July 08, 2017 Procurement Lawyer

News from the Chair Elect

by Aaron Silberman

Mr. Silberman is a shareholder at Rogers Joseph O’Donnell (RJO) in San Francisco, in its Government Contracts and Construction Practice Groups. He is the current chair of the American Bar Association Section of Public Contract Law and a past chair of its Construction and State & Local Procurement Divisions.

Being a lawyer is hard. Being a government contracts lawyer is harder. Being a good government contracts lawyer is harder still. We are here to help.

The Section does so many great and important things. Many, though not all, are part of our core mission. So when I thought about what I should focus on for my upcoming year as chair, I had a lot to choose from. I chose helping our members be the best government contracts lawyers they can be.

Whether you are a law student just developing your interest in government contracts, a young associate, in-house attorney at an agency, a contractor, or a grizzled veteran of the Section, the learning curve in government contracts law and law practice is always steep. We all have so much to learn and, most importantly, to learn from each other.

The Section is the resource to stay on top of everything going on in the world of procurement law. We already do so much as a Section to help us all be better lawyers and therefore better serve our clients and public procurement. I’m thankful for that, and for all the leaders and members who have built, maintained, and enhanced the Section over the years. Thanks to them, especially our tireless director, Patty Brennan, and chair, Ty Hughes, we start the next bar year in a great place. The Section already provides more opportunities and resources than any government contracts lawyer could ever possibly exhaust. That said, we can do more; we can do better; and we will.

The first way we do more is build on our strengths. Nobody does more to stay on top of regulatory developments and improve procurement through well-written, reasoned comments. Nobody puts on better educational programs and networking events for government contracts lawyers. Nobody publishes more useful articles and books on the latest and most pressing legal issues in procurement. And don’t get me started on the depth and breadth of the work done, content provided, and opportunities available in our more than 20 substantive committees!

But before we dislocate our elbows patting ourselves on our backs, we can do better with all of these things. We need to get more Section members involved in our commenting process—the Regulatory Coordinating Commit- tee does so much and needs more support; the Acquisition Reform and Emerging Issues Committee is almost always at the front of the line, jumping in and masterfully evaluating proposed rules and preparing comments; several other committees are great at rallying to help with comments in their subject matter wheelhouses. More of our committees need to do the same, and more members within our committees need to be given and take the opportunities to be part of this process. In the heavily regulated world of federal procurement, there is no better way I know to stay on top of the latest developments.

We get excellent speakers who provide great content at our programs, but we can do better and more. We need more variety and diversity in our panels — to get a broader spread of viewpoints, provide more opportunities for members of the Section, and keep our programs fresh and engaging. On that last point, we need to look at ways to mix up our CLE programs. I’ll concede that maybe, sometimes, four people who remember when the first Star Wars came out, sitting at a table, taking turns giving 15-minute talks, with no visuals (or slides filled with small-print text) is the best way to present a topic. But not most of the time! You’ll start seeing some new, exciting approaches (and bourbon tasting!) at the Fall Conference in Louisville, November 2–3. Be there!

We also need to reach a broader audience with our pro- grams. We need to do better crafting and marketing our programs for government lawyers — federal, state, and local; in-house contractor counsel; junior lawyers; sole practitioners; and small firm lawyers. We need to explore doing more to leverage technology to allow people to get the benefit of our programs remotely and at a budget they, or their employers, can afford and will pay. Ty had led the recent effort to come up with many great ideas, such as doing fundamentals courses, free or reduced-fee webinars, recording in-person programs and offering some of them as podcasts. Now we need to take the next steps — prioritize, figure out how, and do it.

Our books and periodicals are first-rate. How do we make them more accessible and useful? How can we use ebooks and elibraries to take the great written work our members are doing and keep it current? With the depth and breadth of our members’ expertise and experience, nobody is better positioned to identify the important issues — big and small, cutting edge, and timeless — that we all need in our libraries. I’m proud of what our Publications Board has done since its inception two years ago and even more so the great work our member volunteers have done on our books and periodicals. A great resource for publications is our committees. The Subcontracting Committee’s latest supply contract flowdown guide is a good example, and they have a new edition of the services guide underway. Our Procurement Fraud and Debarment Committees are near completion of terrific new books, with International Procurement close behind. It’s time for all of our committees to get organized, motivated, and thinking about generating publications.

Working together in the Section we all can become the best government contracts lawyers we can be. I’m looking forward to a great year as your chair.