Spreading the Word
~MSBA Section newsletters keep members in the know~
To the 11 of the Maryland State Bar Association's (MSBA) 24 practice Sections
that regularly produce them, Section newsletters are widely considered to be
effective networking tools. And for two decades now, the MSBA Section newsletter
has proven itself time and again as an integral medium for announcing and relaying
law-related information to members throughout the state.
"The Association exists for the main purpose of communication, and newsletters
are the best way [to accomplish that]," notes MSBA Executive Director Paul
For the production of any given Section newsletter, the role of editor is
commonly assumed on a voluntary basis by a member of that Section. He or she
is then responsible for devising a precise system of recruiting volunteer writers
for each publication and subsequently compiling and editing their work. Perhaps
not surprisingly, this non-compensatory and often stressful job demands a genuine
enthusiasm for the work in order to produce an effective and appreciated newsletter.
"I am nuts because of the hours [spent on it], but I enjoy it," admits Walter
Herbert, Editor of the quarterly Family & Juvenile Law Section newsletter,
which, at 28 to 36 pages in length, demands approximately 25 hours of editing
Soon after taking up the editorial reins in 2003, Herbert realized that each
issue can become quite monotonous with the standard Case Notes section (devoted
to recent family law cases), a "Practice and Procedure" article for a select
county and a "Message from the Editor" column. It was with this in mind that
Herbert opted to inject some flair into each issue by adding such features
as a "Legal Quotation of the Month" as well as a
"Birthdays" section, the latter of which has acknowledged the birthdays of
famous people ranging from President James K. Polk to Monty Python's John Cleese.
In one issue, Herbert enlisted the spouses of several prominent family law
attorneys by having each write a few paragraphs about their respective significant
Under Herbert's guidance, the Family & Juvenile Law newsletter has maintained
its laid-back and personable approach while remaining poignant.
One of the more difficult aspects of editing is finding writers for each
"They know I will bug them to write an article," jests Herbert, but he has
come to realize that "most lawyers are good writers." Therefore, to draw volunteers,
Herbert offers a "grab bag" of topic options at each Section meeting.
"The articles are designed to teach members of the Bar," Herbert explains. "There
is something for everyone in every issue."
Al Palewicz, Editor of the Labor & Employment Law Section newsletter, adopted
a somewhat different approach to rounding up volunteer writers. After taking
over editing duties in 1996, Palewicz devised a plan through which he had a
firm or organization sponsor each issue of the quarterly newsletter, which
usually fills its average 14 pages with seven or eight feature articles.
Initially, Palewicz thought he would only get a few sponsors; instead, he
found himself with five years' worth of articles from completely different
"I thought I could  in a way that would not take as much time as it
had previously taken," said Palewicz. "I was impressed with the quality of
work and response from members. I didn't have to beat any bushes."
With his system requiring only 10 to 15 hours to edit, Palewicz decided to
revisit previous contributing organizations to see if they would be interested
in sponsoring another edition of the newsletter. Again, his inquiries drew
"The newsletter is an excellent source of current issues and the way [the
issues] are being handled by colleagues within the practice," says Palewicz. "It
is valuable and has practical information. I enjoy doing it and will keep doing
it for as long as possible."
While the Section newsletter continues to be a staple of MSBA, with new innovations
come new mediums. Accordingly, an electronic version has always been provided
for members along with a hard copy, but as of the last few years, an increasing
number of Section newsletters have become strictly electronic and posted as
Email Lists on the MSBA homepage.
While a hard copy is preferred by many of the members, Carlin admits, "[Email Lists]
avoid the printing and mailing process. It is good for speed and budget."
For example, Elissa Levan, Editor of the Administrative Law Section newsletter
(four or five pages, published three or four times a year), switched to the
exclusively electronic version a year ago, feeling that that format would best
serve her comparatively smaller Section's interests.
"With a limited amount of resources [budget], I felt we should allocate our
budget funding into other endeavors," admits Levan.
No matter the type, size or topic, however, MSBA's Section newsletters serve
as a brilliant beacon of light and incomparable asset for the devoted members.
"I strongly encourage all Sections to have newsletters because it gives members
some tangible benefit for paying their dues," said Carlin.