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November 18, 2020 VIEW FROM THE CHAIR

This Is Our Year

John C. McMeekin II

Welcome to the 2020–2021 bar year! Well, I wish I could say that with more conviction and enthusiasm, but the year will still present challenges and obstacles that we will need to meet head-on and overcome. I have no doubt, though, that with the strength of the TIPS membership we will celebrate many achievements—big and small—this year.

Traditionally, we enjoy each other’s company and comradery at the ABA Annual Meeting. We formally recognize the hard work and service of the outgoing Section chair, vote to confirm the incoming officers, and pass the gavel to the new Section chair. This year, everything was different, and part of that tradition was lost. I wanted to start my first article in The Brief with my sincerest thanks and admiration for the hard work and sacrifices made by Thea Capone; the TIPS staff, who are exceptional; the officers; the members of Council; and all of the Section leaders who despite their own personal and professional challenges jumped in with both feet to make the best of a difficult situation. We canceled in-person meetings but retooled the programs to webinars; we hosted free informational programs to help anyone through employment and loan questions. We responded in a meaningful, long-term, and sustainable way to important social issues around diversity and inclusion; and we were there for our colleagues. If those are the measures of the success of 2020, please join me in being proud of TIPS’s responses to the challenges around us.

But the story didn’t start there and won’t end there either. I joined TIPS and the ABA in 1997. I was encouraged to attend a meeting and stewarded around to meet people by a person who would go on to be a chair of TIPS and now a partner of mine. What stands out to me today, some 23 years later, is how the process of encouraging involvement and supporting success led me to come back to another TIPS meeting and eventually get involved. One of the biggest challenges facing TIPS and other professional associations today is relevance, made all the more challenging in a virtual world. How do we invite people to attend, encourage them to participate, and include them in the collegiality of our social events and networking opportunities? What value do we offer if it doesn’t come with an open hand to bring people into our networks?

As I began preparing for my year as chair of TIPS, we have wrestled with this concept of differing views on what a community and network means. To Generation X, it is decidedly an in-person experience, while to millennials and subsequent generations, virtual networks are every bit as tangible and valued. We knew that meetings were trending to virtual as a component, we knew that we needed to develop content in podcast and video format for on-demand use, but we were still thinking analog for a digital problem. Along came COVID-19 and the cancellation of all in-person meetings for the ABA through the end of 2020, and the year’s planning started all over. Now we are hitting on all cylinders with our virtual presence. The Technology and New Media Committee, chaired by Mike Vercher, with the strong efforts of Victoria Alvarez and Larry Schiffer, identified Clearview Social as a technology to help create and promote members’ brands and recognition. They have taught us how to harness social media and created invaluable tutorials for those of us who didn’t get it the first several times.

If you attended the Annual Meeting virtually, you might have noticed, as I did, that there were new faces and new people who attended and participated in CLEs, committee meetings, and even the Council meeting, which traditionally are not the highlight of any attendee’s TIPS experience. We are now in a world where the barriers to participation are very low, and we can see opportunities to be the helping hand to our colleagues and new members. We have made changes to encourage our new members to be active participants. The Fall Meeting held virtually October 7–9, formerly billed as a leadership meeting, was aimed at people who want to get involved with TIPS, to take active roles in the committees relevant to their practices or legal passions—people who want to be future leaders. We have exciting new topical committees, including Cannabis Law and Policy, Alternative Dispute Resolution (who hasn’t asked about remote mediation in the past six months?), and Women Trial Lawyers. We are also beginning a series of open forum town hall meetings. Anyone is welcome to attend, and all are encouraged to participate. You can speak up or remain anonymous; and in between the town hall meetings, I hope you will not hesitate to reach out, ask questions, and get involved.

TIPS responded directly and clearly to the calls for diversity, inclusion, and racial equality. Through the efforts of the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion as a whole but Marla Dickerson and Jordan Howlette specifically, and the efforts of our Section diversity officer Marcy Greer, TIPS is a leader in enacting change that will be long-term, focused, and result-oriented. The conversations have been frank, honest, and difficult, and it has taken courage and commitment to confront these inequities that have existed for so long and to commit to make enduring change. There are many opportunities for you to get involved with the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion; we want you to be an ally in bringing the change back to your firm, your business, and your interaction with other professionals. We can all be catalysts for change. We look forward to great results from this committee.

In past years, Section chairs and ABA presidents have announced their projects or initiatives, and while all of these projects and initiatives have been in support of good causes and worthy ventures, they have tended to have a limited life after the chair’s or president’s term ends. In the planning leading up to this year, we worked as a group of Section leaders, officers, Council, and successive future Section chairs to plan for a long-term, sustained, and funded initiative that could be accomplished at our four Section meetings but also supported by individual members in their communities. From that came the plan to partner with local, regional, and national groups to promote and support financial literacy. I am proud to say that we are aligned in support of promoting financial literacy in all communities, and particularly in underserved communities and communities of color, to offer a helping hand to those who can benefit most from our efforts. Akira Heshiki and Floyd Holloway have taken this multiyear charge along with the Law in Public Service Committee and are making great strides in partnering with businesses to launch this premier TIPS initiative.

In closing, when I opened with welcome to the 2020–2021 bar year, this is our year. All of us are struggling to adapt. It will be different, and it will be challenging. But I have every confidence that we will make the best of it, push each other to be our best selves, and come out stronger for our shared experience on the other side. Along the way, TIPS will create opportunities for new networks, new inclusion, and renewed relevance for your membership.

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John C. McMeekin II

Chair of the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section