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?

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.


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 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.








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.








Great Programs at the MCBA…Such as Lawyers for Learning

There are many great things happening right now at the Bar! Last night, we had our YLS New Admittee Night at the Amerks  I got the go-ahead to change up the design of the blog a bit; we’re in the midst of recruitment for our Rochester Legal Diversity Clerkship Program; and we have kicked up the Lawyers for Learning program!

For those of you who participated in the winter drive, thank you! So far a big need for hats, gloves and scarves has been filled as I was able to cart several bags and boxes to School 29 to those in need. The committee has also been able to grant more than $5,000 to School 29 for special education materials, physical education equipment and classroom supplies, thanks to the proceeds from this year’s Lawyers for Learning Golf Tournament.

L4L backpacks2015 001Christine Turnquist, our School 29 liaison, is passionate about the students, the school, the teachers and everything about Lawyers for Learning.  She continually proves to be a valuable asset when deciding how to allocate grant funding. The students and staff are always so friendly and grateful for all of the support that School 29 receives from the MCBA. And, for those of you who may not know, School 29 houses the majority of special needs children in the Rochester City School District. Many of the special education teachers purchase equipment and supplies from their own paychecks because the school does not have enough money to provide additional materials.


The needs are overwhelming, and here’s how you can help: While we are growing with mentors, we are still only at 36 to date. We need more, and continue to accept new mentors. Signing up as a mentor now gives you the opportunity to see what it is like before the end of the year. To sign up to become a mentor, click here.  And if you’re not sure about being a mentor, send me an email and I can set you up to visit the school with another mentor.

As one of the key volunteer opportunities here at the MCBA, Lawyers for Learning is always looking for volunteers to help at events or simply being part of the committee. In the spring, we hope to gain traction on a memorial garden to be built on the school property. It will house a fenced off area with herbs, vegetables and fruits. There will also be handicap accessible tables for those, who are unable to get down and dirty in the soil. Although part of my job here is as the liaison for the Lawyers for Learning committee, and I’m also planning to volunteer some of my time to help with the garden. If you are interested in volunteering at any events, field trips, performances or the garden, please reach out to me at

And, before I forget, we are still hoping to collect pictures for our next blog about the winter! If you have any photos of your winter hibernating or you’re like Louise and you were able to escape to Mexico, email me with your photos and a caption and I’ll feature you!



Until next time, Ben

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.

Past Presidents Lunch 017

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 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…






So many great bar moments…

And one of the great moments is the weather right now! WOW — this weather is incredible! Today on Good Morning America  Rochester received a call-out on for hitting 78 degrees — which is the record in this area. We need to hold on to the memory of this week in our minds as we progress into the winter of 2016.

Yesterday morning, I was taking the quick route down the Pindle Alley. It was daylight, I felt very safe. But as I am exiting the Sister City Garage, walking on my cast and cane, another Sister City parker came up behind me, and said, “Mary? Are you Mary Loewenguth?” Of course I stopped, and was greeted with a warm smile and one of my favorite greetings, “I am one of your members, Reuben Ortenberg.” I had not met Reuben before, and am not sure how this had happened. But he shared that he had been with Fix Spindelman, and joined Woods Oviatt in the merger last year. Reuben told me that he had heard that Tony Palermo was going to be speaking to the Senior Attorneys Committee in November about his role in the story about the Abel case. This is the story that is now playing in theaters – Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks. Turns out Tony was one of the four Federal Prosecutors in this case.

Reuben mentioned that he has been thinking of joining the Senior Attorneys Committee, now chaired by the wonderful Joan Brimlow. Now with Tony, his law partner, one of the speakers, he was planning to attend this program. Reuben and I said farewell, and I thanked him for taking the time to introduce me. I was so grateful for the chance to meet Reuben. Thank you Reuben for making my day!

