ACBA President ready to address issues facing community, profession and association

July 28, 2023

President’s Message by Marla N. Presley

ACBA President Marla Presley delivered the following speech at the 2023 Bench-Bar Conference.

I could not be more honored to stand before you all to receive the gavel as the 115th president of the Allegheny County Bar Association. I know that this job comes with immense responsibilities and I anticipate that over the year, we will address complex issues facing our community, our profession, and our bar. And I intend to tackle those issues with the professionalism and dedication that this job requires.

But before I officially step into that role, I wanted to take a few minutes for those who don’t maybe know me as well to get to know me.

Last year, Erica stood before you and began her remarks by telling you that when she was a little girl, she had aspirations to be a lawyer or a paleontologist. Totally by coincidence, I had similar lofty, professional aspirations. I wanted to be a Dallas cowboy cheerleader. Thanks again for that perm, mom.

I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and moved to Pittsburgh 23 years ago, not knowing a single person here, to begin my legal journey at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Duquesne University.

From being a new lawyer at Duquesne to standing before you as the incoming President of the best Bar Association in the country, so much has happened to make this possible. I had great professors, mentors, colleagues, and friends, all of whom deserve all the accolades today.

After graduating from the best law school around, I started my practice under Jim Creenan, who had the patience of a saint. I learned that the Rule Against Perpetuities wasn’t going to help my general litigation practice and that I should probably learn how to draft an interrogatory.

I was then incredibly fortunate to learn under Rob Marino. And while I could tell you a million reasons why Rob was a great mentor, I can sum it up in one story. Rob and I were working on a case together, and I was able to default the other side for failing to file a certificate of merit. Take that plaintiffs’ lawyers. But here’s the thing, I maybe did it a day early.

I can’t at this point recall how it came to light, but I go to Rob’s office completely and utterly beside myself to tell him that this happened. And he tells me that I had to go tell Mr. Stefko. Mr. Stefko. The firm’s general counsel. Why? I don’t want to tell Mr. Stefko. Rob – Can’t you go tell Mr. Stefko? No…. And YOU tell Mr. Stefko, you are going to come back here and we’ll tell the client. And Rob looked at me, sitting in the chair on the other side of his desk (next to the ashtray to give you some context on the year) and he said people make mistakes Marla. This won’t be your first mistake and it won’t be your last. This isn’t going to define you. It’s not going to define your legal career. And in 20 years, no one’s even going to remember this. He said, the point is, stuff is always going to happen. It’s what you do after that matters. And Rob was right. But also wrong. Because it’s 20 years later, and I do remember. But he was right that that blunder didn’t define my career. It didn’t even define my career at Dickie. Rob and I went on to try many cases and rip off many faces. Thank you for teaching me every single thing I know about the law.

Then, I was so lucky to get to work with Judge Kelly. If she were here, I’d throw in the jab that I worked with her for approximately 3.5 minutes before she took the bench. So I’m requesting that all of you other judges let her know that her abandonment played a key role in my remarks. That aside, she was an inspiration to me and to so many others in this room.

To my friends over the last 20 years. Especially you guys here, you have made the good days better and the bad days tolerable. If I had more time to speak, I could have made an entire slide show of our bar history. You can thank Dave Blaner for limiting these remarks. But honestly, I cherish every day that we have together and look forward to years of more memories. I do not take for granted how lucky I am. Especially Laura Bunting, who has to deal with me every day personally AND professionally.

And for the younger lawyers in the room – the bar association has done more for me personally and professionally than any other job or organization I have ever been a part of. I’ve made my best friends here, Dave Blaner got me my job with Judge Kelly, and I have connected with so many lawyers and judges that have provided me with so many opportunities: boxing with Judge Lenihan, being declared the female Arnie Klein (I still can’t decide if that is good or bad), and learning to be a first chair trial attorney from Judge McCarthy. I have walked in your shoes and I know that you can’t even fathom the possibilities that are before you. Take advantage of them. All of them. Go to the happy hour and meet new people. Come to the after party tonight and make a new friend. Do it all. It goes by so quickly.

And now, to the most important people, as I take this gavel, I remember who I am, and where I came from. My mom is the best in the world. When she said I could do anything, or I could be anything, she meant it. I tried very hard to convince her that they didn’t have to drive all the way here today, but even that wild storm this morning couldn’t keep her away. I am who I am because of you. And to my brother Marc, who picked on me relentlessly for going on 45 years, he made me the tough and tenacious and determined person I am. Anyone who has ever been on the other side of a case from me, I’m like this because of him.

And finally, thank you to the Bench-Bar Committee, the ACBA staff, and everyone who helped make this weekend possible. To Joe, our fearless Bench-Bar Chair, you have done an amazing job. When you said we were going to be “back and better than ever” you meant it. You and Holly did an extraordinary job and this Bench-Bar will be so hard to top. And Regina, while I have 365+ days ahead of me, I know that the Bar Association is already in better shape because you’re next. I look forward to our many trips together, countless antics, you keeping our calendars up to date, and just doing great work. Congratulations, you deserve it.

And to all of you. My promise is to be the bar President that you need. Everyone comes at the practice from different backgrounds, with different needs, different resources. What makes this association so incredibly important is that we can be something for everyone. My door is always open, my phone is always on. I’m here to help.