The Best ACBA We Can Be

Code of Professionalism, diversity checklist to make bar more welcoming

October 27, 2017
President’s Message By Hal Coffey

This is one of my favorite times of the year. The weather cools off a bit, making for ideal conditions for playing tennis and running. My kids’ fall baseball season is wrapping up. The grass and shrubs are growing just slowly enough that I might be able to put the lawnmower and landscaping tools away for the year. We are in the midst of another exciting college football season. And with World Series in sight, the Major League Baseball season is reaching its conclusion.

Then again, this time of year also brings later sunrise (though my pooch needs to stick to his morning schedule for our daily walks), earlier sunset, seasonal closings for some fantastic local ice cream shops, our family’s fall allergies and pumpkin-spice everything.

What it also brings for me is a time of reflection, in particular during our Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. While I did my part to reach out to those whom I wronged and failed during the past year and asked for their understanding and forgiveness, the part of this holiday I always find most meaningful is considering what the Lord asks of me on that day. Rather than asking why I haven’t been the best person on Earth, I am asked why I haven’t been the best Hal Coffey that I could be.

The key is to focus on giving one’s own best efforts in all aspects of life – from family to work to faith to community. That adage applies across the religious and secular spectrum and even to organizations.

At the ACBA, we have fallen short at times in adhering to our mission statement and lofty goals. From our members and the community, we could simply cite our list of woe, ask forgiveness and seek atonement. But to become truly better as your bar association, we need to seek to be the best ACBA we can be.

I believe that comes through in recent actions taken by our Board of Governors in the areas of diversity and inclusion, professionalism and support for the practice and bench.

At our September meeting, the board enacted a statement to be included at all activities of the ACBA and ACBF stating that members “are expected to diligently promote and maintain the collegiality and the positive image of the bar at all times” and that “[d]isparaging language, offensive actions or other conduct which is contrary to the Mission Statement and (ACBA) Code of Professionalism are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

To give this statement weight greater than merely the paper it is printed on, the board also voted to amend the ACBA bylaws to allow for a system to discipline a member for violations of this principle and other enumerated violations. Previously, we had no clear mechanism for such discipline or termination of one’s membership for malfeasance. The clear goal of this action is to let our members know that ACBA events, including the annual Bench-Bar Conference, are places where unprofessional conduct is simply not tolerated.

Additionally, we have reconstituted our Diversity Collaborative Committee into the newly named Committee for Diversity and Inclusion. Along with a refocus on its mission statement, this makes a resounding declaration that our efforts for diversity and gender equality go well beyond numbers and seek to create opportunities for advancement for all within the legal profession.

We have also created an Individual Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan Checklist for all chairs of ACBA sections, committees and divisions as well as members of the Board of Governors. The checklist contains more than 20 actions and activities from which leaders are required to choose just four in order to comply. Those include recommending a diverse attorney to speak on a CLE panel, inviting a diverse attorney to an ACBA program and introduce that person to your colleagues and seek out an event where you will be in the minority. The goal is to get leaders to consider simple ways that they can enhance diversity and inclusion during their time as a leader and beyond.

Please join me in looking for even more ways for us to continue the great work of the past and find new ways to make the ACBA the best bar association it can be.