THE CHAIRS’ CORNER: Finishing Strong

Vol. 31 No. 4

By

Hon. Jennifer A. Rymell is 2013–2014 Chair of the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. She is a Civil County Court at Law Judge in Texas.

It is hard to believe that I am writing my last Chair’s column! The theme for this year has been “Starting Right and Growing Strong.” The Division has focused on providing programs and tools for new lawyers embarking on a solo practice or seasoned attorneys transitioning to a solo practice. It seems fitting that my last column appears in the magazine where the topic is “Back to Basics.” The articles in this issue focus on the fundamentals of a solo practice and client relations. I hope that both new and established solo practitioners take away tips and advice that will help their firms begin or continue to thrive!

The goal of our Division for more than 50 years has been to serve our members, serve the public, and help shape a better profession. I believe that we have finished strong in all these areas—thanks to the work of our amazing volunteers and staff. The Division is truly a compilation of incredibly talented individuals who spend thousands of hours so we can be the premier place for resources for the solo and small firm practitioner. I would like to take this time to express my sincere thanks to those who have contributed to our success.

First, I want to thank my fellow officers, Chair-Elect Amy Lin Meyerson, Vice Chair Stephen B. Rosales, Secretary David H. Lefton, and Immediate Past Chair Benes Z. Aldana. They have been extremely supportive and unwavering in their leadership and dedication to this Division. Also, I want to thank our Budget Officer, Stephen J. Curley. He has been a fantastic steward of the Division’s finances and has made sure that we are fiscally strong. Our Division Delegates, Dwight L. Smith, James M. Durant III, and Jay E. Ray, continue to do a great job as the voice for solo and small firm practitioners in the ABA House of Delegates. Our Revenue Director, Alan O. Olson, in conjunction with the Corporate Sponsors Committee have done excellent work in securing sponsorships so that we may provide the very best products, services, and CLE at the very best price. I cannot think of a better group of people to work with and to call my friends.

The Division’s feature initiative, Solo Strong, was chaired by Jennifer R. Willner. This eager and energetic chair was tasked with identifying and compiling a comprehensive list of specific products, services, publications, and mentoring programs developed by state and local bars as well as other ABA entities to assist solo and small firm attorneys. As you can see, this was a huge undertaking, and Jennifer and her committee did yeoman’s work in making it happen. To date, we have approximately 344 resources, organized by state, including documents, checklists, articles, forms, and hyperlinks to online information. All these resources are in the process of being posted on the Solo and Small Firm Resource Center site (ambar.org/soloandsmallfirms) for easy access. This initiative will continue in the upcoming bar year, and new resources will be added.

Membership is one of the most important aspects of a volunteer organization. Our Membership Director, Patricia A. Sexton, along with our Membership Board have done a phenomenal job in their efforts to recruit and retain Division members. As an example, our personal call campaign to retain members resulted in a 98 percent retention rate (2,462 out of 2,495 renewed their Division membership). This was one of the most successful membership campaigns in the history of the ABA.

This year we streamlined our monthly virtual Brown Bag lunches and put them under the direction of the Programs Board. Needless to say, our Programs Board Chair, Lynn A. Howell, and her committee have been very busy managing CLE teleconferences, webinars, virtual Brown Bags, and in-person CLE at the Fall, Spring, Midyear, and Annual Meetings. Lynn’s boundless energy and commitment to delivering innovative and relevant CLEs have taken our program attendance to new heights. We have had close to 900 members attend our Brown Bag lunches this year, and we have secured a coveted spot during the ABA Annual Meeting Showcase CLE with a presentation on “Non-Profit Boards of Directors 101—What You Must Know.” Again, kudos to Lynn and her Board!

Diversity Director Daniel J. Tann along with the Diversity Board have made certain that our diversity program is one of the best in the ABA. Diversity Board Chair Andrea G. Van Leesten and our Diversity Fellows have been very active in participating in our law student outreach panels and CLE programs. In addition, Dan and the Board have been very visible throughout the ABA representing our Division at many events during this bar year.

Our representative to the ABA Board of Governors, John C. Schulte, has been very active in the Division’s work. He was especially helpful in giving us savvy advice when we had an opportunity to have a dialogue with the ABA Board of Governors during the Midyear Meeting. I truly appreciate his leadership and thoughtful guidance.

Melanie D. Bragg, our Book Publications Board Chair, was appointed to this position two years ago with a “can-do” attitude that was contagious. She believed that our Division’s potential to produce quality books and recruit world-class authors was limitless. Under her leadership we have seen an unprecedented growth in our publication production and revenues. As this is the second-largest source of non-dues revenue for the Division, we owe her and the Book Publication Board a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you! Thank you!

