The graceful goodbye: How to write your final president’s page

Volume 29 Number 1

By

The last president’s page—while a relief for many—just might be the toughest one to write. How do you sum up “your” year, without looking as if you’re trying to take all the credit for the great things that happened? How do you take your bow and then make way for the next guy or gal?

June or July, for many bars, marks a new year, which, for those of us who read a lot of bar publications, means a lot of goodbyes in our mailbox over the summer. For those presidents whose term expires in the fall or who have a ways to go yet, here’s a sampling of some of your colleagues’ recent artful exits. Maybe you can borrow an idea or two when it’s time to write your own farewell column.

Looking for a quote?

Need a pithy saying about endings or goodbyes? Michael K. Demetrio, immediate past president of the Chicago Bar Association, begins with this one from T.S. Eliot: “And to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from.” A. Thomas Levin, immediate past president of the New York State Bar Association, introduces his farewell not with one quote, but with five:

“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” (M*A*S*H).

“Someone always leaves and then we have to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. I know what I need. I need more hellos” (said by Snoopy, written by Charles Schulz).

“Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again” (Khalil Gibran).

“Farewell, So Long” (Bill Haley and the Comets).

“I want to thank you for making this day necessary” (Yogi Berra).

Summing up the year

You can’t possibly list every project and event that took place during the past year. As you think back, what really stands out?

For Terrence J. Lavin, immediate past president of the Illinois State Bar Association, it’s travel. Lavin spent many days and nights on the road, he says, and ventured into parts of the state where lawyers “seem to practice in a much more peaceful and humane environment than the fast track that is [the Chicago area].” By the end of the year, Lavin notes, he and Executive Director Bob Craghead and Assistant Executive Director Dave Anderson had visited more than half of the counties in Illinois.

“I was thanked for my service in every location,” Lavin writes. “Well, now it’s my turn. I would like to thank every local bar leader that invited me to their meetings.”

The NYSBA’s Levin uses his final appearance at the bully pulpit to praise the pro bono efforts of New York lawyers and lawyers in general, and to encourage even more participation. A recent survey from the state’s Office of Court Administration shows that 46 percent of New York lawyers did pro bono services for poor people or charitable organizations that assist the poor with their legal needs, he writes. That percentage does not include services for those who are not indigent but can’t pay the customary costs, or for organizations that assist the poor with nonlegal matters, Levin notes, adding that the bar’s house of delegates recently decided the definition of pro bono should be expanded to include such work.

“We have much to be proud of when it comes to pro bono publico services,” Levin writes. “No other profession comes close to doing what we do.”

Allyson K. Duncan, immediate past president of the North Carolina Bar Association, highlights the fact that spring 2004 brought a bumper crop of commemoration events: Besides celebrating Brown v. Board, the bar also recognized the 50th anniversary of its Young Lawyers Division and held a banquet in connection with the long-awaited completion of a publication that honors the state’s first 100 women lawyers.

Duncan recognizes the efforts of both staff and volunteers during such an event-intensive season. One of the many people she thanks is a member who played a key role in the Committee on Women in the Profession banquet and was then “pressed into service” for the Brown events as well. “[She] may well have to consider a full-time career as an event planner,” Duncan writes.

For Lisa Small, immediate past president of the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Bar Association, what stands out is all the “firsts” that the past bar year brought. There were a lot of them: In her one-page column, Small uses the word first—in all caps—10 times. Some of those firsts, she writes, included a committee on work/life balance, a membership benefit card, and a program that offers prefiling mediation for small claims.

Thank you and good night

After recapping the year, it’s time for that pithy closing thought. For many outgoing presidents, those final words express gratitude.

Both the CBA’s Demetrio and the ISBA’s Lavin close by thanking the executive director. Demetrio writes, “Thanks to all, but on behalf of the CBA leadership, the 22,000 members, and especially myself—Terry [Murphy]—Thanks!”

Lavin recounts Executive Director Craghead’s receiving the National Association of Bar Executives Bolton Award last year. “It made me think,” he writes. “ISBA presidents come and go. We receive our share of plaques, awards, and testimonials, but it is Bob Craghead who keeps our association organized, professional, and strong ... Thanks, Bob.”

Hate to say goodbye? The NYSBA’s Levin offers an alternative in his parting remarks. “I will never forget ... the boundless generosity and support which I have received from every member with whom I have come in contact during my journeys,” he writes.

“I know that we will have many more opportunities to work together, for this is only a farewell, certainly not a goodbye.”

And as the PBCBA’s Small says, “One door closes ... another door opens ...”

Need more help with president’s pages? The ABA Division for Bar Services keeps an archive of good examples! Call (312) 988-5343 or visit www.abanet.org/barserv for more information.

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