn from their mistakes, adjust their approach, and hit the ball hard the next at-bat. The great performers in any context – mountain climbers, teachers, gymnasts, business leaders, administrative assistants, lawyers – are not people who don’t make mistakes; they make their fair share. Instead, they are people who “come back with a vengeance” from their mistakes. Leaders should give their team members the “freedom to fail” – a lesson Levine attributes to former Heisman Trophy winner, Rhodes scholar, combat leader, general, and CEO Pete Dawkins. People with perfect track records, she says, are people who haven’t pushed themselves. And don’t we prefer to work with people who regularly push themselves? If so, we need to accept their failures as well as their successes; we need to stop expecting perfection from others (and from ourselves).

Generally, we pursue progress, growth, development; we find them good. And Levine doesn’t disagree. But she points out that forward movement is often composed of many steps backward. She describes how, when scaling a mountain as imposing as Everest, the climbers slowly work their way up the mountain, returning to base camp after each increase in elevation, climbing back-and-forth as they acclimate themselves to the altitude. They go from base camp to camp 1 and back to base camp, then to camp 2 and back to base, then to camp 3 and back to base, and so on. So, climbing a mountain does not involve a steady progress upwards; at times it seems you spend more time climbing down than climbing up. Sometimes you need to back up to go further; sometimes you need to give up what you’ve accomplished so that you can go beyond it. And, contrary to most business and career advice, “backing up is not the same as backing down.”

Levine also makes the point that things may be riskiest when they seem to be going well. “Complacency,” she says, “will kill you.” In other words, when you think you’ve got it mastered, when you think you’ve got it under control, when things are calm and the sailing is smooth, that’s when you are most at risk. Partially, this stems from the ways complacency makes you lackadaisical and sloppy in your preparation. It makes you take your eye off the ball, like the shortstop who muffs an easy grounder or a wide receiver who drops a perfect pass in the open field. Partially, it stems from the ways complacency makes you mentally lazy and uncritical; it makes you “space out,” lose your focus, and lose your edge. It makes you switch into auto-pilot when attention to the controls is most needed.

As should be obvious, Levine offers principles for a nimble, agile, flexible organization capable of coping and thriving in an ever-changing environment – exactly the kind of organization most likely to succeed in the next decade. Her lessons apply to law firms and other businesses, to bar associations and sports teams. Unlike so many speakers I’ve heard, she really had something new to teach, something out of the ordinary, something that might sting you into rethinking your presuppositions about organizations, leadership, and the path to success. In short, this was not just another super-slick, star speaker. Alison Levine encourages us to live on the edge, just as she did on the way to the top of Everest.

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Brave New World

By Kevin Ryan, Esq., Executive Director, MCBA

I could, of course, write a whole series of posts like my last one with the title “This Is Not About ____.” These posts would ostensibly not be about things like gin, Roman history, The Kinks, early 20th century German literature, neorealism in international relations, ethnomethodology, Mill’s “On Liberty,” Gadamer’s hermeneutics, and so on, but all would find ways to tie some heady message into the topic about which they are not. But wouldn’t that get old after a while? Wouldn’t it get old after the second installment? Sure it would be cute, but like many other cute things (kitten videos come to mind), it would quickly lose its ability to attract the thoughtful (that’s you, my reader).

So this post is not going to be about something about which it is not. And if you followed that, you might be ready for what it really is about.

A common theme (perhaps meme) of contemporary thought is the importance of flexibility and agility. How else explain the enormous growth in the popularity of yoga, a discipline rooted in the cultivation of flexibility and agility?

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Yoga, a common practice in Asian cultures, is no longer the avocation of a handful of people in the West. It has become a core practice in the lives of millions of American urbanites and suburbanites; it has entered the lives of professionals in the form of “mindfulness” meditation and other relaxation techniques. And as many coaches and “mental game” experts attest, yoga benefits athletes in all sports by helping them remain calm and in control when facing largely uncontrollable circumstances – you can’t control the umpires or the bad hops or the results, but you can control yourself, and doing so puts you in a position to benefit from the lousy officiating, the wretched field conditions, the skills of the opponents.

