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Law Practice Today

February 2022

Perspectives in Leadership: Bar Association Engagement

Traci Ray


  • Serving others in the profession leads to valuable leadership skills.
  • For attorneys, some of the most productive experiences include bar leadership—where our professional and volunteer worlds intersect.
Perspectives in Leadership: Bar Association Engagement

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Leadership is a skill set that is learned and honed throughout our lifetime. From school, sports, jobs, parenting—the list is endless—opportunities exist all around us, and it’s up to us to identify and learn from these lessons. Many leadership skills are developed through volunteer activities. For attorneys, some of the most productive experiences include bar leadership—where our professional and volunteer worlds intersect. As a part of this reflection on the many shapes and forms leadership can take, I asked four of the most influential leaders in Oregon for their perspectives. All four are lawyers who lead, who are involved and invested in bar association work, and who go out of their way on the regular to give back to their communities. Here are the leadership lessons they shared:

Jovita Wang is a partner at Richardson Wright. She is the president of the Multnomah Bar Association, secretary of the Oregon Asian Pacific American Bar Association Foundation, and the Oregon State Bar delegate to the ABA House of Delegates. Jovita shared: “As someone who has been described as reserved and introverted, 10 years ago I would not have thought of myself as a natural leader. Yet through my engagement in bar associations, I have learned that leadership comes in all different forms, and it is a skill everyone can develop. Most importantly, you must learn to build trust with others. When I served as president of the Oregon Asian Pacific American Bar Association, after many years of being a board member, it was through my strong relationships that made tedious volunteer activities meaningful and fun. As the current president of the Multnomah Bar Association, my goal is to build connections among our board members so that together we can provide the best services possible for our members. I want my board to feel heard and appreciated. Through trust, we can have candid discussions that will lead to better decision-making. For that reason, I try to avoid the conventional top-down approach to leadership. Instead, as a leader, I want to bring out the best of each board member to achieve our objectives.”

Andrew Schpak is the co-managing partner at Barran Liebman LLP. He serves on the American Bar Association’s Board of Governors, chairs the ABA’s Finance Committee, and sits on its Executive Committee. Andrew noted: “Good leaders multi-task and learn how to stay on top of their job while also staying on top of their volunteer commitments. They never assume the worst, and take the time to investigate before reaching a conclusion. This applies to absentee volunteers (who may have had a death in the family or some other extremely valid reason for the delay) as well as decisions by committees or boards. Good leaders also put people in positions to succeed, empower them with responsibility and authority to spearhead projects, and never forget to thank people for what they do. Good leaders stay humble, recognize that organizations are bigger than themselves, and see their involvement as an opportunity to improve the organization and bring more people in. Additionally, running a good meeting is underrated and incredibly important. Start and end on time. Make sure everyone has a chance to participate.  Stay focused on the topics/agenda. Lastly, ask for advice from past leaders and staff – they know a lot, and may not tell you unless you ask.”

Kamron Graham is the deputy public guardian and conservator at Multnomah County’s Public Guardian & Conservator Office. She is the president of the Oregon State Bar, treasurer for OGALLA: The LGBTB Bar Association of Oregon, and president of the Oregon Women Lawyers Foundation. She emphasized: “There can be a lot of conflicting ideas on what leadership is. In my opinion, a lot of people get it wrong and do a disservice to their team. A common error is thinking you need to be the smartest person in the room. It is the opposite. A good leader does more listening than talking. They listen to understand diverse perspectives and alternative ideas, and ask questions. Another common misperception of leadership is that leaders have to be extroverts, and always have to say the “right” inspirational things at the right time. The key to leadership is empowering others to succeed through their words and actions. When real leaders talk, they provide guidance and direction, they acknowledge the work of others, and they are transparent about their processes and challenges. Leaders are not only chairs, presidents, or management. Leadership can occur at any level, despite your position in your firm or team. Imagine having a firm or board made of leaders, all supporting one another, listening, asking questions, empowering one another to succeed. Finally, good leaders know that leadership is learned, and most of all, practiced. Good leadership is an ongoing skill that requires self-awareness, humility, and the willingness to seek feedback from others.”

Shayda Le is a partner at Barran Liebman LLP. She serves on the American Bar Association’s Board of Governors and is a member of the ABA Young Lawyers Division’s Executive Committee. Shayda explained: “One of my favorite lessons in leadership, and frankly one of my biggest areas of opportunity (read: need for growth), has centered on balancing the need to set a good example in my own professional work against the desire to be understanding and welcoming of where others are on their own pathways of professional development. For example, as a partner at a law firm, I expect myself to be clear and helpful in my communications, timely (read: ahead) with the completion of all my deadlines, responsive to client needs, diligent in my research and work product, and on top of all of my emails. In contrast, as a leader, I expect myself to be understanding and encouraging when it comes to an associate who may not have been clear in their communications, who unintentionally ran up against a deadline, who did not quite capture the essence of a client question, who might have forgotten a source when embarking on a new area of research, or who might have missed an email. If I want to lead an employee towards an ideal, particularly if that person is junior to me in the arc of their professional development, I cannot expect that person to perform to my standards today. I should help them to work toward a standard with thoughtful instruction and encouragement. I should enable them to capitalize on opportunities and carve out spaces where they can test their strengths within an environment of support and guidance. As the chair of a volunteer professional organization, for example, I treat the work of the board with the same timeliness as I do my paid work, and try to be patient and respectful of the questions and needs of my fellow board members, diligent in applying my skills and know-how to issues that arise, careful in researching or following up on issues I might not have encountered before, and on top of all of my emails.  As a leader, I strive to be understanding and encouraging when it comes to a fellow board member who may need to prioritize their day job over the needs of the organization, who may become frustrated or impatient with the interactions of the board, who may not have the time or flexibility available to always be diligent and responsive to the needs of the organization, or who might have missed an email.  If I want to lead a volunteer towards an ideal, even if that person is a similarly situated colleague, I will be of greater service and value if I help them work toward a standard through encouragement rather than demands and criticism. In some ways, leadership results in a double standard – expecting the most of ourselves, yet being understanding and flexible when it comes to (some of the) expectations of others.”

Jovita, Andrew, Kamron, and Shayda are all tremendous leaders in their respective bar association positions. Their dedication to self-awareness, empowering others, and integrity are truly insightful and inspirational. I am personally thankful to them each for their consistent efforts on behalf of the organizations they lead and support, and for the leadership skills they have cultivated throughout our community.