PROFILE: ALICE C. PAINE
Summing Up Two Decades of Service
King County Bar Association
December 2007 Bar Bulletin
By Julie Gardner
In 1988, the then-Seattle-King County Bar Association hired Alice Paine to serve as a consultant to reorganize its staffing. Luckily for us, this did not deter her from later applying for, and getting, the position of executive director in 1989.
During the nearly 20 years that followed, KCBA membership has increased by almost a third, community legal service programs have almost doubled and donations to the Foundation have increased forty-fold.
Past KCBA President John Ruhl says, "Alice stands out from anyone else with whom I have worked in her consummate mastery of a collaborative management style. Whatever the situation, she is able to draw our members, as well as our bar staff, to contribute enthusiastically.
"During the past few years, our bar association has received 12 national, state and local awards for innovative programs and outstanding services delivered to our community. Such things happen only if bar association members are fortunate enough to have staff members that partner with them and share their vision."
Paine will pass the torch to the incoming executive director, Andy Prazuch (pronounced Prah-zu), in January. I asked her to share some thoughts about her time at KCBA before she departs.
Q: When you look back on your time at the bar, what do you feel was the most important thing you (and KCBA) accomplished?
Twenty years has seen a lot of change - societal, technological and organizational. The politicization of judicial elections has been a significant and scary change that we struggle against. KCBA has a larger active membership and we provide many more legal services - though still not enough to meet the burgeoning needs.
Probably the most significant accomplishment has been the transformation of the King County Bar Foundation, which was raising about $25,000 in 1988 and this year is budgeted to raise $1 million for pro bono services and diversity work. Shifting more of the support for our charitable programs to the Foundation has freed up other resources for policy work.
Technology - and, thanks to Microsoft's generosity, we are always up-to-date - allows us to be a lot more productive than in 1988.
Q: What have been the best and worst aspects of your job?
I'm one of those lucky people whose career developed out of my volunteer work. In the '60s, once my kids entered school, I became active in social change organizations - the anti-war movement, civil rights, women's issues - always coalition building and trying to leverage tiny resources to make big differences.
So, what I have enjoyed most at KCBA has been the policy work we are famous for and working with smart lawyers and other good community organizations to address such issues as drug policy locally and nationally, judicial selection issues, the role of an independent judiciary and a decently funded court system. That kind of intellectual stimulation is something I will really miss.
The worst part of the job? Fending off the vendors who want to market to lawyers - purporting to offer "member benefits" that mainly benefit themselves. I also suffer every June when a KCBA president finishes her or his term. We become very close over their year as president and I do miss them! But we've been very fortunate in keeping our past presidents actively involved, so I haven't lost touch with many over the years.
Q: You are a very straightforward person, quick to make and implement decisions. Yet, your role at the Bar requires you to take a back seat and focus more on the process than the decision. How do you balance these skills?
My first decision has to be who should make this decision. In my work with the boards and committees, I'm not the decision maker. If it's a management matter, I'll do it, of course - hopefully first conferring with those affected. But most of the time, I limit myself to figuring out what information we need, where to get it or what people need to be involved to inform the decision and how to get their input. It helps not to formulate a strong personal opinion on a policy question if your job is implementation once the policy decision is made.
Q: Are there issues bars nationally face that will require a change in focus for KCBA?
A number of large Seattle firms are consolidating and merging to form national mega-firms. The firm's new national leadership may or may not value the work of a local bar association, particularly the work we do to improve the administration of justice at the local level and to serve the community's needs.
KCBA depends on the support of the firms - the ones we call "Pillars of the Bar," who enable all of their lawyers to be KCBA members - to do our core work. Not just financial support - though dues are a significant source of our revenue - but to allow their lawyers to be actively involved. Lawyers, especially in the large firms, are also not going to court as much as they used to, so they may not be as interested in working to improve the quality of the local judiciary; that's another big challenge for us.
Q: How do you think the Bar maintains its relevance to lawyers in King County?
In as large and diverse a legal community as this one, KCBA's relevance is a constantly moving target. For the new practitioner, we try to offer topical seminars that help bridge the gap between law school principles and practice realities, and give them hands-on mentoring with pro bono clients they can actually take to court, and provide them a good network through which to find jobs and business referrals.
The more-established lawyers benefit from section work that keeps them fresh or provides the chance to exercise leadership. For most, the Bar is a convenient vehicle for giving back to the profession, say, by evaluating sitting judges or those who want a position on the bench, or giving back to the community by providing pro bono legal services.
Fortunately, lawyers are not shy about telling us what they want; we just need to listen, something I think we're good at.
Q: Do you have a "most unforgettable character" among the KCBA members you have worked with?
Roger Ley, a 30-year member, comes immediately to mind. He epitomizes to me the "loyal opposition." Roger feels that the reason he was placed on this earth was to educate people about the Constitution.
I worked with Roger mostly on the Legislation Committee. Even though his views often made him the odd man out, he voiced principled stances that we all learned from. I particularly admire his personal courage in advocating for positions that were voted down the majority of the time.
Roger is moving to Astoria to begin a new practice there. We will definitely miss him and his persuasive efforts.
Q: How do you think KCBA might change under a new executive director?
Andy Prazuch appears to be something of a policy junkie, too, so I think KCBA will not change in its public policy orientation. He has had a lot of experience in the world of immigration law and in educating the public about immigration issues - dispelling myths, promoting the benefits of immigration and advocacy for immigrants' special needs, so perhaps we'll see more efforts in that arena.
He was a political science major, who worked for a U.S. senator and as a government relations professional, so we may see more legislative initiatives under his leadership. One thing I am happy to say should not change: Andy thinks the role of the executive director is to be a steward of the organization and that it is the members and board who are the real drivers. That, to me, has been what has made the KCBA such a strong and effective organization and I was very happy to know he has a similar philosophy.
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Retiring next month after almost 20 years of service to KCBA and 40 years of service to the community, Alice Paine has truly lived the KCBA motto of "Justice ... Professionalism ... Service."
Alice Paine and Julie Gardner work together at the Bar, where they tell each other what to do.
For more about KCBA history, visit www.kcba.org/aboutkcba.