And isn’t that the world we live in today – an increasingly chaotic world over which we can exert relatively little control? In Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (2012), Nassim Nicholas Taleb (a former commodities trader who now fancies himself a flâneur) contends that “some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors.” These things “love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” He calls them “antifragile,” the quality of getting better when shocked, disrupted, scrambled. It is the opposite of fragile, and different from (he says “beyond”) resilience and robustness.

I think that the postmodern organization – company, firm, association, team, what have you – must be flexible and agile in the face of ever-changing circumstances. It must be “antifragile” in Taleb’s sense, able to grow when confronted with chaos – because that is exactly what we face in the wildly spinning postmodern world.

At least some of the blame for the chaos of modern life can be placed on the internet. As Jared Cohen and Eric Schmidt of Google tell us, “The internet is among the few things human have built that they don’t truly understand … [It] is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history. Hundreds of millions of people are, each minute, creating and consuming an untold amount of digital content in an online world that is not truly bound by terrestrial laws.” The internet, they tell us, is “the world’s largest ungoverned space.”

Think of the implications of that for the practice of law. An ever-growing chunk of the population does not need a lawyer to tell it what the law is or how to get things done in the legal system – it’s all online in easily accessible places, often translated into real English. And if they do need legal help, they can find it online at minimal cost. And rather than going to the traditional legal system to solve their problems – because that system reminds them of the dark, dusty, dank, mystifying world of Bleak House (even if they haven’t read Dickens’ masterful depiction of the Victorian legal world) – they find other ways to resolve disputes, other ways to work out agreements, other more efficient ways to get things done. Yes, lawyers might be involved in the process somewhere – but it’s not traditional legal work, isn’t being done by a law firm, and isn’t costing what traditional legal services cost. (Don’t believe me? Compare the price of a simple incorporation through LegalZoom with what a corporate lawyer charges for the same solution). Lawyers need to be antifragile to survive in this brave new world; doing it “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t going to fly. And don’t imagine that all you need to do to “modernize” legal practice is to somehow “stick that paper form into the computer.” No, we’re looking at a major transformation – a transmogrification – of legal practice. It will be a different beast entirely, except in the handful of traditional firms still able to make a business out of what Richard Susskind describes as “bespoke” legal services. The rest of us will need to be agile, nimble, and wildly flexible, ready to respond to changes as (even before) they occur.

Think of the implications for the operation of a bar association. Ten years from now (when I still hope to be playing on the MCBA team), the bar association may be unrecognizable. Yes, there will probably still be CLE programs offered, but they will be vastly different from what we offer today, not just in terms of content but in terms of delivery, in terms of shape, in terms of effect on the lives of the attendees. (Actually, I think many bar associations are ready to go there now, but I’m not so sure about MCLE boards, traditional, conservative bodies professionally skeptical of anything new.) Bar associations will need to be online in a fuller, more robust way than they are today – and I don’t mean that they will simply take what they currently do and “online” it (just as modernizing legal practice and court process cannot be merely a matter of “sticking that form into the computer”). No, they will be in the cloud and might be virtual. They will interact with people doing legal work (not just traditional lawyers in traditional law firms) in many different arenas, arenas we can only barely imagine today (just as we can only barely imagine a court system that does not require bricks-and-mortar courthouses to conduct business). Where today bar associations are suppliers of stuff for traditional lawyers lodged in traditional practices, future bar associations (if we play our cards right – if, that is, we are antifragile) will be at the center of things for the new practices of law. Or, perhaps, the language here is wrong. There may not be a center of things; there may only be a decentered disarray in which we must insert ourselves at random but congenial and strategic spots.

Not clear about what this will really look like? Neither am I, but I’m pretty certain that’s where we’re headed. And since we don’t know exactly what it will be, we have to be able to grow and thrive in the face of shock, disruption, and disorder, flexible enough to try new things and blossom in failure, agile enough to keep moving with the fast-flowing current of postmodern life. We must embrace adventure, risk, and uncertainty, and greet the new day in the words of Shakespeare’s Miranda:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

 

 

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Is Justice Ginsburg Out of Line?

By Kevin Ryan, Esq.

Three times in the past week Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has offered strong opinions on the presidential race and her views of Donald Trump as a presidential hopeful. “I can’t imagine what the country would be with Donald Trump as our president,” she told an interviewer from The New York Times. Previously, in an interview with The Associated Press, she said she didn’t “want to think about the possibility [of a Trump victory],” because then “everything would be up for grabs.” She has labeled Mr. Trump as an inconsistent “faker” who “says whatever comes into his head,” noting “he really has an ego.”

