October 01, 2015

Defining Moments: Change Is a Challenge to Embrace

Melanie Bragg

In August 2015, I had the honor to step into the leadership role in the GP Solo Division as Secretary. Leadership and change have been topics very much on my mind. The Book Publications Board is now chaired by my good friend and esteemed colleague, Cynthia Sharp. As happy as I am, leaving the Board on which I served for 10 years is a transition away from something I love so much—books—and into new areas of the Division. I am forced to embrace change, and it is testing me on several levels.

My good friend, Bill Hogan, who chaired the Division in 2004–2005, was kind enough to appoint me to a position on the Long Range Planning Committee during his year, and I soon discovered my home on the Book Publications Board. I have seen us come from behind as the ABA publishing underdog to the third largest book publications board in the ABA. And now, as I move into a new position, a great deal of change is going on in ABA Publishing.

Last fiscal year we lost our longtime publishing executive and marketer, Kelly Keane, and this year we lost Rick Paszkiet, our beloved editor, who moved on to a new position in the Business Law Section. We are happy for him and will use this time to enhance and improve our operations. We now have Sonali Oberg and Shannon Bridger-Riley as our publications staff, and we are excited. Yet it has not been a walk in the park for me to have all of these things happening at once. My plan was to turn it all over under peachy keen circumstances with a red ribbon on top. I never envisioned this massive upheaval occurring smack dab in the middle of it all when I left.

Can you think of a time when you had it all planned and then, all of the sudden, things changed? Big changes that were completely out of your control? How did you react? What did you do to change course?

The bottom line is that for us humans, change is not easy, even for those of us who think it is. There is a natural proclivity to resist change. Change can be likened to what happens when a natural forest fire burns out the land and leaves it desolate for a season. Then as a part of the cycle of life, the land regenerates. I am reminded of the fires at Yellowstone National Park that, in 1990, devastated much of the terrain. Now those areas are lush and fertile, to a greater degree than before. I am not a psychic, but my prediction is that it will be the same with ABA Publishing and our GP Solo Book Publications Board as we navigate our way through the ABA publishing convergence efforts and attempt to operate more like a traditional publisher in terms of output and profit. 

My initial reactions were fear-based, and, as I contemplated and collaborated on the problem, I observed the different ways people approach things. Fear can be a powerful motivator. Sitting tight and waiting to see is not a comfortable place for me. I like to take action. Especially when so much effort has been invested into a situation that is now threatened. We have a choice of whether to focus on the possibility that our ever-increasing numbers will decline, or we can (1) shift into problem-solving mode, (2) look for opportunities to do new things, or (3) just stay the course. Thank heavens the second set of options is my choice. And frankly, I am excited to see what we can do in the clutches of all of this change. It sure is an opportunity for us to shine!

Once the initial reaction to change subsides, one usually moves into a calmer space. Acceptance and the ability to separate the things we can change from the things we have no control over is a healthy way to look at the problem. It is the path toward positive solutions and viability. The bottom line is that the ABA did have to change the way books and periodicals were published. I am confident the decision was made with great care and concern for the overall well-being of the ABA. And because GP Solo has been a leader in these efforts, I feel we will continue to carve the path for other book boards as we stay on top of trends in terms of creativity, book vetting, and marketing. We just have to keep our eye on our goals and the long-range plans we have set for ourselves.

Can you think of a situation in your practice that has changed? How did you handle the changes? Are you pushing through the fear and plowing ahead? Or are you burying your head in the sand?

As the GP Solo Division weathers the publishing crisis, we will move forward and publish the same great books we have been producing for several years. And I will learn how to let go faster, quicker, and more confidently. I am thankful for this lesson in learning to deal with change, mastering delegation, and being happy to watch the Book Publications Board grow without me from a distance. After all, I have many more areas to focus on now and I need your help to make sure that solos and small firms reach their potential in every area—physical, emotional, and spiritual.

I am interested in your lessons in mastering change and how even positive change can be stressful yet ultimately rewarding. Please email me at Melanie@bragglawpc.com.

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Melanie Bragg

Melanie Bragg has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Houston’s fiercest attorneys in her representation of children, the elderly, and mentally disadvantaged people. Her firm, Bragg Law PC, is a general civil firm in Houston, Texas. She also writes and produces legal education programs through Legal Insight, Inc. (founded by Bragg in 1993). Her writing credits include Crosstown Park, an Alex Stockton legal thriller, HIPAA for the General Practitioner, chapters in How to Capture and Keep Clients, 2nd Edition; Effortless Marketing: Putting Your Unique Qualities to Work, 2nd Edition; and The Conscious Lawyer: How the Practice of Mindfulness Will Increase Your Bottom Line, as well as the upcoming book, Defining Moments: Insights into The Lawyer’s Soul, to be published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Flagship Division. When she is not writing, Melanie devotes her time to her work as Secretary of the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice (GP SOLO) Division and to sharing ideas with fellow authors. She is interested in your feedback and ideas about how solos, small firms, military, and government lawyers can lead richer, happier lives and thereby improve the delivery of legal services to the public. Melanie can be reached at melanie@bragglawpc.com.