Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2005

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Members Gather to Chart MSBA's Future Course
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

Ward Bower Neil Helfrich



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.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May, 2005

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