Now, no matter what one thinks about Mr. Trump or his candidacy, such comments from a sitting Supreme Court justice seem to cross the line. Historically, justices on the Court have shied away from making political statements – and they certainly have refused to take a public position on candidates for national election. That does not mean, of course, that they did not have such positions – only that they didn’t state them bluntly in public as Justice Ginsburg has done. Many (including the Times editorial page) see Ginsburg’s remarks as unwise, unethical, damaging to the prestige of the Court, and (in Trump’s own words) “highly inappropriate.” An article in Slate talks of Ginsburg risking her legacy. More conservative news and opinion sources have heaped abuse on her.

And there’s something to all that criticism. Her entry into the political mudslinging festival may well damage her reputation and it may backfire, aiding rather than impeding Trump’s candidacy. Should the litigious Mr. Trump ever bring a case to the Court, her comments provide strong reasons for recusal – what are the chances that she can be impartial in such a case, given the vehemence of her comments? The possibility of a Trump victory in November only makes this problem worse, for then there will undoubtedly be a host of cases before the Court involving his administration. Many have hinted that Ginsburg’s forays into political commentary are unethical, though I have yet to see a clear case presented for exactly why this rises to the level of a violation of judicial ethics. (The ABA Journal contains a decent discussion of the arguments each way.) And her comments will surely accelerate the increasing tendency for the public to see the Court as a political body that decides matters not on the basis of law as such, but on the basis of firmly held political views loosely papered-over with legal argument. Highly inappropriate? At least strikingly out of the ordinary and contrary to the ways the game has previously been played.

The controversy raises important questions (in addition to the questions about the merits or demerits of a particular candidate). What is meant by “the rule of law”? What is the proper relation between the political branches and the (supposedly non-political) judiciary? What kinds of behavior do we (should we) expect from our judges? Does a citizen check her freedom of speech at the courthouse door when she assumes a seat on the bench? Is the Supreme Court a body of wise women and men, a kind of Platonic guardian class conducting a philosophy seminar, in which Truth and Justice emerge from objective discussion and mundane politics are set aside? And what if someone (a judge or any other public servant) truly and deeply believes that a particular candidate or political position constitutes a threat to the nation or the principles upon which the nation is founded? Should they simply shut up because speaking would undermine the dignity of their institution? (Ginsburg supporters, and perhaps Ginsburg herself, will point to the caving in – the refusal to stop, think, speak, and act – of German and Soviet judges not all that long ago.)

These questions are fundamental. They should be asked, thought about, debated. Justice Ginsburg’s actions may initiate a healthy public conversation about the answers – if only we can get past our penchant for wild assertions and over-the-top claims, a penchant that seems to be growing worse. No, I don’t know the answers. (My students always hated that about me: they wanted answers and I had only questions.) Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and that means we need to grapple with the tough questions about how we live, personally and as a people. In that regard perhaps Justice Ginsburg has been the gadfly we need at a critical moment in our history.

What do you think?

Thanks for checking in,

Kevin

Get To Know The MCBA Internal Team

It has been a while since our last post, and we’re excited to be bringing back the Bar View blog. Since our last installment, there have been a few changes, but we’re looking forward to the year to come. Due to the changes with our team, we thought that introducing you to our newest members and reminding you of the ones still here, would be a great place to start.

Mary Beth Feindt

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First and foremost, please join me in welcoming Mary Beth Feindt, Esq. to the MCBA!

Mary Beth received her BA in History in 1986 from Wittenberg University. She attended the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, graduating in 1990. Mary Beth’s legal experience is divided between criminal law and family law, specifically in the area of Law Guardian/child advocacy.  She spent 11 years in the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor where she focused on cases of domestic violence and child abuse. In 2015, the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office presented her with the Excellence in Representation of Adult Indigent Clients in Family Court award. She is also an adjunct professor at Nazareth College.

In her new role as the Programs Manager, Mary Beth will work with the Academy of Law and MCBA sections and committees to deliver quality live and online educational programs.

Fun Fact: She has traveled to Novgorod, Russia six times to teach at seminars on various legal topics including jury selection, child witnesses, juvenile delinquency proceedings, and family court.

