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Vol. 36, No. 4

Staying Connected

by William R. Bay

It’s 8:30 Saturday night. I sit at our kitchen counter. It’s getting dark. I have just come in from moving the hoses around the yard to keep the plants from dying. It’s hot outside. I’m alone. I’m tired.

My assignment this weekend has been to take care of the house while everyone is gone. I spent the morning with my parents. It’s our routine. We visit my favorite diner for breakfast, visit the farmer’s market for produce, grab a hot pretzel, visit the kettle korn stand, and then stop at the bread store. It sounds like a lot of eating. And sometimes it is. Often, we just stop to see what people are doing and merchants are selling. We usually head back to their house by late afternoon. My parents appreciate it because it’s time we spend together uninterrupted. Except when it isn’t, like today.

The rest of the family is out of town or tied up. You’d think that would make my day easy. That’s not how it works. Each has his or her own mode of communication, and it’s different. And each one demands my attention today.

My youngest daughter is in Europe with my wife. She posts pictures on Facebook. I try to show my parents the pictures on my iPad because they don’t have Facebook accounts. She also Skypes, but that’s another story. I’m not sure my parents understand all the technology, but they appreciate my accessing it for them.

My oldest and her husband moved into their first house this weekend in Chicago. She’s sending me pictures via email. I hand my cell phone to my parents so they can see the pictures. In between, my spouse sends texts from her trip. And my son calls with questions.

The world has changed a great deal since the Saturdays when the family would wake up, we’d make pancakes and watch TV. Now I have to figure out where they are, what they’re doing, and how best to reach them. If I pick the wrong method, like sending emails to the youngest, I get no response. And if I use multiple modes to reach them, they get annoyed and tune me out.

Sometimes it’s a bit too much to keep track of. But I do it for one simple reason: We share a connection and a bond that cannot be severed. We’re a family, even when we’re separated. When we can, we spend time together. But when we can’t, their individual preferred method of communication is our lifeline until we can get together again. Sure, it’s a challenge, but we do it because we care and love each other.

I suspect it’s a lot like that in our bar associations. It would be nice to have monthly events where everyone shows up to find out what’s happening in the legal community. That’s a little like me hoping I’ll wake up on Saturday mornings and the kids will be small again. It’s not going to happen.

Instead, you’re sitting at your desk trying to figure out how to reach members with many different needs, wants, and methods of communication. We have built wonderful organizations that are ideal for attorneys in their 50s who love lunch meetings, networking, and making plans. God love them. I’m one of them. But we’ve also got the group who doesn’t want our mailings and deletes our emails, but follows us on Twitter, likes us on Facebook, or connects with us on LinkedIn. The ones who are willing to volunteer if it can be done in an hour, but only if we get the word out on the bar’s blog. The ones who seek immediate access to what they need to make them a better lawyer.

Our members, like my family, are dispersed over the globe, reachable by their preferred mode of communication, with different priorities based on age, practice, and lifestyle—and not likely to get together for a conference or CLE. It’s a challenge to stay connected. We work hard to keep up with technology. We experiment with new approaches. Some work better than others. Frankly, the future of bar associations depends on our ability to understand and communicate with attorneys at every stage of their professional lives. But there’s another, more important reason: We share a connection. The one we chose as our profession. The one we choose of our own accord. We’re family.

My Saturday reminds me of the challenges in staying connected with my family. It requires constant attention, different methods, and a lot of effort. It’s no different for our bars. Just a lot more family members. But we can do it.

William R. Bay

William R. Bay is chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services and a partner in the St. Louis office of Thompson Coburn LLP.