Perhaps I need to spend more time walking around the Four Corners, and greet more members, and invite them personally to attend a program, or to join a committee or section. A great bar moment…

Two weeks ago, I was in attendance at the Rochester Business Journal’s Small Business of the Year Award. As I was walking toward my seat at the D4 table, to celebrate John Holland, I saw Robert Galbraith, Davidson Fink. Rob and I stopped and talked for a few minutes, and with great enthusiasm he shared with me some exciting changes going on over at his firm. New thinking, new business strategy, new branding. I suggested to Rob that he take the time to attend a CLE that we were offering on that Friday in an ABA Leadership on Demand simulcast. I suggested to Rob that he make time on his calendar to join in this great program, and I walked in that Friday morning to be greeted by Rob saying, “See Mary, I took your advice, and am here!” It was an outstanding program on building your leadership skills for yourself, your clients, your firm and your community.

Leadership CLE

To learn more about a video replay of this program, contact Louise Spinelli at This program was so incredible especially because we had two incredible women co-chairs, Carolyn Nussbaum, Managing Partner at Nixon Peabody, and Gail Norris, Vice President & General Counsel at the University of Rochester. Another great bar moment…

Last week I joined our incredible Young Lawyers Section for their Annual Halloween Party at The Cub Room, one of Rochester’s cool & hip new restaurants. Guests were invited to bring a costume to donate, and from what I have heard from Curt Johnson, Section Chair, we collected more costumes than ever before.


One of the very cool experiences that night was learning that the good folks over at Leclair Korona have formed this wonderful connection with the good folks over at Pullano & Farrow. On several occasions, they have come together to hang-out, to celebrate the practice of law, to network and simply to have fun. I really loved this idea! And later in the evening, after their gathering, several of them came back to The Cub Room to join the YLS Celebration. Paul Leclair from Leclair came in as did Jason Livingston from Pullano & Farrow. I had never met Jason before, so enjoyed getting to know him, and hearing of the success of this great firm. Another great bar moment…

I know I am jumpin’ around a lot in this, but stay with me to hear about more great bar moments. Perhaps you are mentioned in one!

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of sitting in with the Solo & Small Firm Committee, energized by the Brad “The Energizer Bunny” Kammholz. Once again a great meeting planned by Brad. The Nixon Board Room was standing room only, with another action-packed agenda. These meetings are all about sharing ideas, tips, suggestions, practice management ideas, referrals, technology tools, and friendship. Another great bar moment…

This time of year I am busy working with members that have not yet renewed. Our membership invoices get lost on their desks or the desks of their assistants, or in their email backlog. I know you have heard this from me before. This time of year, we are chasing down members that have not yet renewed, members that may have an issue with us, or members that tell me they are either no longer practicing, so why join, or I rally don’t benefit from the MCBA. As you can imagine, some of these really break my heart. I do take it personally. How have I failed if I cannot demonstrate the value to members to join. For some members, we tend to be on more of a calendar renewal for them. One of my favorite every year is the chase for Vince Buzard, former MCBA and NYSBA President. Vince ALWAYS JOINS, but he does require a few reminders. Vince, a very dedicated bar leader, the kind of guy that bar executives love because he is devoted to the world of bar associations.


So the other afternoon, I happened to catch Vince at his computer and said that we really needed him to renew because without him we can’t be the MCBA without him. To which Vince acknowledged my gift of persuasion and that I got to him with that comment. I meant it! I do not use words like that lightly. I suggested that he call Liz Novak directly, who was standing by ready to take his call. In typical Vince humor he responded is this the MCBA or WXXI? Within moments Vince called Liz, and he not only renewed his MCBA membership, but he also joined the Presidents Circle, which is an additional contribution of $250.00 by many of our bar leaders. Vince is now serving on the Board of Governors for the American Bar Association. Thank you Vince for being such a good bar leader. Another great bar moment…

And last but not least, I had a highly energized Foundation Development Committee meeting this morning with President-Elect Elaine Cole, Development Co-Chairs Laura Myers and John Williams, along with fundraising guru Karen Higman, who is enlightening us on several levels. The passion that exists around the creation of the Telesca Center for Justice, the Foundation’s support of the Center, and the many other entities that the Foundation supports through its annual grants program is heartfelt. Each year they are raising more money, thanks to so many of you, and making a difference with so many programs that directly benefit members of the community, as well as our own attorneys, such as the Health & Well Being Program. Another great bar moment…

Continued thanks to all of you, that continue to give me so many great bar moments. These really are the moments that make me LOVE this gig!

