Year in Review—An Interview with ABA YLD Chair Lizz Acee
By Mason Wilson
Mason Wilson is an Associate Editor of The Affiliate and an Associate in the Memphis, Tennessee, office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC.
The returns are in. The result is indisputable. The 2008–2009 bar year has been a resounding success. Hard work, meaningful service, and an ample dose of fun have combined for an outstanding year all around. That’s not to say that everything has been a breeze. Indeed, the ABA YLD and its members have been confronted with the same challenges—economic, employment, and otherwise—being faced by professional organizations and lawyers the world over. Like many others, the Division and its members are rising to meet these challenges head on. It was with these accomplishments and challenges in mind that ABA YLD Chair Lizz Acee recently (and graciously) took a moment to reflect on the past year.
The Affiliate : Tell us about the highlights of this bar year.
Acee: This year has been tremendously exciting for the Division, and for me personally. Working together, we have accomplished so much to be proud of. One of the most significant highlights has been the “Voices Against Violence” public service project, which we developed in partnership with the ABA’s Commission on Domestic Violence. The project, which is essentially a call to action to young lawyers to get involved with this issue, has been received in a bigger and better way than I could ever have imagined. We created a public service project video and website. We successfully implemented in-person and distance learning programming around the issue. We spent time in communities across the country talking about the importance of domestic violence prevention and awareness, and the important role that young lawyers have to play in the effort to end domestic violence. We held a number of successful roundtable discussions that brought DV service providers and young lawyers together to discuss the needs, challenges, and solutions unique to each of the communities we spent time in. At our Boston roundtable, we heard from the First Lady of Massachusetts, Diane Patrick, who is a survivor of domestic violence. Her story and her praise of the Division for its willingness to take on this issue was tremendously moving and an important reminder that domestic violence does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. I am hopeful that the work we have done has inspired young lawyers to be active, and to stay active, in this issue.
I am also very proud of the creation of YLDirect, which launched the ABA YLD’s first ever teleconference series focused on the anatomy of a trial and the anatomy of an appeal. Providing content to our members in a distance learning format is something I have been interested in and talking about for years and it is very rewarding to be able to finally deliver this benefit to our broader membership base. I am also proud of our efforts and involvement in the ABA’s Recession Recovery Teleconference Series. Unfortunately, our membership has been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn, and this series is one example of how the ABA can truly provide valuable tools and resources to its members.
Mentorship has always been something that I am passionate about, and the ABA YLD Mentorship Project has also been a highlight this year. The crown jewel of that project was our partnership with StoryCorps ®, an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Through this relationship, we were able to record audio stories of successful mentoring relationships in the legal profession, as told from the perspectives of the mentor and mentee. Each audio segment provides tips and tactics to help lawyers become better mentors or mentees by sharing stories on how mentorship has affected the lives of lawyers from all corners of the legal profession. A personal highlight for me was recording a story with my father-in-law, Dick Bowerman, YLD Chair in 1953; I will treasure that. The mentorship stories will be archived at the Library of Congress.
We also introduced an informational website to advance lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring in the legal profession. The website, , offers a collection of online resources for mentors and mentees as well as organizations interested in developing mentoring programs.
The Affiliate : Do you feel that this year’s ABA YLD meetings were successful?
Acee: There is no substitute for in-person meeting and networking, and our conferences provided this opportunity, as well as a plethora of fantastic programming, including one-on-one career and financial counseling sessions. It was very rewarding for me to read an article written by one of our YLD scholars, Antoine Smith, who said that a CLE he attended in Boston was one of the best CLE programs he has ever attended. That is the success that we try to achieve with all that we do at our conferences. I feel that we have served our members well in that regard.
The Affiliate : What is your proudest accomplishment as Chair of the ABA YLD?
Acee: That is a very difficult question. Serving this Division has been an amazing and humbling experience. I would have to say that I am most proud of the team that I’ve built. To sit in a Council meeting and listen to the amazing accomplishments that are taking place throughout the Division and in our affiliates is inspiring and rewarding. This is a group that cares about the profession, and is not afraid to engage in debate on the important issues. I am proud of the working relationship that I have with my fellow officers, Kelly-Ann Clarke, David Wolfe, Chauntis Jenkins, and Ethan Tidmore, and how we have worked together to make the Division stronger and better. I am very proud of the relationships that the ABA YLD has fostered with other ABA sections, divisions, and forums. Of course, I am thrilled with the success of our public and member service projects. As the public service arm of the ABA, I am proud that we have been able to reach into the domestic violence community, a community that is often filled with shame and forgotten by lawyers, and offer assistance.
The Affiliate : What advice would you give to someone who aspires to your position?
Acee: My words of wisdom? Make sure that this is your heart’s desire. The public service aspect of this job and a true love of our profession drive me. I am proud to be a lawyer, and I love practicing law. As I said when I took my seat as Chair, we have a unique ability and obligation to give back to the communities where we work and live. This year has truly given me the ability to practice what I preach, but it has involved a lot of time and a lot of hard work. You have to do it because you love it.
The Affiliate : What surprised you most about (1) being Chair of the ABA YLD and (2) the organization in general?
Acee: The willingness of people to be as excited and as involved as I am. Sometimes you think to yourself, “I’m nuts. Who would want to do this?” But it has never ceased to amaze me that every time I have picked up the phone and called on my fellow leaders for help, no one has ever said “no.” Everyone has embraced our projects, the Division, and our mission with enthusiasm and energy. I suppose it surprised me somewhat that so many people love it as much as I do. I suppose it goes back to having a team of true leaders around you and the best and brightest at your side.
The Affiliate : What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind?
Acee: I certainly hope that what I’ve done, with the help of a great team and outstanding staff, has left the Division in a better place than when I started. I certainly stepped into big shoes when Immediate Past Chair Justin Goldstein passed the gavel, but you always hope that you have contributed to the profession and the community in a meaningful way. I do hope that part of this year’s legacy is the way that we ran the Division; it was never “my” Division as Chair. We worked as a team to accomplish our goals. I hope that future Chairs see value in that and continue to run the Division in a way that encourages inclusiveness and relationship building.
The Affiliate : As the bar year draws to a close, is there any unfinished business you would like to see addressed by future leaders of the ABA YLD?
Acee: There is always unfinished business. We can always do better and we can always do more. What we have accomplished is phenomenal and far beyond my wildest dreams. But there’s always more to do, especially for our members who have been impacted by the economic downturn.
The Affiliate : If given the opportunity, is there anything you would go back and change?
Acee: I don’t think I would change anything. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.
The Affiliate : What’s next for you?
Acee: First and foremost, spending a little more time with my family and in the office! I will also take my seat as one of the Division’s representatives to the ABA House of Delegates. I also hope to become more active in the ABA’s Section of Litigation. In any event, I will continue to be involved in the ABA. It is a wonderful professional organization, and I will be involved until the day I stop practicing law.
The Affiliate : What’s next for the ABA YLD?
Acee: I really think that the ABA YLD will continue to look outside the box to serve its members. Technology will play a major role in that, as we continue to meet the needs of our members through distance learning and other initiatives. We will continue to serve our communities through pro bono and public service projects. We will continue to provide our members with unique opportunities to network and relationship build through our member service projects and conferences. I am excited about the future of the Division and look forward to continued growth and success under the leadership of Chair-Elect Kelly-Ann Clarke.