The bar leadership ride of a lifetime: How it began

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Jeff R. Hawkins is president-elect of the Indiana State Bar Association and will become president in October 2014. Hawkins and his wife Jennifer are shareholders in their Sullivan, Ind.-based firm, Hawkins Law PC, which is focused on estate and business planning, trust and estate administration, and elder law. He is a member of the Sullivan County Bar Association and the American Bar Association as well as the ISBA.

Chances are, every president-elect has a slightly different experience while preparing to take office. This post reflects my experiences along the road to the presidency of the Indiana State Bar Association, a wholly independent, voluntary bar association with over 12,000 members, (approximately 2/3 of all the lawyers who practice in Indiana).

At the ISBA, the bar leadership ride of a lifetime begins soon after the Nominating Committee selects the vice president nominee in late spring from one of four districts in an annually rotating pattern. No nominee expects nomination, but serial leaders should not be surprised to get the call. My ride began in September 2012, one month before my vice presidential election, when then President-Elect Dan Vinovich invited my immediate predecessor, Jim Dimos, and me to develop a collaborative, three-year leadership plan that we now call the “Rolling Plan” (I’ll write more about that wonderful idea in a later post). Dan launched that plan in his inaugural speech, and our train flew out of the station.

Five days after my election, I joined my superior officers, ISBA Executive Director Tom Pyrz, and our peers from Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa at the three-day Great Rivers Bar Leaders Conference in Sonoma, Calif.—a crash course study in comparative bar leadership. The member states made a list of hot-button bar leadership topics, and each state led one of the topical roundtable discussions. That creative and collaborative environment fostered enduring camaraderie through which participants helped each other develop more effective leadership strategies.

The ABA offers an expanded version of the Great Rivers experience at the Bar Leadership Institute in Chicago every March. A bar association supports its leadership most effectively if it sends its top elected officers to the BLI. The BLI offers particularly valuable resources for junior bar association officers through workshops and keynote presentations about such essential topics as membership and media communications, crisis management, and member relationship-building.

Hallway chats and dinner conversations with leaders from across the nation are enough to justify the event, but the keynotes and workshops are fantastic. I scored valuable tips on social media management, and Kaihan Krippendorff’s keynote about his book Outthink the Competition (John Wiley, 2012) is still occupying my mind for my own practice and my presidency.

 

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