William R. Bay is chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services and a partner in the St. Louis office of Thompson Coburn LLP.
It’s been an interesting year in our family. Our oldest child got married and moved to a new city. Our middle one has decided to leave his job and go to law school. The youngest is thinking about what she should do after college. These have been good days but also days of uncertainty. They have required each of our kids to make choices, often difficult ones, without knowing what the future holds. Is this the right time to go to law school? Will there be a job for me? Should I change my major? What should I do with my life that will make a difference? Will our new apartment feel like home? Will we find a new set of friends?
My spouse and I are fortunate to have been included in the process of dealing with our kids’ choices for the future. We listen. We raise questions and concerns. We try to avoid giving opinions, but don’t always succeed. We work hard to remind ourselves that we don’t make the decisions for our adult children, they do. Actually, my spouse has to remind me frequently of this point. Like most of you, we try to help them work through a process that leads them to make wise choices.
At the end of a day, the two of us often privately reanalyze and agonize. It can be frustrating. There are rarely clear answers. The clouds seldom part to show the way. The future is always unknowable. But what our kids do know is the values they want to build their futures on, and the hopes and dreams they express to us. So when the two of us talk over the decisions they face, we remind each other we have confidence they will make the decisions that, in the end, get them to a good place. We also try to remember that sometimes the seemingly wrong decision can result in the most rewarding experience. The key for my kids is to remember who they are and who they want to be. All the rest will be fine.
I am convinced that what we hope for our kids applies to our bar associations as well. These are uncertain days. We have choices to make. How can we do more with less and still be effective? What should our priorities be? How do we develop future leaders who will make an investment of their time and resources? What value do members receive and how do we communicate it? How do we help our members adapt to a changing profession? What are we doing to help shape the profession?
Whatever the future holds for bar associations, we can be sure there will be changes that we have not planned for or anticipated. There will be different services and products we will deliver in new ways to members. As organizations, we will look, act, and relate to our members in different ways. It is a time of choices. Some, more difficult than others. We will defy conventional wisdom and offer services in a new and novel way. We will discontinue some programs we have offered for many years. And we will maintain some traditions as we have always done. We will make all of these choices. Some will be right. Some will not. That’s the nature of the choices we are called upon to make as leaders. Whatever we do, we will be better for both our successes and failures.
I’d like to be able to tell you what our associations will look like in the future. I can’t. But in a time of uncertainty, there is one thing of which I am sure. Bar associations have always been about the work of making a difference in the lives of our members, in our communities, and our world. Defending liberty and pursuing justice. Helping lawyers excel in their practice. Being an effective voice of the profession. Serving the public.
As my kids make important choices that affect their future, they trust their values, their vision of who they want to be, and a hope that their lives will make a difference. Our bar associations face that same uncertain future with those same values, vision, and hope. If we remember who we are and who we want to be, our associations will be strong—whatever the future brings and whatever the choices we face.