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Vol. 32, No. 1

Oh, the places you will go: Reflections on the past ABA year

by Michelle A. Behnke

As I write this column, I’m just finishing with graduation exercises for my son, who graduated from Edgewood High School (my alma mater). My son is my first child to graduate and, needless to say, it was a wonderful, but emotional time. As I sat in the gym and looked around, I recalled my own graduation in the same gym oh, so many years ago, and recalled the wonderment of it all. I also could not help but reflect on all the wonderful things that lie ahead for him and his classmates, which are as yet unknown to them.

All this reminiscing got me to thinking how often we begin something or hit a milestone and we have no real sense of what lies ahead. Very much like the high school graduates sitting in that gym, we think we know things, but we really have no idea what is to come. Likewise, we think that we are really ready for what’s on the horizon. That was very much the case when I was elected president of the State Bar of Wisconsin a few years back, and it was also true when I accepted the position of chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services. OK, I’ll concede the analogy is a bit thin, but play along.

The ABA begins its bar year on September 1, which means the “new year” will have begun by the time you read this. It seems like a good time to look back and let you know about some of the things the standing committee has been working on over the past year.

Thanks to my predecessor, Dave Houghton, the standing committee had a clear sense of direction, having recently completed an update of its strategic planning. Through that work, we determined that focus and emphasis should be placed on communication—both internal (between and among ABA groups and ABA leadership) and external (between and among state, local, and special-focus bar associations). To that end, the standing committee worked on making connections to incoming state, local, and special-focus bar leaders. We wanted to introduce them to the resources available through the standing committee and more broadly through the ABA.

The standing committee heard from some former bar leaders who said they had no idea why this magazine Bar Leader began showing up in the in-box, or from whom it came. It is hard to connect leaders and resources when the leaders you are trying to assist are not sure who you are and how you can help. As a result, we made a couple of small changes to the cover, ones that we believe help make more clear where Bar Leader comes from and why.

The standing committee also worked hard to be an effective conduit to ABA leaders and among bar organizations. Information gathered at the regional conferences was synthesized and shared with current and future ABA leaders. Likewise, information from these conferences was shared between conferences, so bar leaders could become aware of the similarity of issues being faced across the country, and of ABA efforts on those issues.

Additionally, the standing committee shared information with the ABA Membership Committee. I am happy to report that those conversations have led to inclusion of some new groups in membership pilot testing. It was exciting to see firsthand how the ABA is looking to respond to the ever-changing landscape of the legal profession.

We are also excited about the work we are doing in collaboration with the ABA Young Lawyers Division, and have invited the affiliate director to serve as YLD liaison to our committee.

Of course, the bar year would not have been complete without the perennial favorite Bar Leadership Institute. Attendance was at an all-time high, and the standing committee extended an invitation to the future ABA leaders as well as the current president and president-elect. This year, in addition to some of the most popular presentations and presenters, we heard something a little different regarding the future of associations and ways to capture the hearts, minds, and time of the next generation of lawyers.

It was an incredibly busy year and one full of results. I hope you’ll keep turning to the standing committee as your resource during your leadership term and beyond. More important, I hope you’ll share your thoughts and ideas so that the standing committee’s work in this new ABA year will be equally amazing and fulfilling. Even when you think you know what you’ll be facing, it often is not exactly what you expected, and the standing committee is here to provide you with resources, information, and connections to help you navigate through the unknown.