“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future” observed Steve Miller in his 1976 hit “Fly Like an Eagle.” So, too, has been my year as Chair of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. The year, it seems, has flown by and kept slippin’ into the future, yet reflecting on the year has revealed many successes and accomplishments all in keeping with our Division’s mission and my Chair’s theme for the year.
One year ago when I revealed my year’s theme, I promised all of you three things: We would “Work Hard” . . . we would “Do Good” . . . and we would “Have Fun”! My theme served to remind and encourage all of us that hard work toward positive goals, whether those goals be aspirational, personal, or professional, does not need to be tedious and uninspiring. Hard work and doing good can indeed be fun. I am proud to report that we at GPSolo have succeeded in all three phases.
The Division has put forth six superb issues of our flagship, award-winning magazine, GPSolo. Led by Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Allen and members of the Magazine Board, we have published issues covering a wide range of legal topics ranging from “Appellate Advocacy,” “Elder Law,” “What to Do When Things Go Wrong,” “Real Property Law,” “Environmental Law,” and much in between. Our GPSolo magazine continued its award-winning ways, receiving an EXCEL Award for the Best Single Topic Issue (“Bumps in the Road for Young Lawyers,” May/June 2015) by Association Media & Publishing; the EXCEL awards are the most prestigious award program that exclusively recognizes excellence and leadership in nonprofit association media, publishing, marketing, and communications. Thank you!
Our Book Publications Board, chaired by Cynthia Sharp, has continued to excel in producing noteworthy and “must have” books for our members. Don’t believe me? Then believe ABA Executive Director Jack Rives, who, in complimenting our Board, observed “[GPSolo’s] book program . . . is running at a historic high . . . nearly double [its sales] budget for the year to date and shows 27 percent growth over the same period last year. This is a credit to the work of your Book Board. . . . This is an enviable position that is largely unmatched by any other ABA entity.” Thank you!
Our monthly free Brown Bag virtual luncheon series, led by Programs Committee Chair Lynn A. Howell, continue to receive rave reviews. These sessions are short, informal educational events on timely topics organized by committees and held entirely by teleconference as a Division member benefit. They are held monthly, normally last one hour, and take place during lunchtime. Brown Bag sessions this bar year covered a wide range of topics such as information security in your office, billing mistakes attorneys make, DUI/DWI defense, and depositions, to name only a few.
In addition to our popular monthly Brown Bags, this year we added bimonthly Hot Off the Press Brown Bag sessions, each featuring a new book publication presented by its author. This year’s topics and authors included debt collection, understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act, and issues related to lateral moves by attorneys. Thank you!
Being the father of three daughters (no sons) has sensitized me to the issues women face in society and particularly in the workplace. With this in mind and recognizing the current trend that nearly half of all law school students are women and an ever-increasing need to address the myriad of issues that confront them, I was pleased this year to oversee the creation of a new GPSolo entity: the Women’s Law Caucus, led by Chair Jennifer R. Willner and Vice Chair Kellye Moore. With them at the helm, I have every confidence that this group will thrive for many years to come. Thank you!
Our Awards Committee, co-chaired by Hon. J. Michelle Childs, Hon. Eileen Kato, and Kay H. Hodge, oversaw an active committee by awarding our 2015–2016 Difference Makers Awards to Daniel J. Hogan and Paul W. Lee, both of Boston, Massachusetts; the Making a Difference by Breaking Barriers Award to Ambassador George W. Haley (posthumously) of Silver Spring, Maryland; and the Making a Difference Through Service to the Profession Award to Hon. Allen J. Webster Jr., Superior Court of Los Angeles County in Compton, California. Our Division awarded its Solo and Small Firm Lifetime Achievement Award to Jeffrey Allen of Oakland, California, and Donald D. Slesnick II of Coral Gables, Florida, and our Solo and Small Firm Trainer Award to Gary P. Bauer, Professor of Law, Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. Congratulations to all our award recipients. Thank you!
The Solo and Small Firm Resource Center (ambar.org/soloandsmallfirms), chaired by Al Harrison, keeps growing and is proving beneficial to an ever-increasing number of satisfied users. The GPSolo eReport led by Jeffrey Allen, James Schwartz, Andrew Clark, and Ashley Hallene is a welcome addition to our in-boxes, keeping us abreast of breaking news, hot topics, and up-to-the-minute issues. Solosez, moderated by jennifer j. rose, continues to rock as the online virtual water cooler for thousands of solo and small firm attorneys around the country. Make sure you check them out. Thank you!
Whew! If that isn’t enough, we held two highly successful Division conferences that attracted hundreds of participants of all ages, specialties, and practice settings from around the country. Our Solo & Small Firm Summit “Strategies for Success” was held in Boston, Massachusetts, in September 2015 (thanks to Summit Chair Jennifer R. Willner) and featured nationally prominent speakers on law firm marketing, technology, and related topics to make us all better at what we do. Our 2016 Joint Spring Meeting (much thanks to our Host Committee Chair Alan Fowler), held in conjunction with the Group Legal Services Association, took place in May in Key West, Florida, where more than 250 people gathered in a special setting to improve themselves both personally and professionally with over 30 hours of CLE to choose from on subjects ranging from substantive law to practice development and management, along with numerous opportunities to network with scores of legal experts and each other.
