GPSolo Magazine - Oct/Nov 2003



What Is Relevance in a Professional Organization?

Relevance. I do not believe that there is a more appropriate topic to discuss in an issue of GPSolo focusing on litigation. Black's Law Dictionary defines relevant as "applying to the matter in question; affording something to the purpose." Relevance is a term that we, as lawyers, hear often. And it is a term that we debate frequently. One person's relevance is another's blight.

The subjective nature of what is relevant is illustrated by our law school education and our litigation experience. The topic of relevance was a favorite of my law school evidence professor. To our chagrin, he constantly drilled us on his definition of relevance by showing through the Socratic method that a student's comments were interesting but irrelevant.

Trial lawyers are challenged by each judge's subjective belief in what is relevant in any given case or issue at hand. Countless times during a witness's testimony, opposing counsel issues a bold, sure, and firm objection on the grounds that the subject matter of the discussion is irrelevant—only to have the judge reply that he or she understands the nature of the objection but wants to hear the testimony anyway. I must not have had the same law school evidence professor as these judges.

At this point in my career I am confident that I can prove one thing that is beyond all objections on the grounds of relevance. The General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division is the foremost reason that the American Bar Association is relevant to solo and small firm practitioners. In my position as Chair of the Section, I have had the opportunity to speak with lawyers throughout the country about our professional organization. The recurring theme of our discussion is how the ABA can be relevant to their practices. My response is twofold. First, this Section is the voice for solo and small firm lawyers to have their issues heard and addressed by the ABA. The Section provides strong and effective representation within the ABA House of Delegates to ensure that our position is represented. Second, bar none, this Section affords more to the purpose of its constituency than any other, through programs, publications, and projects designed for solo, small firm, and general practice lawyers.

The return on dollars spent by firms and lawyers on professional organizations is closely scrutinized. Time is even more precious than dollars. The time lawyers budget to CLE and professional organization activities must be well spent and the return demonstrable. I submit that for solo, small firm, and general practice lawyers, our Section is the best prepared to meet their needs, returning manyfold their investment in time and dollars.

The Section returns rewards on your investment in many ways. It provides programs designed specifically for the solo and small firm as well as general practitioners. In addition to CLE, Section programs focus on who we are as solo and small firm lawyers. Our practice setting is unique. Section programs address solo and small firm practice issues and quality-of-life issues. Its publications provide Section membership with information that directly applies to the lawyers' practice setting.

The Section leadership is committed to assuring the long-term relevance of the Section to its membership. Last year the Section implemented a four-year action plan. The plan identified specific common goals and actions that the next three Section Chairs agree to pursue in their respective years. The plan outlined the priorities and standards that will be applied to Section activities. This plan is available for your reading pleasure on the Section's website (, and I highly recommend that each of you take a moment to review it.

I have appointed a Steering Committee, chaired by Stephen B. Rosales, to review all activities of the Section and to develop a timeline for implementation of the strategic plan. In short, their charge is to make sure that all of the Section's activities are relevant—affording something to the purpose—for our membership.

When I think of the term relevance, I think of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. It is the reason that the ABA and its activities on behalf of our profession are relevant to me. I welcome your input and suggestions on how the Section is relevant to you and your practice. None will be rejected on the grounds that they are interesting, but irrelevant.


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