How the ACBA measures up

Sept. 23, 2022

President’s Message By Erica L. Laughlin

In August, President-Elect Marla Presley and I had the privilege of traveling to Chicago to represent the ACBA at the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting and National Conference for Bar Presidents. It was the first time the Conference was held live since 2019. The conference was attended by the leadership of both state and metro bar associations nationwide. Not only did the conference provide excellent programming and opportunities to engage with and learn from other bar leaders, but it really opened my eyes to the prestige and reputation the ACBA holds nationwide.

I learned a lot. For example, you may not know that there are both voluntary and mandatory bar associations. Mandatory associations require your membership if you are an active practitioner in the jurisdiction. While the issues mandatory associations face may not be entirely different from a voluntary bar, certainly the distinctions associated with having a guaranteed source of revenue and not having to worry about attracting or sustaining membership differentiates those bars significantly. The state bars also have unique attributes that sets them apart by way of membership and budgeting considerations. It was fascinating to hear the varying perspectives on issues based upon association makeup. 

There are approximately 104 metropolitan bar associations nationwide. The ACBA has 5,400 members. Of the other nationwide metros there are approximately seven with similar membership numbers to ours. Fun fact – the San Diego Bar Association is viewed as a sister association to the ACBA given our similarity in organization, membership and governance. We both do sit along water after all… I guess we’ll give San Diego the weather, but clearly, we have the sports.

Marla and I also had the privilege of attending the luncheon of the National Association of Bar Executives when our own Dave Blaner was bestowed with the prestigious Bolton Award for demonstrating professional excellence in his leadership. It was during the NABE luncheon that I started appreciating the reputation the ACBA holds. Bar executives from all over the country approached us, not only to congratulate Dave on his well-deserved accolade, but nearly everyone had a story of how the ACBA had impacted something in their organization or they had questions about issues their association was grappling with and they were looking to the ACBA for advice. That trend followed suit as I met other bar leaders. A common theme presented – people were looking at the ACBA as a leader among associations, and wanted to hear what we had to say on issues as varied as the programs we’re working on, to how we’re handling meetings and events emerging from the pandemic, to how our Bench-Bar Conference was. I had an immense sense of pride in seeing that many of our fellow metro associations look to the ACBA to lead the way. 

From a programming perspective, there was a lot of discussion about membership engagement, finances, technology, DEI efforts, education and civic responsibility. As I sat through the various sessions, I reflected on my three areas of focus for the year – strategic planning, engagement and community service. This is what everyone was talking about. Here I thought I was so cutting edge! I took comfort in knowing the ACBA is focused in the right direction. 

I would be remiss not to give a shout out to our Young Lawyers Division who walked away with not one, but two awards at the National Conference of Young Lawyer Division Presidents that also took place during the ABA Annual Meeting. They received awards in the newsletter category and in the diversity category. You can read more about their accomplishments on the front cover article. This was yet another shining example of how the ACBA stands out nationwide. 

The conference was a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow as a leader, and my take away from the conference was two-fold: First, we are focusing on the right issues and have a pulse on what’s important to associations now; and second, the ACBA really is one of the best, if not THE best, bar association in the country. Hold your head a little higher today – San Diego ain’t got nothin on yinz Burgh lawyers.