And so as not to miss out on the “Have Fun” component of my year’s theme, we did have fun with exciting and memorable social events and friendship-building opportunities. Welcome receptions on Boston Harbor overlooking the Boston Tea Party ship and on the beach in Key West with a full Cuban luau, hosted bar, steel drums, and cigar rollers (set against the backdrop of the famed Key West sunset) were indeed memorable. Memorable, too, was our Division’s private Key West sunset cruise on a 70-foot catamaran complete with food, beverages, band, dancing, tropical breezes, and, of course, that magnificent sunset. Dine-arounds, pub crawls, and hospitality suites abounded, providing opportunities for fellowship with friends, old and new. If this sounds like fun to you, c’mon down to one of our GPSolo conferences. Bring yourself, your family, and your friends. We don’t bite . . . I promise! While my year is complete, plans are well under way for next year’s conferences in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Scottsdale, Arizona, followed by St. Paul, Minnesota, and New Orleans, Louisiana, during Jazz Fest!
None of these things I’ve listed here happen in a vacuum. Nor am I, as Division Chair, worthy or deserving of much of the credit bestowed on me. I owe much, if not all, of my success this year to others who have done all that was necessary to ensure success. I extend my deepest thanks and gratitude to my fellow Division Officers: Chair-Elect David H. Lefton, Vice Chair Stephen D. Williams, Secretary Melanie Bragg, and Immediate Past Chair Amy Lin Meyerson for their help, guidance, and support in making the year I had envisioned in my head a reality. Thanks to our “money men,” Budget Officer Stephen J. Curley and Revenue Director and Corporate Sponsor Committee Chair Alan O. Olson, for keeping the Division and me on track and “in the black.” Division Directors David Levesque, Alfreda D. Coward, Christine G. Albano, and Richard A. DeMichele Jr. kept the Division and its many committees running like a well-oiled machine. Diversity Director Andrea G. Van Leesten and Diversity Board Chair Cedric Ashley broadened our Division’s diversity efforts and our Diversity Fellowship program with skill and confidence. Membership Director Scott LaBarre and Membership Board Chair Richard D. Williamson kept stirring the membership pot with innovative and successful membership recruitment and retention efforts to keep our Division strong. Our Military Lawyers Committee, under the leadership of John Altenburg Jr. and Jonathan Bridge, has been strong in serving and addressing the needs of the attorneys in all branches of our military, whether here at home or in foreign lands, and are deserving of thanks. Our Division Delegates, Dwight L. Smith, James M. Durant III, and Jennifer A. Rymell, have served the Division well in the ABA House of Delegates, conducting themselves with class and professionalism whether it be before our Division Council in keeping us informed of topics of interest to our Division membership or in advocating for our constituency in matters of policy before the House. A special thank-you goes out to Dwight L. Smith, who, after serving as Division Chair in 2005–2006 and as Division Delegate to the House for the past nine years, has decided to step down to pursue new avenues of service to our profession. To all of you and the rest of our GPSolo team—our Council members, Committee Chairs, Vice Chairs, Committee members, Board members, and all the rest—I am indebted to you all and thank you for making this year all that I ever dreamed it could be. Thank you!
Not to be forgotten, I owe unfettered thanks and gratitude to our fabulous Division staff. Staff Director Kimberly Kocian has been my rock in both the planning and the implementation of my year’s activities. For the past two years, Kim has put up with my quirks, my incessant involvement in the smallest of details of my Division events (especially the social events), and my “style” of doing things—and she has done all this not only without complaint, but with the highest quality, efficiency and professionalism. My longtime friends Dee C. Lee, Steve Wildi, and Stephen Falvo, along with newcomers Sherri Napue and Molly Hesse, round out our crackerjack staff. Thank you!
But most of all, I thank you all for your friendship. For me, it is the people—the relationships formed, the lifelong friendships made, the camaraderie, the team bonding—that is the biggest benefit I get out of all this and the thing that keeps me coming back for more. Thank you!
Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank my family, particularly my wife Debi, who (in what might have been a colossal lapse of judgment) gave me her blessing in allowing me to pursue leadership positions in our Division. You just don’t magically become Chair. It takes four years to ascend the officers’ ladder to Chair and years before that toiling in the trenches. No matter what previous Chairs may say, being Chair takes a lot of time and takes you away too much at times from your family and practice. Debi has been a trouper throughout and has supported and joined me on this fun and exciting journey. She has joined me at meetings, luncheons, award dinners, and events large and small and has been my “better half” throughout. She and my three daughters have given me continued support in my efforts. As 1960s group Sam & Dave sang, “You didn’t have to love me like you did, but you did . . . and I thank you!”
It has been an honor and a privilege to have served this year as your Chair. Thank you all! I have been truly blessed in this life. Blessed with a good family and friends. Blessed with doing a job I love in one of this world’s noblest professions. Blessed with the collective trust you put in me to serve as your Chair this past year. I am proud to be an attorney, and I am proud of all my fellow attorneys. I’ve often observed that the public ridicules and makes fun of us attorneys, often spouting “lawyer jokes” until, of course, they need one . . . then they want the best lawyer they can find! The joke falls on them, doesn’t it?
Shortly, I will pass the Chair’s gavel to my good friend David Lefton, who will guide and lead our Division to newer and greater heights. We will be well served under this tutelage.
If you haven’t caught on from my past columns, I have a penchant for incorporating song lyrics. I combed through my mental jukebox for appropriate lyrics to close my final Chair’s Corner and rejected many. Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen”? Nah. Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”? Nope. I finally settled on Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year”—perhaps a bit introspective and self-indulgent, but fitting nonetheless:
But now the days grow short, I’m in the autumn of the year.
And now I think of my [time] as vintage wine from fine old kegs,
From the brim to the dregs, and it poured sweet and clear.
It was a very good year!