Thanks for checking in…


We listened and we tried…

Since the very beginning of my time at the MCBA, I have heard about the “glory days” of the Bar when members would meet up at the Powers Grill. At the end of their day lawyers would gather to share stories from their days, meet friends, make new ones and to celebrate the collegiality of the profession. I understand that those were the days when attorneys would talk about a case, and perhaps even with a handshake, settle on a mutually favorable outcome for their clients. I would have loved to have been witness to this generation of the practice.

As a member association, we periodically do member surveys and will ask, “what other programs or services would you like to see the bar establish?” One of the primary responses received every time we ask this question is a request for more networking and social events.

Great! I love socializing and networking. It’s one of  my favorite activities in life. So our solution was to create an event that would accomplish three things:

  1. Be informal — no advanced registration required
  2. Be free or affordable for members — free munchies and discounted beverages
  3. Be super casual — which meant no speeches

The solution staff developed with insight and enthusiasm from our Membership Committee at the time was the creation of BarSTOP.

We established this monthly gathering for the third Thursday of every month from 5:00 – 7:00 pm to catch folks on their way home. Stop in for some downtime at the end of the day, enjoy free appetizers, compliments of our loyal sponsors each month, plus drink specials. Initially we gathered at The Hyatt for downtown convenience, but as the weather improved, we sought a variety of new locations including Label 7, City Grill, etc. We thought by moving it around town it would offer more appeal and show members the cool new venues that exist in Rochester. The establishments were always happy to welcome us.

december barstop blog photo           IMG_9222

Initially, we had a pretty good show of members, acknowledging it would take time to get launched, so in the early days, we may have hit 30 or even 40. And despite our very best efforts, the number began to dwindle. Some recent BarSTOPs were as low as 10-15, with our consistent regulars continuing to show up (which we appreciate).

As your bar executive, I am asked to look at resources that I put into all of our events, both human resources, and resources such as underwriting dollars. In recent months, and not just the summer BarSTOPs, I must question the commitment to this single event that clearly is not viewed as important by the super majority of the members. Following consultation with the MCBA Team, we have made the decision to discontinue the BarSTOPs. Though we regret this decision for the few loyalists that have attended over the last 2 years, we simply were not accomplishing our objective.

My struggle with this decision takes me back to the survey responses from you — we want more social and networking events. So help me understand, I think we accomplished that challenge in the form of BarSTOPs, but clearly so many of you did not. I am not certain we could have made it any cheaper.

Please talk to me, why did the BarSTOPs not make it? What could we have done different? Instead of monthly, is quarterly better? Is Thursday too busy with other activities? Was the beer not cold?

I work very hard, as does the whole MCBA team, to meet as many of your expectations as possible. If not a BarSTOP, then how do you wish to socialize and network?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for checking in,


Five Things to Do Before Summer Ends

As we begin to draw near to the end of summer it is important to remember that MCBA never sleeps (especially with Mary being away). Side note, she is doing well and the surgery went well. She should be better than ever and back to work soon! In the meantime we have ordered a keg, pizza, toga, a new 60” Flat Screen tv and we are throwing the world’s biggest party—just KIDDING! We are batting down the hatches and in focus mode. We still have a number of functions happening, so I (Ben) have created another list for your enjoyment.

Top five things to do before the apocalypse… I mean end of summer.

1. Come to Bar Stop next Thursday, August 20!  It is a great time with lots of great networking. The July Bar Stop included a good mix of attorneys and judges. This Month’s Bar Stop is at City Grill, 5-7 p.m. — we’ll have delicious appetizers, drinks specials and free valet parking. We’re scheduled to have Bar Stop over the next three months — third Thursday — so mark your calendars!