It is no surprise that, when we ask our members in surveys what they think is the most beneficial resource we provide, the number-one response is GPSolo magazine. This award-winning publication and the GPSolo eReport are both spearheaded by our extremely talented and dedicated Editor-in-Chief, Jeffrey Allen. Jeff does an incredible job in consistently coming up with timely and relevant content for our publications. His vision and dedication know no bounds, and we are very lucky to have him.

While the GPSolo Division strives to serve our members, we are also mindful that as lawyers we are in a unique position to give our time and talents to make a difference in the lives of the public as well. The Division has made a multi-year commitment to support the Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) pro bono project. Since 2011 we have provided several in-person and online training sessions in immigration law so that unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings can have the assistance of a lawyer. The good news is that attorneys we have trained have been able to help thousands of children through the project. The bad news is that there is still much to do. In the last three years the need has grown from 5,000 children to more than 60,000. Kathleen J. Hopkins and Jaime Hawk are truly extraordinary ladies who have done a fantastic job with this extremely worthwhile program. We invite all of you to help a child by going to our website (americanbar.org/gpsolo) to get information. You will be glad you did.

Social media is such an important communication and marketing tool in our practices, so it is no surprise that it is equally important for the Division as well. This year we have a new Social Media Chair, Peggy Gruenke. She has been an amazing addition to the team and has taken our social media presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to a new level.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, the success of the Division is a direct result of the work of an incredibly talented and dedicated team. At this time I would like to say a big THANK-YOU to all our Division directors, council members, and board and committee chairs, vice chairs, and members who have given their time and expertise in making our Division strong. I also want to give some special recognition to some committee chairs who have served with distinction for many years: Hon. J. Michelle Childs, Kay H. Hodge, and Hon. Eileen Kato on our Awards Committee; Stephen Williams on Corporate Sponsors; Sarah Moulder and Richard Williamson on our Young Lawyers Committee; John Ratnaswamy and George Ripplinger Jr. on the Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee; Michael Hurley and Kenneth Vercammen on the Estate Probate and Trust Committee; Kenneth Vercammen and Kristi Vetri on our Elder Law Committee; and Jonathan Bridge and Gary L. Anderson on the Military Lawyers Committee.

As always we conducted two fabulous Division conferences, the first in October in Lexington, Kentucky, in conjunction with the National Solo & Small Firm Conference, and the second in May in Las Vegas, Nevada, where we partnered for the first time with the Group Legal Services Association and the ABA Standing Committee on Group and Prepaid Legal Services. Both of these meeting provided informative CLE and fun networking opportunities. I want to thank Rinky S. Parwani, Alyssa K. Ehrlich, Palmer G. Vance II, Peggy Gruenke, and David H. Lefton for their assistance in Lexington and Paul Greg Giordano, Gerald Pat Monks, Tori Jo Wibble, Haley Swilling, and Lynn H. Howell for their help in Vegas.

As Chair it has really come across loud and clear to me that the backbone of our Division is our hard-working and devoted staff. Leadership changes from year to year, but our staff remains constant. We could never accomplish the things we do without our awesome Staff Director, Kimberly Kocian, our tremendously efficient Program Specialist, Dee C. Lee, our energetic Program Assistant, Steve Wildi, and our new Membership and Marketing Associate, Susan Delhey-Thomas.

We are also extremely grateful for the exceptional work of Richard Paszkiet, Kelly Keane, and Amanda Wilander for our book publications, Jennifer Weed and Albert Lee for our CLE, Tom Campbell for the GPSolo eReport, and Robert Salkin, Tamara Kowalski, and Karrie Dowling for GPSolo magazine.

So now it comes time to say good-bye. I have truly enjoyed my year as Chair and can say without hesitation that this was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had in my legal career. I am so proud of the work we have accomplished together, and knowing my fellow officers, there will be even better things to come under their leadership. I could never have made it through the years as a Division officer without the love and support of my family. My mom traveled around the country with me, taking care of my infant son while I was in meetings, and my husband, Chuck (we just got married in April), and my son, Dylan (who is now nine years old), have been patient and flexible in allowing me to dedicate the time needed to serve as Chair. I am extremely excited to pass the gavel to my friend, Amy Lin Meyerson, who will lead the Division with dedication, enthusiasm, and innovation. I cannot wait to see what the future holds! Good luck, Amy, and thanks again for the honor of serving with you this year!

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