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Vol. 38, No. 7

Learning, connections, and photobombing: My experience at the ABA’s BLI 2014

Attendance at the ABA Bar Leadership Institute is a must if you are a bar leader. In fact, from my perspective as a repeat attendee, I can tell you that the BLI gets better and better every year. I last attended about five years ago when I was a local bar president and returned this year as the president-elect of the North Carolina Bar Association.

Aside from meeting bar leaders from all over the country, the speakers and panels are targeted at giving you practical and useful advice on many issues that you will face. There were at least three areas of focus this year that resonated with me.

First, board governance and how to ensure a thorough discussion of a difficult topic; this is such a challenge. You can be very knowledgeable about the law of governance but an utter failure at facilitating a vigorous discussion leading to consensus.

Second (and on a related topic), how do you come up with creative solutions for serious problems? Kaihan Krippendorff of Outthinker, Inc., was an outstanding keynote speaker on his particular methodology for achieving out-of-the-box results. He was so intriguing that I chose to attend his breakout session to get more details. I have now read his book and would like to sit through these sessions again. (One suggestion for the BLI planners: Consider sending materials like this in advance. I, for one, found it a lot of information to absorb.)

Third, there were the substantive issues. Can we match the glut of law school grads with no jobs with the people who need legal services? How do we do it? What about the new organizations entering the practice of law? What does this mean for traditional law firm structure? No answers here, but lots of good thinking and discussion to take back to your local bar environment.

Aside from the serious stuff, I would be quite remiss if I did not point out the wonderful connections you make and the fun you can have at BLI. For proof, just look at my tweets (@cbarrowood) posted during the meeting! These include a photo of Allan Head, NC Bar executive director, photobombing the State Bar of Georgia's attempt to get a dignified picture with the ABA president and president-elect (Allan must have overdosed on Coca-Cola; disciplinary action consisting of soft drink rationing is underway now that we have returned to NC).

Also, I tweeted a picture of me with Wendy Shiba and George Chen, past and current presidents of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, respectively. Wendy and I were in the DirectWomen program some years ago. And George is working on organizing a chapter in NC; we hope to have their leadership at our NCBA BLI in January 2015. It was great to connect again with both of them.

Kudos to the ABA—and especially its Division for Bar Services and Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services—for organizing and leading this BLI.