A wise man once said “If anything come for the company and the free food” – Me

2. Brush up on your golf swing and then participate in the Lawyers for Learning 22nd Annual Thomas & Solomon Golf Tournament. All proceeds go toward the benefit of school 29 in the Rochester City School District. This event provides funding for key services like the ability to attend camp, have adequate school supplies and instructional equipment, or being able to simply be a kid. School 29 houses the largest number of students with physical and developmental disabilities, though not all of the students are faced with those impairments. I cannot wait until our projects get under way. We have a ton of great initiatives coming up as well. Following the tournament, the week of September 8, we will be packing and distributing backpacks with school supplies and t-shirts enclosed ( a Big Thank you to LeClair Ryan for providing the supplies)! We also have mentoring available, which can be done per student, per class or you may volunteer per event. The school is under-staffed so any help is always appreciated. You can also find a partner attorney or legal professional and alternate weeks. To sign up or to learn more information, please click here.

In addition, Mary’s son Brian Corbitt, who is a pro at CCR, will be strategically placed at one of the holes, willing to hit the first drive for you….for a reasonable donation, of course!

3. Sign up for the 25th Annual Western District of NY Federal Court Dinner at the end of September. Each year, this event alternates between the Monroe County Bar Association and  the Bar Association of Erie County. This year, the event is being hosted by Erie County and taking place in Buffalo. Register for the event and come network with attorneys and U.S. District Judges in other areas of New York State.  The event will be on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at the Lexus Club in Buffalo with drinks starting at 5:30 p.m. The address is as follows: First Niagara Center’s 100 Level, One Seymour Knox III Plaza, Buffalo NY. Here is a great side note, parking is free! Click here to download the registration flyer.

4. Mark your calendars for Sean Carter!  The Harvard humorist is back on October 1 with two back-to-back Ethics sessions –one in the morning and the other in the afternoon .  If you are not familiar with him visit Google. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1992. His ten years of legal practice focused on corporate securities and mergers and acquisitions. During this time, he represented such clients as GNC, Experian, The Boston Beer Company Homeside Lending, Safelite Auto Glass, J. Crew and many others.

In 2002, Sean left the practice of law to pursue a career as the country’s foremost Humorist at Law.  He travels all over the county speaking about ethics and has  found his way to Rochester on several occasions and we’re happy to be hosting him once again this fall. For more details on the two sessions (which are 2.0 Ethics credits each!), click here and here.

 5. RENEW YOUR MEMBERSHIP! OK, so Liz specifically asked me to put this one in, but really, we cannot succeed without you! We are always hoping to gain new members but the current ones are just as important! When you get a chance, call us or email us and pay those dues please! If you have any questions, please contact Liz Novak at

Do you think you have an idea or a suggestion to help MCBA bigger and better? Email me( Ben) at

***We are starting a new feature for next week’s blog! Send us your family vacation photos or photos from the summer (e.g. gardens) and you could be featured. We’d really like to see what everyone has been up to this summer. Please email your pictures to with a caption and description.

Until next time,


Welcome to the 2015-16 Bar Year!

Our new MCBA year has begun as of yesterday! So today marks Neil Rowe’s second day on the job, and Steve Modica’s second day of Presidential retirement. It was a great year under Steve’s leadership, and we’re all looking forward here at the MCBA to working with Neil Rowe and President-elect Mark Moretti.

All in attendance seemed to enjoy last Thursday’s Annual Dinner with the installation of our MCBA Board of Trustees and our Foundation Board of Directors; the celebration of our 50 year honorees; and the recognition to our many worthy award recipients – despite the unexpected absence of our keynote speaker Hon. Sol Wachtler due to travel complications.


The next day, our staff did have some downtime as we closed the office early and headed off to Mary’s Serenity Porch for a feast from Sticky Lips!

food shot

But now, with the start of the new year, it is back to the business of the Bar.