Kevin Ryan

Ryan_Kevin_7493_ppKevin Ryan, Esq., comes to us from the Vermont Bar Association, where he served as the Assistant Executive Director. He is the outgoing chair of the Webinar Committee at NABE, a former professor of law at Vermont Law school and of political science at Norwich University, and an avid (two options: reader or Broncos fan)….. You will notice that I typed the abbreviation Esq. next to his name (not a typo). Kevin has his undergrad from Regis University, his Masters from Princeton University and his J.D. from University of Denver and is a member of the Colorado Bar.

In his new role as the Executive Director, he is responsible for overseeing the administration, programs and strategic plan of the MCBA and the Foundation of the MCB. Other key duties include fundraising, marketing, community outreach, and strategic vision.

Fun Fact: Kevin was assistant varsity baseball coach at Northfield High School for 14 years, during which time the team won 7 state championships!

 

So here is information about the rest of us:

Robin DePoint 

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Robin collects, records and organizes registrations for CLE programs and MCBA events.  She also assists staff with CLE programs as needed.

Fun Fact: Robin grew up on the waterfront and loves boating, water-skiing, and camping!

Kathy Fico

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Kathy is responsible for oversight of all financial operations of the MCBA, MCBCFE and MCBF.  She handles human resource functions and office management.  Kathy is responsible for supervision of the Lawyer Referral Service, DEAFund and Lawyer Succession Registry among other programs.

Fun Fact: She loves the summer months because it means she can break out her Harley and ride her motorcycle.

 

Ben Freeland

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I execute the various bar communications, including the three eDockets, eblasts, website updates,  social media as well as  event materials, such as programs, presentations and posters.. I’d like to think that all facts about me are fun, but the true

Fun Fact that I am willing to share: I had the opportunity to sing for Pope Benedict while at an Easter ceremony at Vatican Square.

 

Diane Hill

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Diane is normally stationed at the reception desk and is responsible for scheduling meetings in the various MCBA conference rooms, processing Foundation donations and Attorney and Court Directory sales. You will immediately feel welcomed by her effervescent personality upon entering the 10th floor.

Fun Fact –She makes the best rum cake in the world–this has been proven accurate on 4 Floors of the Telesca Center and has yet to be tested nationwide.

Liz Novak Henderson

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Liz oversees the MCBA’s membership renewal process and communicating member benefits and events to members.  In addition, she manages the logistics of the various member events throughout the year, such as the Bench & Bar Holiday Party, Law Day and the Installation Dinner, and is the primary liaison for the Foundation of the Monroe County Bar.

Fun Fact: In her spare time, she loves taking photos of her adorable beagle Zakk and of her garden.

Dianne Nash

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Dianne supports the CLE Programs Manager to produce each CLE event from creating the flyer, compiling speakers and summarizing evaluations, through uploading the recorded program for online viewing.

Fun Fact: I am told that she “allegedly” has two of the cutest grandchildren on the planet.

Merritt Smith

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Merritt is responsible for sales, advertisings and sponsorships that support MCBA programs, publications, and events, and is the staff liaison to multiple sections and committees.

Fun facts: Merritt plays the bagpipes and is an avid woodworker.

 

Mark Swail

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Mark coordinates the Lawyer Referral Service, grievances and is the administrator of the fee dispute resolution program. He is also the Liaison to the President’s commission on Access to Justice, the lawyers concerned for lawyers committee and the newly formed Veterans Committee.

Fun Fact: Mark loves traveling and snow-boarding with his daughter!

Suzanne Ventress

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Trying to sum up what Suzanne does in a few sentences is like trying to fit the glass slipper on an ugly stepsister’s fat foot.

She is the Executive Assistant to our new Executive Director, Kevin Ryan working closely with our Board of Trustees, Judiciary Committee and Senior Attorneys Committee. Suzanne also supports Kathy Fico, our Operations & Finance Manager, and is your go-to-person if you need your information updated in our database.

Fun Fact: She loves to photograph nature because it calms her and makes her appreciate the basic beauty of life.

 

I hope this helps you get better acquainted with us!

Until next week,

Ben

Thoughts From Our Incoming Leaders

Hello Bar View readers! I know that it has been a while since our last post but things have been busy.

