What’s in a name? For this organization’s first dozen years, the word ‘Pittsburgh’

March 1, 2019
President’s Message By Bryan Neft

Next year, our bar association will celebrate its 150-year anniversary. The Allegheny County Bar Association began as the Pittsburgh Law Association in 1870. It didn’t become the Allegheny County Bar Association until the association approved a name change in 1882.

Our President-Elect, Lori McMaster, recently established a committee to develop our sesquicentennial celebration. I was privileged to attend the committee’s first meeting last month, and I believe the year-long celebration will be something that our members – and, quite frankly, the entire community – will be proud of. That’s about all I can say because the planning is just starting.

Our celebration comes at a time when bar associations including ours are re-evaluating their relevance to their members. The profession has changed much in the last 30 years, let alone the last 150. At a retreat last September, the Board of Governors held a discussion on the association’s mission statement, which hadn’t been reviewed in more than 10 years. Not only was there a broad consensus that the mission statement should be much more concise, but there also was some real engagement as to whether we should continue to be known as the Allegheny County Bar Association.

To that end, I established an ad hoc committee to evaluate both the mission statement and a possible name change. The committee, which was headed by fellow board member Danielle Dietrich, hit the ball out of the ballpark when it came back with a very concise mission statement with an attendant statement of values. (For details on the new mission statement, see Page 8.) Now the committee is embarking on discussions concerning our identity.

Here’s a quiz for you. You’re not allowed to use the internet to find the answers, which are printed upside down in the box above [now below]. Other than our past presidents, I’m curious how many people know all or most of the answers.

Name the city associated with the bar association listed:

  1. Ramsey County Bar Association
  2. Pima County Bar Association
  3. Fulton County Bar Association
  4. Franklin County Bar Association
  5. Orange County Bar Association
  6. Cuyahoga County Bar Association
  7. Philadelphia Bar Association.

My educated guess is that this quiz highlights increased name recognition with cities rather than counties.

The county is the traditional governmental entity around which courts were first established, which is why, in almost every state, the bar association is associated with the county in which it serves. It used to be that each county set its own standards for admission to the bar. This changed relatively recently, however, and bar membership is now regulated by the state, with attorneys being permitted to practice statewide.

Today’s bar associations are much different. Many of our active members have practices just outside of Allegheny County. Past President Jim Creenan is one such attorney. He practices primarily here but maintains his office in Murrysville in Westmoreland County. It also is common to see out-of-town lawyers practicing here. These are reasons why we want to evaluate whether we might be better served by identifying with the city that everyone knows rather than the county, which not everyone knows.

Personally, I love the word “Allegheny.” It’s a distinctive word derived from a Native American Delaware tribe that translates loosely into “Fine River.” It is, as we all know, a river and a college, as well as a county. It once was the name of an airline, a city and a mall. But times change. That airline is now known as American, the mall as Nova Place and the city as the North Side of Pittsburgh. And, we don’t fly to Allegheny County, we fly to Pittsburgh International, which Allegheny County happens to operate. Even though “Allegheny” holds a special place in my heart, I consider myself, in many ways, a Pittsburgh lawyer. I have branded myself “burghlaw”; my curriculum vitae shows that I practice in Pittsburgh.

The bar association leadership does not undertake this evaluation lightly, and nothing has been pre-ordained. There are strong reasons to maintain the name just as there are strong reasons to consider changing it. Truthfully, we can only make this change with the support of our members so that they know our decision is an informed one.

The ad hoc committee will be meeting shortly, and if you have thoughts on the matter, please send them to me. I will forward all comments received to the committee for consideration. I look forward to reporting the work of the committee upon its completion.

To talk about these issues further, please contact ACBA President Bryan Neft at 412-325-3317 or BNeft@spilmanlaw.com.

Quiz Answers:

  1. St. Paul Minn.
  2. Tucson, Ariz.
  3. This is a trick question because there is none. The local bar association is known as Atlanta Bar Association.
  4. It depends. In Ohio, although there is a Franklin County in Ohio, there is no Franklin County Bar Association in that state; instead, it’s known as the Columbus Bar Association.
  5. In Pennsylvania, the Franklin County Bar Association is situate in Chambersburg.
  6. Orlando, Fla., or Newport Beach, Calif. (although the courthouse is in Santa Ana).
  7. This is a trick question because there is none. The local bar association is known as the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.
  8. Philadelphia, duh! The county and city are one and the same.