Members Gather to Chart MSBA's Future
By Janet Stidman Eveleth
On April 7-8, a diverse group
of 70 MSBA members gathered at the Columbia Sheraton to chart the Association’s
future course. At this Planning Retreat, these bar leaders and MSBA staff assessed
the Association’s current array of member services and benefits, considered
the findings of MSBA’s 2005 online member survey and examined the contemporary
needs of the Association’s 21,000 members. MSBA periodically convenes
planning conferences to ensure its array of services and activities remain
relevant to members and cater to their needs.
“Our goal is to develop issues and incite passion through
our creativity, imagination and visionary zeal,” declared MSBA President
Neil Helfrich, as he opened the Conference and thanked Planning Committee Co-Chairs
William R. Levasseur and Suzanne M. Snedegar. “MSBA is a member service
organization that leads the nation in a number of bar association services.
We need to look down the road to see what is on the horizon and plan for it
so MSBA continues to be the best.”
Ward Bower, principal of Altman & Weil, Inc., set the
tone for this two-day event, outlining prominent trends in the contemporary
legal profession. He advised attendees to consider the “big issues and
their varying modifications” in their deliberations. First, he cited
the growing gap between the “legal haves and the legal have-nots.” Income-wise,
he reports the haves (the partners) are doing well and the have-nots are struggling,
which has a direct impact on MSBA members’ active involvement.
Bower also underscored the repercussions of the “major
trend of law firm consolidation and the expansion of international involvement.”
“Firms are getting bigger, and it is possible we’ll
see one with 5,000-10,000 lawyers in the near future,” Bower predicts.
MSBA needs the active support of large law firms.
In addition, Bower warned “the emergence of numerous
pricing options and differentials in legal services” heightens attorney
competition, enabling clients to bargain for the value of legal services. Non-traditional
law firms hire lawyers, presenting MSBA with an opportunity for member growth.
Competition also triggers a “war for legal talent” as
roughly 40,000 new lawyers enter the legal profession each year, while only
10,000 exit, mostly due to retirement and death. Thus, a law firm’s hiring
and training process are increasingly important as the average law firm overhead/investment
per attorney is $200,000, and it takes up to five years for the firm to begin
to recover this investment. “MSBA needs to assist smaller law firms with
the recruitment and training process,” he stated.
Bower recommended that MSBA also look to legal employment
alternatives (including temp attorneys) as opportunities for growth and place
greater emphasis on technology. He reminded attendees of the changing expectations
of clients which, in turn, put added pressure on today’s lawyers.
The audience was then divided into 10 working discussion
groups with assigned topics and moderators, which included:
1. MSBA Mission Statement
2. Legislative Program
3. The MSBA Relationship with Local & Specialty Bars
4. Communication Capabilities: Can You Hear Me Now?
5. Broadening Our Participation
6. Involvement by Young Lawyers
7. Membership Recruitment & Retention
8. Assessment of the Burning Issues of the Day
9. Dealing with the Unauthorized Practice of Law
10. Services to the Public
Each group discussed its assigned topic in the context of
the findings of the survey and appropriate future direction for several hours.
A plenary session was held the next morning to review the highlights and recommendations
of each group.
Overall, the group created a mission statement for MSBA,
suggested ways to improve MSBA’s communication and working relationship
with the state’s local and specialty bar associations, offered ways to
enhance MSBA’s communication with all audiences from the public and Legislature
to the Judiciary and the law schools and discussed ways to encourage more lawyers
to become lawyer-legislators.
In addition, it focused on ways to further enhance diversity
within MSBA, more active participation by young (or newer) lawyers, broader
recruitment of MSBA members in general and the expansion of MSBA’s pro
bono and public service activities. Finally, it probed the unauthorized practice
of law, seeking the creation of a new MSBA Committee to address this problem,
and generally sought a more active MSBA role in judicial independence and lawyer-bashing.
“The Planning Retreat ran as expected, if not better,” states
Paul V. Carlin, MSBA Executive Director. “The speakers set the stage
and the 70 attendees rolled up their sleeves and seriously discussed the breakout
topics, resulting in approximately 60 concrete recommendations.”
“A productive, successful Retreat was our goal, and
this was achieved,”
Carlin continues. “In addition, the collegial, diverse group of attendees
provided an excellent networking opportunity.” MSBA’s Planning
Committee will present its final report, encompassing recommendations from
the Conference, to MSBA’s Board of Governors (BOG) on May 13, 2005, during
the BOG Retreat in St. Michael’s, Maryland.