November 01, 2013

Views from the Chair: Get involved with a committee

William L. Penny

Committees are the lifeblood of our Section. Whether you join a committee simply because you have an interest in a particular area, or whether you want to be active in Section activities, our substantive committees provide substantial value.

I recall when I joined the Section, I was somewhat dazed and confused as to exactly what benefit committees could be to me. Since then I learned that our committees provide the following:

1. Lawyers who share some of my same interests and can share experiences;

2. Newsletters that provide up-to-date information on the latest legal developments;

3. Program topics provided at stand-alone meetings, webinars, and committee conference calls;

4. Electronic communications in the form of list serves, committee webpages, and social media;

5. Networking opportunities with lawyers in similar fields from all over the country; and

6. Opportunities to get involved with leadership.

At the Section’s recent 21st Fall Conference in Baltimore, I was honored to recognize the 2012–2013 best committees. The Air Quality Committee, chaired by Gail Lea Rubrecht, and the Pesticides, Chemical Regulation, and Right-To-Know Committee, chaired by Martha E. Marrapese, won best overall environmental committees (tie). The Renewable, Alternative, and Distributed Energy Resources (a/k/a RADER) Committee, co-chaired by Kim Diamond and Roger Stark, won energy and resources committee of the year. Each of these committees was led by great committee chairs and was exceptionally well run. These committees were characterized by chairs who actively directed the committee and by outstanding vice chairs who produced and provided great newsletters, communication, and programming. Awards were also given for the best committee newsletters and committee programs. Details can be found on the Section website.

We also witnessed the resurrection of two very interesting committees last year: Government and Public Sector Innovation, co-chaired in by Joel Bolstein and Roger Feldman, and Energy Infrastructure and Siting, chaired by Lincoln Davies. These committees were characterized by committee chairs and vice chairs who were very innovative and active in reenergizing their committees. As a result they each won the coveted Phoenix Award.

Our Section’s Governance Committee manages the committee award competition and recognizes committees based on nominations. Self-nominations are accepted and are effective. I would urge you to contact your committee chairs and vice chairs and see how you can contribute to that committee’s success. If you have not done so already, now is the time to plan to capture the award for 2013–2014. Should your committee win one of the awards, not only will it be recognized at the Fall Conference in Miami, but the committee will have bragging rights on its committee website and through social media. Let the competition begin!

The Section also works with the various committees to help them be more effective. Section leadership provides an annual orientation for committee chairs, has governance activities at the Fall Conference, and assigns Council members to mentor new committee chairs and to act as liaisons to make sure committees are active. Each committee is required to develop an annual action plan. These action plans are based on the strategic plan goals of the Section. Before each quarterly Section Council meeting, every committee will submit a status report detailing the progress made in carrying out its action plan. The activity or inactivity of the committee is reported on by the committee’s Council liaison at each Council meeting.

Some members are too busy to be actively involved in committee activities and may be satisfied with only receiving the deliverables from the committees; however, many of our members find that being active provides them with greater value to their practice. So, how can you become active? Well, first attend one or more of the Section’s stand-alone CLEs or meetings regularly. Both the Fall and Spring Conferences have roundtable discussions for interest groups or committees and offer the opportunity to socialize with other members interested in your practice areas. Submit an article for publication in your respective committee newsletter. Suggest program topics for committee conference calls that will be of interest to members.

The Section leadership hopes to cultivate new leaders to fill positions on committees and Council-related positions as they become available. The Leadership Development Program and our Diversity Enhancement Program are two key programs that help develop new leadership. The Section also intentionally includes law students and young lawyers in all of its activities. Do not become frustrated if you cannot find an immediate opportunity. If you are interested, keep at it. It took me 10 years to become a committee vice chair—an opportunity I still appreciate to this day.

So, I would encourage you to join a few committees, or, if you already have, become more involved. We have much to offer and welcome everyone’s involvement. If you have a question about a committee, feel free to get in touch with the committee chair or let me know. I also hope to keep members apprised of Section and committee activities through my Twitter account: @tnenvlawyer.

William L. Penny

William L. Penny is a member of the Environmental, Natural Resources and Energy Service Group of Stites & Harbison PLLC in Nashville and is chair of the ABA’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources.