July 01, 2010 Membership Benefits

State and Local Bar News: The Birth of a Dinosaur in 2008

By: Harry Hathaway

Editor’s Note: With this issue we are starting a new column so that state and local bars can share how they use the experience of senior lawyers in their associations. We hope this will become a regular feature of the VOE. Please prepare an article on how your bar benefits from and moves forward with your Experience. We are also looking for histories of outstanding, practicing senior lawyers. Please send to Judgeeds@gmail.com.

For the past year, I have come to the office to be greeted by a large brontosaurus doll and a coffee mug and coaster carrying the Senior Lawyers “dinosaur crest.” And of course I wear my dinosaur lapel pin! This is because I am the third chair and one of the founders of the three-year-old Senior Lawyers Division of the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA). The Division was founded by three former presidents of LACBA: Patricia Phillips, David J. Pasternak, and myself; they preceded me in that order. The dinosaur has become our logo and trademark. People love it.

I jokingly tell others that we created a parking lot for ourselves and many other senior lawyer members of the LACBA. Much to our surprise, the Senior Lawyers Division has become a very successful parking place for lawyers age 55 and over or with 25 years of practice. Initially, we were concerned that lawyers would be reluctant to be branded “over 55”; but this has not been the case. Actually, we are not a graveyard or even a parking lot, probably because 60 is the new 50 for most aging adults.

We do not take ourselves too seriously, ergo the dinosaur logo; but at our “advanced age,” we take our practices, our bar association, and public service seriously. In this day of high pressure on lawyers in a very competitive environment, we all need some comic relief, camaraderie, and a place to do public service with those of our age group.

As a Division of the LACBA, we do not have a substantive law program. Being non-substantive does not mean that we do nothing—quite to the contrary. We sponsor events and programs that encompass a wide array of events. Our programs have touched on gerontology and aging and memory loss, so we can be better in touch with ourselves, our colleagues, and those senior to us.

Our social outings have been most successful. We held a barbeque at a Hollywood Bowl concert, where the chef, organizer, and one of our own— Hugh Biele—almost “cooked” himself to death. Naturally, this year we will have a caterer! From there, we stayed in Hollywood, taking the next event to the Magic Castle, where the professional comics and magicians harpooned us with lawyer jokes . . . but the dinosaurs fought back with brontosaurus humor. The public loved it!

Our program “Reel Justice” this year brought a great turnout where we had the authors of the book by the same name address us using film clips of lawyers depicted in the movies over most all of the Hollywood years. It was a fun evening, totally interactive, and was enhanced with lots of popcorn and beer.

Turning to the serious side, still nonsubstantive, we have established a “Frozen in Time” series (the ice age got the dinosaur—remember?), which is a spotlight on an important happening in legal history and lessons we learned from it as a profession. Previous programs have been:

  • The Warren Commission Report on the JFK assassination in 1962—did they get it right? A few are still convinced there was a conspiracy.
  • The impact of the O.J. Simpson Trial on the judicial system; Result: cameras left the courtroom thereafter and slow speed police chases presently abound.
  • Presently, we are focused on the civil and criminal trials of the legend Michael Jackson for a program in the fall.

In all of those programs, what is really fascinating is that we have many of the original players (unless deceased or in jail) in those matters on the stage with us sharing their stories and what was learned from those history-making events.

Our programs on the attorney in transition; how to handle a change in career or practice late in professional life, and how to cope with a layoff in today’s cruel world have been very well attended. It is amazing to learn how many lawyers want change in later life but do not wish to completely “hang it up.” For those who are victims of the recession, a little handholding can be a great lift. We have had terrific success with our mentoring programs. At first, we thought that this would essentially be a program for younger lawyers. Much to our surprise, young and old show up to hear and share war stories and discuss the recipe for peace in their lives and possible new directions.

One of our new projects is to develop a listing of law firms for sale through our Web site. The ethical rules provide for this; why can’t the bar facilitate it for attorneys? Who will be the best consumers of this service—senior lawyers (even though many of us plan to “die with our boots on”) and young lawyer purchasers. Interestingly, the concept came from a young lawyer.

