Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : December 2005

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Positive People Doing Positive Things
~Through Leadership Academy, MSBA leaders coach the all-stars of tomorrow~
By Bryan Nichols

"The only way I can describe it is playing in the minor leagues, but being coached by all-stars," says Adam Sean Cohen. "It’s like a fantasy league."

No, Cohen is not referring to the annual program that Cal Ripken, Jr., holds for adults looking to run the bases with hall-of-fame players at his Aberdeen baseball complex. Rather, Cohen – who co-chairs the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) Public Awareness Committee – is speaking of his experience as both Mentor and Fellow with the MSBA Leadership Academy.

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For the past 10 years, successful and seasoned attorneys have offered their support, advice, leadership skills and hard-earned wisdom on the intricate nature of practicing law to young lawyers from across the state by way of the MSBA Leadership Academy. Created in the spring of 1996 by then-President Robert Gonzales, the Leadership Academy selects a class of 15 Fellows – impressionable young lawyers possessed of a strong work ethic and desire to serve within the ranks of the Association –and pairs them with veteran attorneys, or Mentors, who have demonstrated their leadership qualities within MSBA’s various committees. The 12-month program strives to establish connections between prominent MSBA leaders and young lawyers; along the way, the Fellows collaborate on a public service project while gaining experience in public speaking and attending various law conferences. Though the meetings between Mentors and Fellows (or Fellows and Fellows) are not finite and are set up depending upon each other’s schedules, a monthly gathering is the normal procedure.

When first designing the Academy, Gonzales drew from his past military experience – chiefly, recalling how the officers and infantry interacted; how different races and creeds came together for one cause; and the overwhelming sense of honor all the members carried with them during (and even after) their service.

"There is a pride in being selected," Gonzales explains. "The sense of pride extends from class to class. Every member develops a network and friends through the Bar [Association]."

Along the journey, Mentors and Fellows form bonds whose mutual benefits reach well beyond the parameters of the program. "On a smaller scale, it is an incredibly intimate experience," notes Gonzales, who served as Cohen’s mentor in the Leadership Academy Class of 2001.

"I was honored to be given an opportunity to learn from the best of the best," says Cohen. Both he and 2001 classmate (and current Leadership Academy Co-Chair) Kathleen Chapman admit that their acceptance to the program was somewhat humbling (Chapman particularly noting that she was "thrilled, but scared" upon news of her selection), yet both found support through the experience. Through their respective mentors (in Chapman’s case, former Leadership Academy Chair Tracey Skinner), both forged profound relationships during that period.

"You form a bond," says Cohen. "No matter what you do or where you go, when you see your mentor, you’re linked together through the bond. This whole experience is a snapshot in time – you are bonded forever."

Chapman and Skinner made an effort to meet as much as possible while paired in the program, and to this day, they continue that relationship.

"The Academy opened up opportunities that may not have been offered to me," notes Chapman. "It has allowed me to meet a lot of great people. There’s a genuine camaraderie between the Fellows – we have all remained close friends."

"I learned from [Gonzales that] you could work hard and play hard", adds Cohen. "[I] found a balance between being a successful businessman and still having fun. This way, I won’t miss out on life."

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"I always felt [the Mentor-Fellow relationship] was a two-way street," explains Cohen, who now serves as a Mentor himself. "[When you join], you become a part of a living program. Each year, your resources grow exponentially. You are a part of the classes before and after you. It is a unique opportunity to interact with positive people doing positive things. Making it through this program is a huge accomplishment."

Youshea Berry was only two years out of law school when, as a member of the Leadership Academy Class of 2005, she was paired with Cohen. Today, as a sole practitioner in Washington, D.C., Berry attributes much of her success to the experience and the connections made through the program.

"I never would have been able to start my own practice without [the Leadership Academy]," says Berry. "Every meeting or event I go to, I see at least one person who wants to be in or has been in the Academy, so I see familiar faces everywhere. It is invaluable in that respect.

"I recently got news about a new case of mine and I called Adam Cohen right away. He is a huge resource, but the Academy is an even bigger one."

The MSBA Leadership Academy offers more than just tutoring and camaraderie; it cements an unbreakable bond between colleagues, interlaced with reverence and longevity while helping to construct an Association of unparalleled organization.

MSBA Leadership Academy Class of 2005-06

MSBA Leadership Academy Class of 2005-06: (back row, left to right) Carlos Braxton, Richard H. Gibson, Jr.; (front row, left to right) Dawn Diggs-Barnett, Chad Spencer, Teju Rau, Danette Edwards, Co-Chair Alison Leonard-Leach, Co-Chair Kathleen Chapman, Dolores Dorsainvil, Bethamy Beam

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: December 2005

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