I am your Chair-Elect. Once a year, the Chair of the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division yields this space to our Division’s Chair-Elect to introduce himself/herself/themself and preview the upcoming year. While it is a worthy tradition, it is not the Chair’s obligation to do this. As a result, I have always regarded these columns as gifts of grace wrapped in relief—grace for the simple act of giving and relief for the welcome break it affords the Chair in the midst of a busy bar year. I therefore begin by thanking our gracious Chair, Attorney Alfreda D. Coward, for this opportunity.
I am a solo commercial litigator. For nearly 30 years I have practiced in Stamford, Connecticut. I started my practice with a large Connecticut firm. I later joined a multinational AMLAW 100 firm before forming the Law Offices of Stephen J. Curley, LLC. While I have no staff, I do not work alone. Key to the birth and survival of my practice has been my involvement with bar associations—in particular, my regional bar in Stamford, the Connecticut Bar Association, and the American Bar Association (ABA). These groups safeguard my competencies and empower my success. My gratitude goes to these entities and the countless leaders, members, staff, and friends encountered along the way.
Later this year, I will begin my quest to build on Attorney Coward’s powerful record of progress by borrowing the talents of our members to advance their practices as your Chair. As that day draws nearer, my anticipation blends with anxiety. Sharing some of these plans with you helps me curb some of that anxiety, so my last offering of thanks goes to you, our members, for taking the time to read this piece.
Finally, for those of you fortunate not to know me, I can only offer apologies. With this column, your luck has expired.
The Theme for 2021–2022
Past Chairs-Elect of the Division have frequently unveiled their “themes” for the coming bar year in this article. Some have been inspirational; others have been memorable. I have given some thought to a theme for 2021–2022. I concluded that it will be a year ill-suited for a theme. Instead, I offer a comparative adjective: melior.
Latin scholars will recognize this word as meaning “better.” I was hard-pressed to come up with a more appropriate word to summarize what all of us in the Division should be working toward during the next bar year. The word carries with it the hallmarks of challenge, humility, and hope. The challenge comes from an acknowledgment that those who have gone before us have done great good that will not be easily surpassed. The achievements of Attorney Coward and her predecessors stand as testaments to that fact. The humility derives from the recognition that perfection is impossible. After all, “better” is between “good” and “best.” Most importantly, the word carries the hope of improvement. Given the extraordinary tests the last year has brought, the notion of getting “better” in health, security, and practice is especially timely.
The Year Ahead
“Melior” and its message of challenge, humility, and hope will be manifest in the Division’s programming, collaborative efforts, and meetings.
One challenge that the Division will accept is advancing the vital work of increasing awareness, achieving acceptance, and expediting advancement in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Diversity Board Chair Kelly Adams and her colleagues have launched the Division as a leader in this field through the groundbreaking Activate Diversity series that energized hundreds of our members. The Division is now in the vanguard of the ABA’s efforts on this front. We will be leveraging this accomplishment through even more top-ranked Division programming featuring prominent thought leaders. In addition, the Division will make greater efforts to export its expertise through collaborating with other entities within the ABA and affinity groups. More importantly, the Division will mobilize its delegates within the ABA House of Delegates to put forward resolutions that will secure its position as an innovator of greater policy to make the profession more closely reflect the public it serves.
Another challenge to the Division comes with a growing membership. In furtherance of a new membership model promoted by the ABA in recent years, membership in the Division is currently available to all members at no additional cost beyond ABA dues by “opting in” when enrolling for the 2021–2022 Bar Year. Over recent times, this has brought many new members into the Division. However, the Division’s financial resources have not grown at a sufficient rate to keep pace. The Division’s budget will necessarily reflect this reality; this, in turn, will cause our leaders to find new ways of delivering our top-drawer resources to members more efficiently. The Division will therefore be relying even more heavily on our remote resources to ensure that up-to-the-minute publications and periodicals get to our members through our website and e-mails. Our leadership will also continue to lobby the ABA to enroll all self-identified solo attorneys into the Division automatically so that even more lawyers can experience what we have on offer. The Division’s reward will not only be a larger audience but also a more diverse pool of members from which our new leaders will emerge.
The Division’s leadership will take up these challenges at our Fall Leadership Meeting to be held at the Wit Chicago Hotel on October 23, 2021. This new one-day format will not only conserve Division and volunteer resources but (hopefully) allow our leaders to resume in-person interaction and focus their collective talents on bringing the work of the Division out of the shadows of pandemic and position it well for the years to come.
Cooperation is humility’s embroidery. Once one accepts that one cannot do it all, one is ready to be a willing partner. The Division has already earned the reputation as a valued collaborator through fine joint meetings with such ABA groups as the Young Lawyers Division, the Section of Litigation, and the Standing Committee on Group and Prepaid Legal Services. In 2021–2022, this tradition will continue with the Spring Division Meeting, which will be held jointly with the Section of Dispute Resolution and the Judicial Division from April 27 to 30, 2022, in Los Angeles. At this event, the Division will be introducing attorneys to alternative dispute resolution as both an option to litigation and an invitation to career enhancement. Attendees will work with judges, mediators, arbitrators, and academics to determine how pandemic innovations may impact litigation techniques as well. The unique networking and referral opportunities that the conference will offer will not be duplicated. Whether one attends remotely or in person, this joint meeting promises to be one of the largest Division events in recent memory and should not be missed.
The Division will also be a full participant in the ABA’s Midyear and Annual Meetings. The Midyear Meeting is currently scheduled to be held in Seattle, Washington, with Division events taking place between February 10 and 12, 2022, and will feature our fantastic Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) presentation and reception. The Annual Meeting is planned to take place in Chicago, with Division events slated for August 4 through 6, 2022. This gathering will allow us to conclude the year by taking stock in determining whether the Division achieved the status of “better.”
The pandemic has interrupted our practices. It has frozen our dreams. It has confined our bodies. For many, it has even stolen the lives of our colleagues, friends, and loved ones. But, in a strange and ironic way, it has given us reason for hope. Our shortened commutes have given us the irreplicable gift of time. Our new workspaces may have reduced expenses. Our remote resources have expanded, allowing us to learn more easily and inexpensively. Through the Division’s podcasts, roundtables, and publications, we will endeavor to translate that hope into practical improvements for the practices of our members. In a word, we will make the lives of these lawyers and their clients “melior.” It is in this spirit that I invite each of you to join the Division’s work in 2021–2022.
A final note: I welcome your input and commitment. There is always room at the Division’s table for you. If you want to make the Division even better or just have the desire to do more for it, I need to hear from you. Please e-mail me anytime at email@example.com.