For those interested in following our lead in your state or local bar, let me share with you how we did it at the LACBA so you do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Blueprint for the Formation of a Local Bar Senior Lawyers Group

In early 2007, it was recognized that a senior lawyers division would be a desirable addition to the LACBA. The need became even more apparent upon the completion of several profiles of the LACBA membership, which revealed that there were in excess of 6,500 lawyers age fifty-five and greater, representing 25 percent of the LACBA membership. LACBA had spent time developing law student and first-year new lawyers, but did not have a comparable outreach to senior lawyers. The objectives in creating a senior lawyers division were:

  • Serve the senior lawyer member population with quality and interesting products and services suitable for the senor lawyer member.
  • Expand the lifetime value of the LACBA member by extending the membership interests well into the senior lawyer years of membership.
  • Create a paying division that would contribute to the overall revenue stream of LACBA by not only extending the LACBA membership years, but providing a separate revenue stream by the senior lawyer paying to participate in the new division.
  • Create a new division that would act as the mentoring model to its own as well to other areas such as the law students and newer lawyer members.
  • Capitalize on the wealth of affinity partner relationships that can be developed that serves the senior lawyer market.
  • Most important of all, create an LACBA division that targets the senior lawyer providing much needed information and services principally in non-substantive areas of law and providing the senior lawyer an opportunity and vehicle to continue to contribute to the overall Association and the legal community.

The chief marketing officer of the LACBA, Michael “Tim” Elliott, proposed that the first step in the development of the new division was to identify a set of senior lawyer leaders who were acquainted with the Association and devoted to the success of the new division. The identified new leadership was made up of many of the legends in the legal profession in Los Angeles County, including many past presidents of the LACBA. To make the new division a success, a strong staff support element also was needed that could assist, guide, and at times take the lead in the development of the fledgling division. It was decided that the LACBA Marketing Department would be used in developing the new division. The Marketing Department carried specialized staff that could provide technical and special services that moved the project at a quickened pace. Over a short time period, the following was developed:

  • All senior lawyer members were surveyed to determine specific areas of interest.
  • A set of guiding principles, goals, and bylaws were developed.
  • All senior lawyers were advised of the creation of the new division and its purpose, and a request was sent to those who expressed an interest in getting involved in the leadership and committee structure.
  • A website was developed and launched. The new division was branded for ease of identity and a rallying point for all senior lawyers.
  • The basic structure of the new division was established from the executive committee to the committees that support the various services and products of the new division.

With a solid division organization structure; good marketing intelligence; development of a marketing plan, timetable, Web site; along with dedicated staff support, the Senior Lawyers Division was ready for the next phase.

Following all of the above planning and staging, the new division was launched in 2008 using electronic outreach to contact potential senior lawyer members statewide. The e-mail notice provided the information about the new division including structure, leadership, and goals. The e-mail informed them that they are now members of the new division and their first year membership dues were waived in order to demonstrate the value of the new division. Anyone that would like to opt out was provided a link to do so. The total opt outs were less than twenty out of over 6,500.

As the division entered the 2009 membership year invoicing period, the major question the division leadership asked was “did we provide real value and will the members now pay to join the division upon receiving the invoice?” The established goal was 2,000 paid members. Invoices were sent in October 2008 for the 2009 member year. The result exceeded the division expectations with 3,086 paid members representing over $108,000 in new revenue to the Association. We were at this point the largest section division in the L.A. County Bar.

The new division remains the largest of the LACBA Sections/ Divisions and continues to offer a full slate of activities, products and services for the senior lawyer members. Now, additional committees have been staged to offer additional services including:

  • Historical Committee. The division has taken on the responsibility of keepers of the historical records of the Association and legal profession in Los Angeles County. Plans call for the completion of the legal history that has previously been documented through 1953 in a published book, “Lawyers of Los Angeles.” We hope to publish a second edition which will chart the history of the Bar through 2010. We hope to have an historical web site that displays historical pictures, stories and documents.
  • Publications Committee. This committee has yet to be formed to explore new publication options and enhance the division’s newsletter “Senior Moments.”
  • Web Site Committee. This committee oversees continued development of the division website offerings.

The division expects to continue to grow as new products and services are developed. The division is proud of its accomplishments, its clever branding and unique place in the overall Association. As the largest of the Sections/Divisions, it enjoys a leadership position within the Association structure with many women and judicial members.

With the addition of the Senior Lawyers Division, the LACBA has completed a full life membership cycle by providing products and services targeted to key career milestones from the law student, to new attorneys, to established attorneys and now to senior lawyers. Hopefully, the birth of a dinosaur in 2008 will lead to the birth of more “modern day dinosaurs” within the ABA affiliate structure.

Harry Hathaway (hhathaway@ fulbright.com), Division chair in 2001–02, is of counsel at Fulbright & Jaworski in Los Angeles.