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March 06, 2024

The First Timer’s Guide to BLI

The ABA Bar Leadership Institute can be an intimidating experience. We here at the Center for Bar Leadership want you to feel prepared and excited for these three days. We asked some veteran bar executives for their thoughts on how you can make those most of your time at BLI. 

Loretta Larsen is the executive director of the Louisiana State Bar Association. 

Brianna Gohlke-Clausen is the executive director of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, a voluntary bar association in Michigan. 

Karen Hutchins is the executive director of the Arkansas Bar Association. 

Whitney Von Haam is the executive director of the Wake County Bar Association and Tenth Judicial District Bar.

What is one tip you have for a first-time attendee to have a great experience?

Don’t go with any preconceived notions.  Attend sessions with your chief staff executive. This lends itself to candid discussions about issues which come up in the sessions. -LL

It might be easy for some and hard for others, but regardless, on day one, pick a table where you don’t know anyone, sit down, and introduce yourself to everyone at the table.  Everyone shows up on day one not knowing anyone, and the only way to break through that is to introduce yourself.  I can guarantee, if you do this, it’s only a matter of minutes before the conversation will grow into something of value and you begin to build connections and know familiar faces you will see and spend time with for the rest of the week. -BGC

Engage with other people. Don’t only speak with your executive director or president-elect. Actively seek out bar associations that are similar to yours—in size, scope, budget, etc.—and think about two to three topics that you would want to bounce off of people facing similar issues. -WVH

What is one thing you wish you knew before going to your first BLI?

Bring business cards because you will meet a lot of leaders who are on the same “track” as you. You will hit it off with some of them and you want to know to know how to reach out to them as you go through your year. – LL

Be prepared. Have issues you are dealing with ready and ask others how they are dealing with them. -KH

Like so many things in life, you get out of BLI what you put into it: If you’re checking email or sneaking out to go to the Billy Goat during the day, you’re going to go home feeling like you didn’t gain information. If you actively participate and think about your time as president, you will be filled with so many ideas that you won’t know where to begin. It really is the kick-off to what you can make of your time in leadership! -WVH

What are some things bar leaders and their executive directors/CEOs should take time to discuss at BLI? 

Having my incoming board chair with me last year allowed time to chat about how one another works best, how we would plan to communicate with one another, how we were going to push the Strategic Plan forward in the year to come.  There really is no better time than BLI to lay the groundwork for the coming year! -BGC

Find out what are other bar’s most successful programs and ask why they think they are so successful. -KH

Preferred communication methods; Best times of day/week to meet; How deep you want to be in the weeds of member issues. -WVH

What’s one non-BLI Chicago recommendation? (Restaurant, Activity, Museum, etc.) 

There are soooo many! Second City is always fun, and our folks have enjoyed it. Some of my favorite restaurants are Le Colonial (Gold Coast), Shaw’s Crab House (love the old school vibe!), and Joe’s (conveniently located behind the Marriott.) The Stone crabs are fantastic and are not readily available in other places. The cocktails are terrific as well. -LL

It’s worth it to just set aside time to go for a walk!  -BGC

Make reservations at Smith and Wolensky for dinner. -KH

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