The Chairs’ Corner

A Year of Service

By James M. Durant III

Greetings, General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. The 2009–2010 Bar Year has been one of phenomenal growth and achievement thanks to you and to our incredible Chicago staff. We are indebted to our staff for their incredible service and for keeping us ahead of the game with numerous requests from a variety of areas. I would like to recognize Nicole Nikodem, who has worked in virtually every area of our Division’s business and played such a large part in the incredibly successful Fall Meeting at the historical Millennium Biltmore. Let’s give a very special acknowledgement to Laura Ramirez, who managed, directed, organized, and operated all of our meetings—Laura is absolutely incredible and produces phenomenal results. And you know Dee Lee—what a GPSolo gem, an absolutely wonderful person who provided our Division executive leadership from top to bottom. We owe so much to her, from taking care of our annual budget to managing our chair’s appointments, Dee is the heart and soul of the Division, and we owe her our utmost gratitude. Last, but certainly not least, our Division Director, Kim Anderson—let me just say, wow! Kim led an incredible team of professionals to accomplish what others simply marveled at in amazement. Overseeing a long list of successes for the Division, Kim proved that leadership is the art of influencing others to accomplish a goal. Suffice it to say, our Chicago staff is sensational. Kim, Dee, Laura, and Nicole, please take a bow for a job extremely well done. We salute you!

Just consider what the Division has accomplished this year: We have migrated our website to SharePoint, ensured that our famed SoloSez e-mail list would be able to grow to more than 3,000 subscribers, produced sensational CLEs (live and by teleconference), made history with our ABA Goal III Diversity initiatives, created an embedded Leadership Coalition for Solo Membership, raised the third-most revenue of any ABA entity with phenomenal books and other publications, developed incredible initiatives to help members stay afloat during the Great Recession, passed an ABA House measure that provides tuition debt relief for judge advocates, put the final touches on our new Solo Center, and brought the U.S. Supreme Court to our Spring Meeting in St. Thomas, where many of our members were sworn in.

Speaking of St. Thomas, we registered an astounding 380 participants and had what many have said was the absolute best meeting in years. Thanks to our friends in the ABA Young Lawyers Division and the Virgin Islands Bar Association, who joined us at this wonderful meeting and helped make it possible. From the public service events to the incredible programs to a carnival on the beach, we did it and did it well, demonstrating that joint meetings are the wave of the future. The meeting even featured our first-ever Skype event—several members of ABA Publishing participated from Chicago via web-link in a program discussing the ABA’s new publishing and CLE initiatives. The program was filmed and soon will be available for ABA members to view on our website.

We charted out this year with the theme Service to Others; GPSolo volunteer leaders, you are directly responsible for making it a reality. Our Division made a real difference in service to the Main Street lawyer . With a broken economy resulting in unprecedented job loss across America, you kept our Division flying high, serving the needs of our constituent members. Your time, dedication, and focused attention to the business of the Bar provided our membership great value in 2009–2010. This Division is in your debt for all that you brought to the fore, serving the professional needs of thousands. As much as I would like to mention each of you individually by name, I cannot in this column. But rest assured, your individual recognition is forthcoming. GPSolo volunteer leaders, please take a bow for a job phenomenally well planned and executed. I salute you!

As this edition of GPSolo magazine is dedicated to the theme “How To,” I wanted to spend a couple moments on how to run a highly successful nonprofit 501(c) (6) as a volunteer chair. First, in choosing your leaders, approach individuals who don’t care about credit but do care about product. Too many people simply want their names in lights; avoid this pitfall. I specifically asked each committee chair for a pledge to our Division for service. I gave each of them the overall goals of the Division as well as my specific goals that defined the objectives for the year. Second, make sure your appointed leaders know that they are empowered to make decisions. Third, be a servant leader to your appointed leaders—you work for them. Fourth, recognize your appointed leaders for their time and efforts—remember that they are volunteers. Fifth, check with them on their charted plans from time to time, but not too much—don’t micromanage. Make sure they are progressing accordingly. Last, but not least, trust your people—they will amaze you in ways you can only imagine. I’ve enjoyed an incredible Bar Year, and I owe my sincere gratitude to the Division staff and volunteer leaders, the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps, and of course my family, Karen, Jimmy, and Jonathan Durant, for giving me the time, confidence, and trust to be Chair. Thank you all for allowing me to serve you—the Others!

The views expressed herein do not reflect the opinion of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Air Force.  

Hello, Is There Anybody Out There?

By Joseph A. DeWoskin

To a lot of lawyers, the American Bar Association—and even the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division—represents the elites of the legal profession, those who have time, money, and the inclination to spend both on lofty goals without paying much attention to the basics of day-to-day practice. Many Main Street lawyers question the value of this organization’s commitment to helping people off in Sierra Leone, defending Guantanamo detainees, accrediting law schools, and taking political stances that really don’t affect ordinary solo and small firm lawyers’ practices.

All of this high-concept, ethereal stuff obscures the real services the association does provide to the ordinary Main Street lawyers in this country. There’s no question that the ABA takes positions you don’t agree with or that you personally may feel that it shouldn’t take. To be honest, the ABA takes positions I don’t agree with, but more than half a lifetime in the association has taught me that its good points outweigh nearly everything else.

As a long-term member of the ABA GPSolo Division, I’ve learned to appreciate what the association does for lawyers like me, like my father, like my brother, like you, and like most of the lawyers in the country—helping us practice law and make connections with other lawyers across the country and abroad. Most of us have learned that the ABA GPSolo Division is a cafeteria where its members pick and choose what’s relevant and useful to their lives and practices, ignoring what’s not. Ninety-nine percent of our members could care less about the ABA Board of Governors, its House of Delegates, and the alphabet soup of commissions and standing committees, much less the actions and positions rewarding form over substance.

As a solo, I know what the stresses of daily life mean for Main Street lawyers. I know how it feels to have to pick and choose what bills will be paid first, to decide what expenses to eliminate and trim, to pay staff (assuming you can even afford to have staff) before paying yourself, to run a business and keep the lights on, to keep clients satisfied, to weigh professional obligations, to struggle with balancing work and personal life, and to give back to the profession and to the community. And I know how the GPSolo Division, as the home of the solo and small firm lawyer, can help negotiate these rocky shoals. It is, ultimately, all about you.

So this year, it’s Back to Basics, where we focus on giving solos and small firm lawyers the tools they need to practice law better because law practiced better naturally makes the profession stronger.

Four years ago, the GPSolo Division held the first National Solo and Small Firm Conference, which has since become a marquee event of the Division. The event will be reprised this year in Austin, Texas, during our Fall Meeting, October 21–23. This year we will also focus on developing an online portal for solos and small firm lawyers, the lawyers who are the backbone of the profession.

If you’re reading this column, the odds are that you view your membership in the GPSolo Division as little more than a subscription to its magazines, questioning each year when the dues statement is delivered whether you’re receiving value. You’re not likely to attend our meetings, and you could care less whether we even hold meetings or adopt policy. What you do care about is what the ABA and the GPSolo Division deliver to you. I want to make sure that what we provide makes you value the ABA and the GPSolo Division, makes you feel that our work is relevant to your practice and your life, and makes you feel that you’re getting your money’s worth. I believe that our Division is well worth the cost in time and resources because of what we provide to our members—and I want you to feel the same way. We, the leaders of the Division, need to remember that we’re here for you and that we must provide you with the tools you need to remain successful and competitive. If what we do is not directly and immediately relevant to you, then there’s little reason for you to hang around. We want you to remain with us and enjoy being part of our team—even if you never leave your office.

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