As you may have heard, we are in the midst of our “dues renewal season.” Suzanne Ventress is busy processing dues each day – from large law firms to solo practitioners to members of the judiciary. So if you haven’t sent in your dues renewal, please do so today. Dues were *technically” due on Tuesday, June 30, but what’s a technicality? So we’ve extended the deadline for both dues and the two free CLE credits to Friday, July 10, but you must send in both your dues renewal and the registration form for the two free CLE credits that came with your dues. If you need another copy of either, please contact me at

Before we were even done with the 65+ CLEs from this past year, plans were already underway for CLEs in the new year, under the leadership of new Dean of the Academy Cynthia Snodgrass and Program Manager Louise Spinelli. Visit our CLE calendar to see programs already planned. And take a look at our CLE Summer Fest, which is a series of Video Replays every Wednesday starting July 22.

Bar Stop is back! Our next one is scheduled for Thursday, July 16, 5:00-7:00 p.m. at West Edge Restaurant and Grill — a cool new place in Corn Hill Landing. (Actually, I don’t know if it’s “cool” but the new guy Ben says it is, so we’re going with it.) There will be complimentary appetizers thanks to our friends at Canandaigua National Bank. So please stop by and mingle for a few minutes with your colleagues!

West Edge

In addition, our 2015 class of Rochester Legal Diversity Clerkship Students are in full gear at various firms and organizations. Throughout the summer, there are events and workshops that are being hosted for them so they can meet all of our wonderful attorneys at the MCBA, RBBA and GRAWA, and learn what a great legal community Rochester has.

clerkship orientation
Although we certainly have less meetings over the summer, we still hope you will stop in or that we will see you at an upcoming event. Here’s to a great 2015-16 year!

Thanks for checking in,


The Art of Membership

I am always juggling a few good reads. My current pleasure read is In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I just finished his other sensational read, Dead Wake, about the final crossing of the Lusitania. I recommend both!

On the bar front, I am always juggling a few books. I am currently reading Open Leadership by Charlene Li. This read is about how social technology can transform us as leaders. I am always looking for professional, and quite honestly personal, ideas on improving me as an Executive Director, and always working on me as a person.

The second bar book I have just started is The Art of Membership by Sheri Jacobs. I started reading this one last night, which typically is a tough time for me to read, as I am battling the “sleep villains” that begin to creep into my house around 10 pm. But it was a good read, so I actually made it to around 11:30 pm, and still made it to the gym this morning by 5:30 am, I will have you know (just in case you were wondering).

Anyway, The Art of Membership, is a very interesting read. From the outset it states that I should be asking two very simple questions:

  1. Why did you join the MCBA?
  2. Why do you renew?

I found these two simple questions very interesting as they have the potential to offer a real variety of answers for some of you. Over the years I have heard why many of you join: professional obligation, CLE, health insurance, networking, “because I was told to on my first day as a lawyer”, “the MCBA makes me a better lawyer”, and the list goes on. From many government attorneys that leave their current positions, I have heard, “I should have joined earlier, because the networking is invaluable”.

Bottom-line, everyone has different reasons. And as your Executive Director, it is important that I not assume I know why you join. What is important is that I understand, and respect, that you all join for different reasons. If I do not know your reasons, then I am unable to see if we can deliver what it is you need, and most likely, some of your colleagues are looking for in terms of “membership value”.

So as we enter this annual membership renewal cycle, I am really interested in hearing from you? The membership renewal forms have hit your mailboxes by now or will be in the next day or so. And so in the coming weeks, and I am hoping not months, we are going to be nagging, pestering, nudging, reminding, and nagging some more so that you RENEW TODAY to take advantage of the 2 FREE CLE Credits (a $66 value) that come with this renewal period but only when you renew by June 30, 2015.

This is one of those blogs that I would really appreciate a short email back to me with your responses to both. A quick response is all I am looking for from you. So ask yourself:

  1. Why did you join the MCBA?
  2. Why do you renew?

Please email me directly at

There is an “art” to membership, and I want to become an expert, so please help me out here by providing some thoughtful ideas and suggestions.

Thanks for checking in…e-mail please