There are only a few months remaining until we pass the torch and swear in our new MCBA and Foundation leadership… but who is counting, right? We have been through many changes this year and are looking forward to our working with the MCBA’s new Executive Director (that blog is coming soon).

Many of you may already know our incoming MCBA President Mark Moretti and our incoming Foundation President Elaine Cole, but this post should help you learn a bit more about them and their vision for the MCBA and the Foundation.

Mark Moretti, 2016-17 MCBA President

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Mark Moretti received his Juris Doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School in 1978 and currently practices in the areas of commercial, tort, construction and real property litigation, and property tax, title issues and condemnation. Moretti joined Phillips Lytle in 1980 and since then has been listed on Best Lawyer’s in America and Upstate New York, Super Lawyers and was named as Best Lawyer of the Year for 2012 in Construction Litigation. He also serves in the NYSBA House of Delegates and is a fellow of the American Bar and New York State Bar Foundations.

Please take a look at our Question and answer session below:

What is your Vision for the Bar?
My vision for the MCBA is one where all members of our legal community work together collaborating for the good of the profession we have chosen; making this community one in which justice for all is served; and to make the profession respected and appreciated by our community.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to the MCBA in the coming year and how do you plan to improve it?
Certainly one of the biggest challenges is to integrate our new Executive Director into the MCBA. After having Mary Loewenguth as Executive Director for more than 14 highly successful years, we are very pleased to welcome Kevin Ryan as our new Executive Director. It’s always a challenge to follow a highly accomplished leader, but I’m confident that Kevin brings his own unique skills and strengths to the table, and will be very successful. One of my main goals is to lay the foundation to put him in a position to succeed for many years to come.

Why did you decide to take this role at the MCBA?
I’m one of those individuals who has for many years been interested in the work of Bar Associations, both the NYSBA (where I formerly served as Chair of the Trial Section and continue to serve on its Executive Committee and for many years in the House of Delegates) and in work of the MCBA where I have served as Chair of several Committees and as a Trustee, Treasurer, and President-Elect. I enjoy it because lawyers and judges are involved, not for personal financial gain, but rather because they understand and appreciate the fact that the practice of law is a very special and distinguished profession and the vehicle by which each of us, in performing our own roles, serves justice and the greater good of our society.

What do you like to do outside of the Bar for fun?
I enjoy poker, swimming, pickleball, boating, fishing and reading as activities outside of the Bar Association and work. But, I must admit that I also still enjoy the excitement of representing people and entities in solving problems and developing and implementing a litigation strategy which prevails for them.

Elaine Cole, Foundation of the Monroe County Bar, President, 2016-17

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Elaine Cole attended the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and was admitted to practice in 1978. Cole served as the District Tax Attorney at the New York State Department of Taxation for over 22 years, and retired from this position in 2012. She is a past Chair of GRAWA’s Nominating and CLE Committees, a past Co-Chair of GRAWA’s Program Committee and championed the Foundation’s Jazz for Justice Campaign in both 2011 and 2012.

Read the Question and answer session below to learn more about Elaine:

What do you hope to happen during your time as President on the Foundation?
Thanks to the great leadership of Bruce Lawrence, the Foundation has completely rewritten its bylaws, launched a planned-giving initiative with all the other Telesca Center partners, and refocused our investment strategy.  That incredible list of accomplishments clears the way for our Directors to concentrate on our mission:  raise money to fill the unmet legal needs of our community.  The Foundation receives very generous contributions from approximately 10% of MCBA members.  But we need the support of the other 90%.  We know they are equally generous, but they are not receiving the message about the impact the Foundation’s grants have made.  So, my goal is to dramatically increase the number of supporters by getting our message out there.

What excites you about your new role at the Foundation?
Does being terrified constitute excitement?  I am following recent dynamic presidents, such as Judge Elizabeth Wolford, Audrey Peartree, and Bruce Lawrence.  While I feel that I cannot come close to their accomplishments, I am excited to take the Foundation to a higher level of awareness and participation by our terrific Bar members.

How would you encourage creative thinking within the Foundation?
Our Directors are talented and committed, but we’re not expert fundraisers.  So, we have begun to use outside consultants to give us the guidance we need to do our best work.   We will use the advice we receive to stimulate ourselves, and encourage each other, to think of approaches unique to each of us, to reach our colleagues.

