Each year the incoming KCBA president faces a daunting task: how to fill the large shoes worn by the exemplary leader who is passing the gavel and gracefully, with a modicum of glee, exiting stage left. This year is no exception.
Under Kim Tran’s leadership, KCBA’s Board of Trustees advanced the organization’s infrastructure and governance processes and supported significant policy initiatives seeking to reform state laws pertaining to legal financial obligations (LFOs) and the citizen initiative and referendum process. Most recently, it convened a task force charged with examining whether barriers exist in the legal system that can be removed to minimize disproportionate involvement by race, gender, income, sexual orientation and/or disability in King County’s juvenile justice system.
The seeds for much of the Board’s work over the past year were planted by one or more of President Tran’s predecessors. Steve Rovig initiated the Board’s focus on improving our communications infrastructure and updating our bylaws. He encouraged the Board’s continuing resolve to advance equal access to safe, habitable courtrooms for children and families through KCBA’s support of efforts to build a desperately needed new Children and Family Justice Center. His work built upon the notable efforts of Anne Daly, Richard Mitchell, Joe Bringman, Mark Fordham, and so on, dating back 130 years to John J. McGilvra, our founding president.
To Kim and the many remarkable leaders who preceded her, a resounding thanks. Under your leadership, KCBA’s membership has grown. This year we hit a post-recession record with 5,614 members starting or renewing memberships. With your encouragement, King County is now home to at least 25 minority and specialty bars, with most of them sharing KCBA’s commitment to diversifying our bench, our law firms, and our government and in-house counsel practice groups.
Your efforts have strengthened the foundation and outreach of our Pro Bono Services programs with the result that KCBA: 1) “walks the walk” in King County, providing access to legal services that improve health, provide safe homes for kids, encourage financial stability and promote self-respect for the neediest in our community; and 2) “talks the talk” across the state, providing leadership to other local bar associations that strive to maintain an access-to-justice safety net for the least fortunate in their communities. Finally, you have supported efforts to reform the ways in which our legal system influences drug policy, marriage, gun safety and the administration of justice through the courts.
In summary, thanks to 130 years of remarkable leadership KCBA is unique among bar associations around the country in that it is not just a membership organization. It is also a legal justice organization and an organization that focuses on reforming laws and law-related policies in ways that improve our community and the administration of justice in our courts.
Given the many accomplishments of KCBA’s past leaders, the state of our local union is sufficiently strong that I’m struggling to answer the question you expect me to address: What is my agenda for the coming year? There must be more to do than move forward the workplan developed by our past presidents. Given how successful we’ve been, and the near certainty that something terrifying is lurking on the other side of the King County border, what would you say if I proposed building a very tall wall around King County and making Pierce County pay for it?
Politics and attempts at humor aside, what is the appropriate leadership role for the president of a local voluntary bar association in 2016 when the issues on so many of our minds are both significant and multi-faceted? Conversations I have with professional colleagues and friends consistently turn to concerns about the environment, income inequality and whether the legal profession is actually making meaningful progress in promoting diversity.
I suspect all of us are concerned about gun violence and the undeniable fact that violence involving our youth is on the rise. And, there is always the lament that the practice of law just “ain’t what it used to be.” Many of these issues are certain to be discussed by KCBA’s Public Policy Committee as it works on its agenda for the coming year, and aren’t we fortunate to have KCBA members who devote untold hours to shaping KCBA’s important advocacy work.
This spring I had the opportunity to travel with Andy Maron, now our first vice president, to the ABA’s Bar Leadership Institute where we interacted with leaders from state and local bars around the country. Our contemporaries and the faculty generally agreed that the most important role for today’s bar leaders is to assure that their professional associations remain relevant to the professionals they are intended to serve.
Retreating behind a wall to preserve the way things used to be is not an option — “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.” The world around us is changing at a head-spinning pace. The approach to practicing law is also rapidly evolving and the means by which young professionals, including lawyers, engage with their peers do not necessarily involve active participation in membership organizations. If KCBA is to continue serving the community through its legal justice efforts and its efforts to reform related laws and policies, reconsidering relevancy and recruitment need to be part of our workplan, starting today.
Over the ensuing months, I hope to use the President’s Page column to foster discussion about the many ways in which KCBA is and can continue to be relevant to lawyers, the communities in which they practice and the courts. Today, I’d like to launch my campaign as KCBA’s ambassador in chief by asking you to indulge me in a brief conversation about why membership in professional associations matters.
I am confident that most of you have belonged to more than one professional association over the years and I suspect the list of factors that motivated your participation in each one includes: meeting new people; getting grounded in a new community or profession; learning and perhaps mentoring; acting collectively to achieve a shared goal; having fun; developing a network; and building a community. Associations offer opportunities to connect with people in meaningful ways that cannot be achieved through digital communication.
How many of you joined KCBA when you were starting your career, hoping to build a network that would yield referrals over time? Perhaps you were new to town and wanted a platform for meeting friends and learning about the city. How many of you discovered that the network you were building included experienced attorneys who were more than happy to serve as mentor as well as referral source?
I suspect many of you have fulfilled your professional obligation to give back to the community by volunteering at one or more of the neighborhood clinics or taking on a pro bono case. Perhaps you can recall work you’ve done on a KCBA committee and the way in which face-to-face debate impacted the outcome of committee discussions.
What does it mean to you to be a member of one of the very few bar associations in the country that manages, staffs and pays for its own pro bono legal services programs? Think about the ways in which interacting with your KCBA colleagues directly, as opposed to via email or social media, has enhanced your appreciation for and sensitivity to diversity — in all of its forms.
The next time you communicate via email or social media, including sending or receiving a tweet, think about your experiences as a member of KCBA or any other professional association you belong to. Try to capture in words what is different about the nature and quality of the communication members have through engaging in the work of the organization and why membership adds value to your professional life and your personal life too, if there is a positive spillover effect. Let me know what you think — if you send me a letter, I promise to write back!
If we are to succeed in shaping and maintaining KCBA’s relevance for the next generation of lawyers, current leadership needs guidance from current members. I encourage you to reach out to me, to Andy Maron and to your Board of Trustees to share your ideas on direction, messaging and the choice of seeds that we should be planting for our successors to nurture along. And, if you’ve decided that writing letters is a dying art form, emails and phone calls are welcome. Right now, I can’t make any promises about Twitter, but our journey together is only just beginning.
Thank you for the opportunity to be your ambassador in chief over the coming year. I look forward to working with you to build upon the great work that Kim and each of our predecessors accomplished when they were at center stage.
Kathryn “Kate” Battuello is the president of the King County Bar Association. She works at the University of Washington where she serves as the director of external business relations for the School of Medicine. She can be reached at email@example.com or 206-616-5879.