August 18, 2017

President’s Message
The subtle benefit of collegiality – referrals
By Hal Coffey

Quite often, we at the ACBA tout the numerous member benefits. These include discounts on necessary services such as rental cars, e-discovery and credit card processing. They also include access to first-rate insurance programs through USI for professional liability, health, auto, life and others. And you can find these and many more on the ACBA website under the tab labeled “Benefits and Resources.”

But the member benefit whose virtues I wish to extol are less tangible: collegial interaction that leads to referrals, sounding boards and friendships. From my own experience, the network of colleagues that I have built during my years with the ACBA has paid for my membership dues many times over.

The potential for referrals is a two-way street. In one direction, I receive calls and emails from ACBA colleagues on a regular basis asking if I am interested in a potential business referral. This may be the result of a conflict for the colleague individually or for their firm. Many times it is also the result of a colleague whose area of practice is narrow or nuanced and the referral’s need falls outside that realm. For example, family law friends will contact me about a property tax assessment appeal or business dispute for a divorce client. Other times, it may be a transactional attorney who is approached by a potential client for a matter that is clearly on the road (or in the midst) of litigation or for a land use or zoning proceeding where my colleague knows of our firm’s experience in that municipality. The benefits to me and my firm are clear in such instances as we are able to assist a client and recognize financial benefits through helping them succeed.

The other side of that referral street is equally beneficial. By having a large network of ACBA members in my contacts and having learned their specific areas of practice, I am able to make pointed referrals for friends, clients and even cold calls. The benefit to me is providing that potential referral with the best-targeted attorney who can help resolve their issues for which I have a conflict or is one of the few areas of law outside of my firm’s practice. The collegial atmosphere of the practice of law within the ACBA makes me extremely comfortable to refer a client of mine to another attorney when the need arises. And it leaves me without concerns that the attorney to whom I referred my client will seek to undermine my ability for any future representation. Having a wide network to draw from is critical to maintaining such balance.

Beyond the referrals, the ability to call up a fellow Real Property Section member about a property transfer tax concern or seek advice on a list of arbitrators or simply bouncing ideas during the drafting process of a cross-easement agreement is another valuable resource of my ACBA membership. And that experience is duplicated thousands of times over every week among the practitioners in all of our substantive committees and sections, whether at meetings or over the phone or via email and text. Just the other day, I reached out to a regular sounding board about an issue of a reassessment matter in another Pennsylvania county.

The other intangible benefit is meeting people from diverse areas of practice, neighborhoods, political views and nationalities to expand one’s personal experience of friendships and to learn about others more directly. Even more fun is then running into them as I coach my kids’ tournament baseball team or at a Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre gala.

These opportunities likely can and do happen absent membership in the ACBA. But I have certainly found that my ACBA membership has its intangible privileges. If you have not yet experienced the same, consider getting more involved. If you are a paper member of a section or committee, offer to do a CLE on a topic in your wheelhouse. Consider running for an office or seek an appointment from a chair or, frankly, from me. We are always looking to expand the ACBA universe, and if you believe there is an underserved practice area or legal issue that warrants our attention, reach out to the section and committee – or just give me a call.

That is precisely how our newest substantive committee originated. I was approached by several practitioners in Allegheny County and other parts of the Commonwealth about how far-reaching the impact of the state’s new medical marijuana program would be to the practice of law. After an organizing interest meeting and several phones calls and emails, the Board of Governors authorized the creating of the new ACBA Medical Marijuana and Hemp Committee in July and we launch this month.

I look forward to hearing from more of you and about your ideas and experiences in the coming months of my term via email, calls or stopping by at the latest Coffee with Coffey event.

Allegheny County Bar Foundation Lawyer Referral Service