What do you do outside of the Bar for fun?
Working with the incredibly talented people in our Bar is fun!  But, now that my husband I are retired, we travel both in and outside the country, often in the company of our family and friends.  We spend much of the winter in Florida, and love the fresh seafood all around us.  I golf VERY BADLY, so the company of my golfing buddies has to supply the fun on the course.

Thank you to Mark and Elaine for sharing some of their thoughts on their upcoming leadership roles. We look forward to seeing many of you on Thursday, June 23 in the evening when both Mark and Elaine will be installed as Presidents of their respective organizations.

Thanks for checking in

Ben Freeland

Thank you for the privilege…

Several weeks have passed since the announcement about my impending departure from the Monroe County Bar Association. I have accepted a new position as Clerk of Court for the Western District of New York effective January 4th. In the weeks since the announcement, life has been a whirl-wind of mixed emotions.

Obviously, I am honored and humbled to have this incredible new opportunity that has me very excited, and admittedly, nervous as well. I have always been one to embrace a new challenge, and I find it to be a great opportunity to continue to grow both personally and professionally. This past Friday evening, I was invited to join the judges of the Western District at their holiday dinner, and was welcomed with genuine enthusiasm into the WDNY family. Earlier in the week, I also spent time meeting the Clerk’s office staff in both Rochester and Buffalo. They are a great group of people, dedicated to the Court and all that it represents. Once again, I received a robust welcome from the entire WDNY family.

At the other endRay security of my emotional spectrum is the thought of leaving this incredible bar association community. I know we have stated that I am not really leaving, as I will be remaining in the legal community, both here in Rochester, as well as in Buffalo. But it will be different. Each day, I will not be walking into the Telesca Center for Justice and being greeted by our incredible Ray Squila. Ray has been delivering either the weather forecast for the day, or announcing “TGIF all day Mary,” since I started.

As I then proceed to the 10th floor, one of my first stops every morning for 14+ years has been to the office of Kathy Fico. Some days, Kathy and I would share any quick updates on our kids, and then cover any hot topics for the day. Before I even had my coat off, Kath would pull a few documents or checks for me to sign, before she lost me to a day of meetings. With more than 21 years of MCBA experience, Kath would also take this moment to give me a heads up on either a staffing or budget matter. We worked like a well-oiled machine, and accomplished a lot in those 10-15 minutes. If I was coming in for an 8AM meeting, I might catch her before, if not, she would be my first stop after the meeting. I will miss my mornings with Kathy! Please be extra good to her in these months ahead.

Kathy was my primary routine, but throughout the day, I would have multiple visits from Liz Novak Henderson, or I would stop in on a variety of matters ranging from membership, to the Foundation, to an event, or to seek my opinion on a media question. Liz moves with great pace with lots of balls in the air. Like me, Liz enjoys the creative brainstorm when stuck on an issue, and will seek my counsel. Sometimes she may like it; other times she may regret that she ever asked me. Please support Liz in the months ahead by paying your dues if you have not yet paid for this year, or paying right on time in May when they come. Or if you have not yet made your donation to the Raise the Bar Campaign for the Foundation this year, go online today and make that happen.

Often, Louise may be in the CLE Room for a portion of the day, and we may not pass each other until later in the day. We have worked together for many, many years now. With Louise, I may have to push to learn more about what is going on in her bar world between CLE and the Diversity Committee. Please support Louise by following through if you are a Chair of a CLE Program, or a perhaps a speaker that owes her materials for a program that is on for the next week, or simply offering to take something off her plate instead of her volunteering to do what a volunteer should be doing. Or, finally, if you are one of the firms that will hire one of our 1L law clerks this summer, call Louise and tell her your firm is committed for the summer of 2016.

They are a very dedicated management team that will serve this Association well as they transition through the Search Committee and welcome a new Executive Director. Supporting the management team is the very dedicated staff of Suzanne Ventress, Diane Hill, Merritt Smith, Dianne Nash, Ben Freeland, Mark Swail and Robin DePoint. This is a time of uncertainty for all of them, however, they are receiving reassurance and support from MCBA President, Neil Rowe, and President-Elect, Mark Moretti.

The MCstaff photoBA Team has been my second family over the years. How this group has evolved has been pretty incredible. Their collective dedication to you and to the mission of the MCBA is evident every single day in the work they do. Please continue to be good to my bar family, as I know they will continue to be good to all of you.

