ABA President Bob Carlson is a small firm lawyer from Butte, Montana, who knows the challenges of maintaining a practice and being actively involved in the bar. GPSolo sat down with Bob Carlson to get his thoughts about the ABA and the solo and small firm lawyer. Answers have been edited for space.
Are there misperceptions about the ABA’s relevance to solo and small firm lawyers?
The ABA has more to offer the solo and small firms than just about any category [of practitioner] in terms of their needs. . . . The resources we provide to solo and small firms allow them to have a level playing field. We offer them the right technology, the right insurance, tax information, and how to run your law firm as a business; we provide that information. We have an easy way for solo and small firms to get ethics advice and interpretations of the rules. In addition, the ABA stands up for the independence of the legal profession and for an impartial judiciary. It vets federal judicial nominees, which impacts your day-to-day lives on a regular basis. It is important to be a part of that process.
Has the leadership of the ABA been focusing on services for solo and small firm lawyers?
[Former ABA President] Linda Klein started with the ABA Blueprint program, a practice management tool to help solo and small firm lawyers get the right tools and software to run their law firm. We are expanding it in partnership with the GPSolo Division [and others], to offer more content to assist [solos and small firm lawyers] in their substantive practice. This includes how-to manuals and information about how to run their practice. In addition to that, we have been looking at lawyer wellness because running your own practice can be very stressful. To be an ethical lawyer, you have to be a healthy lawyer. Finally, through the New Membership Model, we are offering direct assistance to solos and small firms. We enhanced the value proposition. There is access to 5,000 articles and research, free CLE available just by being a member, access to some free section/division membership, and simplifying the dues structure so they pay less.
How has your bar involvement impacted your practice?
When I was a state bar president, through the Division of Bar Services, and through the Bar Leadership Institute, the ABA provided me with a connection point to lawyers from all around the country and provided me with excellent leadership training. The lawyers in less populous states can get a great deal of support from the ABA for resource management, collaboration, and warehousing of information that they couldn’t get otherwise. At a very early time in my career, I realized the ABA was not just a connection for building a practice, but a connection for building bar leadership. The people I have met along the way have helped me as a person, in addition to referring cases and assisting with issues in the practice of law. I’ve received much more benefit from my membership than the dues I have paid and have become a much better lawyer because of my membership in the ABA.
Are there opportunities for solo/small firm lawyers that are difficult to get elsewhere?
We offer more national-based programs that you might not have access to coming from a small firm or a rural state. Under the [New Membership Model], those programs are going to be more accessible and in platforms where you won’t need to leave your office to access them.
What is your advice for newer lawyers who want to get involved in the ABA?
We made over 600 appointments this year. Every year through the Office of the President we look at how to blend getting younger lawyers opportunities to participate with the experienced lawyers. Sections and divisions are looking at getting people involved, too. There are more opportunities now, and we are throwing the net very wide to get people involved.
Do you have any tips for those who may want to get involved?
First, join the ABA. If you are just starting out, get connected with the GPSolo Division and look at the possibilities. Look at the resources and for a connection to your community, and connect with that person. Look at ways you can get involved and volunteer. Put your name in for appointments. If asked to do something, the answer should be yes. That’s what worked for me—I just never said no.