Keeping bar associations relevant to their membership base

September 27, 2019
President’s Message By Lori McMaster

I recently attended the 2019 Annual Meeting of the National Council of Bar Presidents (NCBP) along with ACBA President-Elect, Elizabeth Hughes. The conference focused upon how bar associations can remain relevant to their membership base. The conference speakers were excellent and Elizabeth and I appreciated the opportunity for uninterrupted time devoted to brainstorming around member services.

The excellent opening plenary speaker, attorney Katy Goshtasbi, addressed “Leadership Today for a Dynamic Bar World.” Ms. Goshtasbi previously practiced at the Securities & Exchange Commission and with a major Washington, DC law firm. She now provides consulting services to for-profit and not-for-profit companies on culture, leadership, and marketing for growth.

Ms. Goshtasbi challenged bar association leaders to engage in human-centered decision-making based upon the actual (not perceived) needs of their members, and to discern and nurture our individual brands as bar leaders. She cited five items to consider when developing an influential personal brand:

1. Courage: Shift thinking towards first identifying what we wish to accomplish within the bar association rather than how to do it;

2. Creativity: Remain curious;

3. Control: Humans tend to be anxious and seek control to diminish those anxiety levels. When this is unsuccessful, we end up being controlling without actually being in control. The difference is patience. Inspirational people are both patient with themselves and the processes in which they’re engaged. They’re not doing as much; they are being different.

4. Self-control: Manage yourself before managing others and ask what aspects of yourself do you need to manage better? Offer clarity and consistency in your dealings with others so that they feel safe in your leadership presence. Take responsibility for your emotions and actions and seek moderation in all you do.

5. Choice: Know what matters most. What are your value foundations? What three to four personal values inform what you do? Fairness? Faith? Service? Impact? Determine what they are and then decide whether a given project or plan of action conforms to those values. If you are considering something, first ask yourself if it fits in with your core values. If it doesn’t, then don’t do it.

Conference attendees were challenged to develop a deliberate plan for growth via member engagement. Noting that one can’t change other people, Ms. Goshtasbi observed that all we can do is revise our expectations of others, and then watch them rise to the challenge. If you don’t understand why members aren’t choosing to attend a given event, ask them why! Don’t assume you know the answer. Electronic surveys only achieve so much; bar associations were encouraged to have more in-person exchanges with members in which they ask open-ended questions about what members want from their bar association.

Ms. Goshtasbi also suggested that we identify and remove our subconscious blocks to success. As an Iranian immigrant, she was previously fearful that she wasn’t “good enough” to succeed, and that internal messaging interfered with her capacity to fully engage with opportunities. She recommended moving beyond these subconscious blocks in identifying your deliberate brand. Ask yourself, “who am I?” What makes you unique and different? Once you discern your distinctive and relevant attributes, communicate those attributes consistently to your clients and colleagues.

Ms. Goshtasbi’s messages resonated very strongly with me. As the mother of 25 year-old triplets, one of whom has special needs and lives at home with my husband Dave and me, I’ve often sought to control circumstances that were clearly out of my control, to no good effect. As attorneys, we are constantly called upon to engage in in-depth analysis of complex issues, our work processes, our community and philanthropic work, and then take action. For me, quieting my mind and the multiple tasks in front of me often gets in the way of the very goal I hope to achieve – which is invariably to serve my family, my colleagues, and my bar association. I am making a conscious effort to better manage myself, be more present in the moment, and to be more flexible and creative in my thinking. In the coming months, I’ll be attending many division, section and committee meetings, and will be asking our members what services and information they hope to receive from the bar association. I look forward to listening and learning!

Ms. Goshtasbi ended with the following quotation from the late American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer Donella Meadows: “The Earth says: Compete, yes, but keep your competition in bounds. Don’t annihilate. Take only what you need. Leave your competitor enough to live. Wherever possible, don’t compete, cooperate. Pollinate each other, create shelter for each other, build firm structures that lift smaller species up to the light. Pass around the nutrients, share the territory. Some kinds of excellence rise out of competition; other kinds rise out of cooperation. You’re not in a war, you’re in a community.”

Do you have thoughts about how the bar association can better lift its members up to the light, or better serve our surrounding community? Please do share your ideas with me at or 412-648-2359.

All my best, Lori.