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Vol. 43, No. 4

New executive directors bring change but appreciate continuity

by Robert J. Derocher

50 years. 35 years. 25 years.

Following in the footsteps of legendary longtime bar executive directors can prove daunting, but it can also be an opportunity for new perspectives, say some new EDs who have recently stepped into those sizable shoes.

“I had no preconceived notions of the programs or the traditions or anything that we had been spending money on.  It made it easier to be an objective evaluator,” says Joe Skeel, who in 2017 became the Indiana State Bar Association’s third executive director in 50 years.  He replaced Tom Pyrz, who retired after 25 years.

That objectivity was also important for Anne Noble, who became executive director of the Bar Association of Erie County (N.Y.) in 2018, succeeding Katherine Strong Bifaro, who held that post for 35 years.

“By being new, I had the good fortune of digging into things that you might not dig into. We were looking with a fresh set of eyes,” Noble says.

June Moynihan succeeded an interim executive director at the San Antonio (Texas) Bar Association, following the 2016 retirement of Jimmy Allison after 50 years. “I walked into a situation that was pretty primed for change,” she recalls. While the bar’s Board of Governors was looking for some new insights, she says, it also helped that it was Allison who had hired her as the director of the bar’s foundation a few years earlier, providing a link of continuity.

A stable place to grow from

Although a fresh look from a different viewpoint has proven valuable for some associations, the stability that was established by invested, long-term executive directors has also been important, the new EDs say.

“I had the good fortune to walk into a bar association that was well staffed, with a tremendous amount of goodwill in the community,” Noble says. “And we want to build and grow from that.”

At the North Carolina Bar Association, where a portrait of 35-year executive director Allan Head hangs at the bar center, his successor, Jason Hensley, knows that expectations are high—but that it is all right to make changes along the way.

“I had the benefit of knowing it was a strong organization, and the fact that it is a strong organization provides a lot of opportunities,” Hensley says. “This organization has had a tradition of innovation. It’s interesting to put tradition and innovation together, but I think it’s been a tradition here to find new programs and new opportunities and to innovate them.”