Also on the MCBA bittersweet spectrum is all of you. I have decided I cannot begin to name those champions and leaders over the years as I know I would miss names, and that would be awful. But if you are one of the folks that has been showing up multiple times in a day or a week, or monthly for years on end, or even with periodic breaks, then I am talking to you — the extraordinarily dedicated members of the Monroe County Bar.

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You welcomed me 14 years ago with genuine enthusiasm, and we went to town as we began to rebuild and re-energize the MCBA. It truly has been an incredible ride with opportunities to knock down walls and escalators, while building a co-location model that does not exist anywhere in the country, and raising $2.6Million to accomplish it all. Challenges around community hot button issues, or internal hot-button issues, has further strengthened my ability to listen, learn and negotiate. I thank you for teaching me and for improving my skill set.

Many have stated, “Mary, you are the MCBA, what are we going to do?” And so now I wish to respond to this question for all to read, hear and understand. No one person is the MCBA, especially me! We are all replaceable, as am I. YOU as lawyers, judges, paralegals, law students, and affiliates ARE the MCBA. You are the dedicated members of this distinguished association, you are the real purpose behind the Association. As the very dedicated staff of the MCBA that supports all that we do has heard from me for many years, “YOU are the volunteers that pay your annual dues, volunteer your time on committees and sections, volunteer to chair or speak at CLE’s, pay to attend dozens of events or programs throughout the bar year.”

The other group I want to ensure you look out for are our young lawyers. I have  been accused of showing favoritism to them and  I will remind you one more time, they are the future of this association.group So if you wish to keep this association alive and well for decades to come, I urge you to continue to support, nurture and celebrate these young people that have stepped up and accomplished so much on our behalf. They are the future leaders of this association. Other bars around the country are not having this same level of success that we are, so please do not lose site of this group.

I will miss this blog. I will miss the sharing of my life with you and finding ways to tie it back to some aspect of bar life. I will miss this quiet place where I could share and where you responded with fun and heartfelt comments over the years, or with challenges that would make me want to do better. As I mentioned last week, my three adult children are quite delighted the blog will come to an end. Frankly, the timing is good since they are now grown and all are turning out to be pretty successful in their life’s trek so far and have run out of good material on them. Over the years you have allowed me to write about the passing of my dad, Richard, and my brother, Peter, as well as other life challenges. What mattered to me is that you demonstrated how much you cared through cards, emails, hugs, visits and home deliveries of food and flowers.

I have loved the moments when you stop in for a visit to catch up; to share on an issue; to share some news about you; to gripe about a colleague or judge; or to talk about the challenges of the practice and of life. I loved your visits! I mean that. You were welcome distractions from 200 emails a day, or a delightful break between meetings. When I heard your voices, I would pop up to greet you and invite you in. If we spent 5 minutes or 30 minutes I always valued your insight, openness and honesty. We’d laugh; we’d speculate on politics; we’d think out loud; and for me, I always learned. You always gave me permission to speak honestly too!

I will miss you. Please continue to celebrate all that you have accomplished for the MCBA and I hope we never finish celebrating our success with the Telesca Center for Justice. There is still so much to be accomplished, so keep going, you have a lot to do yet.

Perhaps as I depart, I can take some liberty that perhaps I was unable to take before. There are 1,000 non-members in this community. Many opt out because they receive no tangible benefits. Some opt out for political reasons. Some opt out for financial or other personal reasons. My challenge to all of you and to those 1,000 non-members is that there is relevance here for everyone, and for those that require dues assistance, there is that opportunity as well. As many have heard from me over the years:

  • The MCBA is YOUR professional association. The MCBA provides the greatest opportunity to come together with your colleagues from all practice areas.
  • The MCBA is a place of dialogue and debate. By joining the MCBA, you are claiming a seat at the table where your voice can be heard.
  • The MCBA is an advocate for your profession, and for your community.

I have great confidence in our bar leadership Neil and Mark, and in the Search Committee, lead by Connie Walker, that you will find an incredible new Executive Director, and when you do, welcome this person with the same warmth and commitment you welcomed me all those years ago.

Thank you for the honor and privilege of being your bar exec for the past 14 years…it has been a great gig! To know you; to debate with you and to learn from you. I will see you around…

Goodbye!

Mary