The Changing of the Guard: Creating a Seamless Transition from One Affiliate Board to Another
  By Rachel E. Kopp
Rachel E. Kopp is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices with the firm of Spector, Roseman & Kodroff, P.C. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The ABA YLD and its young lawyer organizations are comprised of volunteers—you are a volunteer, I am a volunteer, and our boards are, of course, volunteers. As a result, it is inevitable that the leadership of your affiliate will change from year to year. This change can be extremely beneficial because new blood often brings innovative ideas and a renewed excitement in carrying out the ABA YLD’s goals. Yet, as they take office, young lawyer leaders must strike a balance between implementing their own programs and using already-existing programs that have been successful for their affiliates in the past.
Affiliates may already possess a strong arsenal of programs, membership tools, and allies on the affiliates’ corresponding “big boards,” which can be tremendously useful resources for incoming leaders. Newly appointed or elected leaders are often tempted to reinvent the way their affiliates conduct activities and to execute an entirely unique agenda. But “this temptation should often be tempered,” recommends Ryan Reed, the ABA YLD affiliates director from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Instead, affiliate leaders should be open-minded about their leadership platform, which may mean continuing elements of the previous year’s plan. For example, if your affiliate traditionally holds a kickoff event to commence a new bar year, you might consider making that the day when your new board takes over. That way, young lawyer members can come to count on this time of year as the end of the old bar year and the beginning of the next one.
As your affiliate’s bar leadership transitions, it is also important to focus on the evolving needs of your young lawyer membership. “Organizations and the needs of their members change and mature with time. Therefore, it is important to realize that the work you do as a bar leader might have to be different than that done in previous years,” said Reed. In this respect, affiliates should be sure to take advantage of the fresh outlook and creative thinking of their new leaders. Indeed, “affiliate leaders should never feel beholden to continue the work done the year before,” Reed added.
The following simple steps will guide your affiliate on its way to a seamless leadership transition:
Plan Ahead
If you intend to be chair of your affiliate, it is critical to plan ahead by establishing a team of other young lawyers within your affiliate who can help maintain a level of continuity when you take over as chair. The most vital people on your team will be carryover leaders who served on the prior year’s affiliate board and who can guide you in what worked and what did not. If you are coming into your affiliate as a new board member or officer, it is equally essential to plan ahead. Make yourself available to your affiliate’s new chair to ensure that any advance planning that needs to be done before the bar year begins is completed in a timely fashion. New leaders should also develop a directory of affiliate leaders’ contact information and a year-long calendar listing events, meetings, and conference calls, so young lawyer members and the affiliate’s staff is aware of upcoming commitments and can avoid planning conflicts throughout the year.
Utilize Bar Staff
Although young lawyer volunteers change every year or every few years, it is often the bar staff of your young lawyers affiliate that can provide the highest degree of continuity for your organization. During their tenure with the YLD, an affiliate’s bar staff has likely worked with multiple boards and various leadership styles. Therefore, they can provide invaluable insight as to what strategies have been the most successful in the past and how to best incorporate those strategies in the upcoming year.
Get to Know Your Replacement
As your bar term is nearing its end, one of the most effective ways to bring your replacement up-to-speed about your organization and your position in particular is to meet in person. If you live within the same geographic area, you can offer to meet for coffee or a drink at a local establishment or to meet for an hour at one of your affiliate’s events. You might also consider setting aside an hour during an ABA YLD meeting or conference to discuss the bar leadership change. If it is not possible for the two of you to meet face-to-face, try to schedule a conference call in which you can discuss the background of your affiliate, the history of your affiliate’s projects, and any challenges that your affiliate may be facing.
Document Programs
When it is time for your board to pass its torch to the next year’s bar leadership, make sure that you have documented projects that are ongoing or incomplete. Reed recommends involving all of your affiliate’s officers in this process, including the communication chairs and event coordinators, to draft as comprehensive a report as possible. Then, this report can be passed down to your affiliate’s new leadership as a manual of what was accomplished that year. Chair of the ABA YLD Affiliate Database Team, Robert Fergan of Ann Arbor, Michigan, also advises affiliates to “create a box of binders or, better yet in this day and age, an electronic repository including the information and materials from previous programs, contact information, and notes” for future leaders of your affiliate to follow if they choose.
Update Contact Information
As soon as your affiliate’s new board takes office, it is imperative to update your affiliate’s contact information in the ABA YLD’s affiliate database at Although the ABA communicates through a variety of mechanisms, it can only inform affiliates if it can reach them. Fergan suggested that to ensure an affiliate’s information gets updated, the “chairs of state and local bar organizations [can] create a checklist for each officer position to help the incoming officers understand their responsibilities and organize them for the upcoming year. Updating the contact information with the ABA can be a task on the list.”
Keeping in touch with the ABA YLD will enable affiliates to take advantage of ideas and programs from a vast network of young lawyer organizations across the country. “Often new leaders of state and local bar associations do not realize the amount of help that is available to them,” Fergan noted. “For example, each year the ABA YLD generates public service and bar service programs including easy to use and pre-packaged materials that can be easily implemented by a state or local bar without re-inventing the wheel.” It is also essential to keep your affiliate’s information up-to-date because it gives you the chance “to obtain information on upcoming events, which will allow your organization to be represented in the voice of the ABA YLD, provide information to others about your programs, achieve national recognition for your organization and council for their hard work, and to have the opportunity to receive grant and scholarship information to help enrich the programming of organizations on a tight budget.”
To get a head start on updating your affiliate’s contact information and to ensure that your affiliate and its leaders continue to receive The Affiliate, visit