July 31, 2011

The Chairs’ Corner

Joseph A. DeWoskin


Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.

—Robert Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”

When you joined the American Bar Association General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division, we made a promise to you—the general practice, solo, and small firm lawyer. We promised comprehensive, practical advice for managing solo and small firm practices, providing the latest from technology to peer support, serving up answers to issues of critical importance to your legal career. This year’s focus was Back to Basics, and we promised to give solo and small firm lawyers the tools they need to practice law better because law practiced better naturally makes the profession stronger. The GPSolo Division delivered.

  • For the fifth year in a row, the Division held the National Solo and Small Firm Conference, this time in Austin, Texas. Under the tutelage of Vicki Levy Eskin, this annual event has become the premier conference of its kind.
  • The Smart Soloing Center, the portal for solo and small firm lawyers, the backbone of the profession, is up and running.
  • Celebrating the 25th anniversary of our first Spring Meeting, we met again in St. Louis, Missouri, and hosted a roundtable featuring the greatest number of living past Chairs assembled in a single room at one time, reliving the history of the Division back from its days as the General Practice Section.
  • More minorities, women, and lawyers with disabilities and differing sexual orientations and gender identities now participate in the leadership of GPSolo than ever before.

Taking on the privilege and responsibility of leadership spells another promise. Leadership should start in the trenches, with leaders serving on a committee, chairing a minor committee, chairing a more important committee, gaining familiarity with the members we serve through hands-on experience, and learning and implementing policy before claiming a seat at the governing body. For how can we, as leaders, know what is or is not working if we do not know the process? Entitlement never trumped a track record of hard work. Not only has the code of the trail changed, the currency in which dues are paid has changed with the times.

GPSolo is your Division—and you can make a difference. Become active and make yourself heard. I know that it costs both money and time to attend meetings, and that only those who are attending those meetings can vote at Council. Unlike the Division, the Council itself has no constituency. The Division’s constituency is you, the member. Now, most members who tire of what a voluntary bar association is doing vote with their feet, simply not renewing, quietly moving on to another voluntary bar entity, much as many current active Division members have done or plan to do following the Annual Meeting in Toronto. That works for the moment, for that one member, but it does little to strengthen an organization. If there’s something that’s not working for you, speak up. One of you who is reading this column—and I have no idea whom—will find yourself writing it a decade and a half from now. Hopefully, that person will have found the magic elixir to make this Division a success—focusing on providing solos and small firm lawyers what is needed to help their clients and enjoy the practice of law. That person will have decided that the strength of a successful law practice lies in the ability of this organization to provide the tools to succeed.

Having attended ABA and General Practice meetings since I was a child, I remember trips to Bermuda, Jackson Hole, and many other meetings in between. Our family vacations were scheduled around these meetings—because the work done by lawyers for lawyers was something that we could be proud of doing, and family was part of the practice and life. This Section, now Division, has been my home for almost my whole life. Along the way I have developed lifelong friendships, many of which will end their ABA existence at the Annual Meeting in Toronto but will continue outside the ABA owing to the strength of the bonds that were formed.

Now, it is time for the best part and, to an extent, the bittersweet part of my farewell column: my opportunity to thank the many people who helped me along the way—when I was just a rank-and-file member, during my time coming up the ranks, learning all I could about the Division, and finally as an officer. I’d like to thank all of the past Chairs for assisting me through example and consultation. I would like to thank my Division Directors: Brian Hermanson, Elio Martinez, David Lefton, Jennifer Ator, and Henry DeWoskin, who were instrumental in directing committee work. I would also like to thank John Macy, who made sure that the revenue was streaming in and was always there to keep me on the straight and narrow, and Stan Riffle, who made sure we started and ended the year on budget (and hopefully in the black) and who was always willing to let me vent about things. My parents, Alan and Iris DeWoskin, shoulder responsibility for getting me into this “ABA thing,” providing the greatest leadership examples and support in my life. My brothers Henry DeWoskin and Rabbi Frank DeWoskin were the greatest younger brothers ever—we shared many long rides in the family van to ABA meetings growing up. Thanks go to jennifer j. rose and the GPSolo magazine Editorial Board, as well as the boards of our various electronic newsletters, for providing excellent articles and information to you, our members. And thanks to our Publications Board for all the hard work they do in developing and publishing fantastic books that help make your practice run that much smoother. In ABA Publishing, staffers Tom Campbell, MaryAnn Dadisman, Tamara Nowak, Richard Paszkiet, Rob Salkin, and Tammy Williams kept our books and periodicals on track. Division staff members Kim Anderson, Dee Lee, and Nicole Nikodem (and Laura Ramirez, who has moved on but is not forgotten) were instrumental in working behind the scenes, bringing it all together, keeping the wheels turning, and allowing this small firm lawyer to keep my law practice going while I guided the ship called the GPSolo Division. Last, but certainly not least, thanks to my family: my wife, Shelly, and our children, Harris and Robin—they made sacrifices above and beyond the call and allowed me to spend time away from them to help you enjoy this past Bar Year and, I hope, get Back to Basics by improving your practice and reminding yourself why it is you are a lawyer and a member of this Division.

And most of all, a sincere thanks goes to the 20,000 members of the GPSolo Division. You are the Division. Officers, delegates, council members, committee chairs, and bar leaders come and go, but the membership is the backbone and heart of the organization. Thank you for the honor of serving as your Chair during this past year.

As GPSolo celebrates the quinquagenary of its founding, let’s remember why it was started in the first place. And borrowing a line from Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,”

He knows changes aren’t permanent,
But change is.
And what you say about his company
Is what you say about society.


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