Take a step

Dec. 29, 2023

President’s Message By Marla N. Presley

I am now halfway through my term as President of the Allegheny County Bar Association. I could not be more proud of the work of this Association, our Governors, and our Committees, Divisions and Sections.

We’ve cleaned up the City, provided more than a thousand underserved children with gifts and toiletries, hosted a number of CLEs on cutting edge topics, and honored our members who have been practicing for 50 and 60 years. We held a Board Retreat to map out our goals for the year, selected this year’s Bar Leadership Initiative class, and worked tirelessly to develop a strategy to allow us to keep our Summer Clerkship Program in the face of myriad legal challenges. We hosted retirement parties for Judge Lenihan and Judge Clark – two trailblazers who selflessly served our community for so long and celebrated the holidays with more than a dozen ACBA parties. 

Our Membership Committee implanted our strategic plan to increase membership, particularly at large firms, we held a successful campaign to retain all our judges up for retention, and honored our Immediate Past-President, Erica Laughlin, at our Board Dinner. At this midway mark, I want to look back on the beginning, to share a story of how it all started. 

Just before I became the 115th President of the ACBA, the enormity of the obligations began to set on. Like so many of you, I have responsibilities to my office, I litigate cases every day, I volunteer for a number of organizations, and I still have hours to bill. While I am especially organized and thrive under pressure, I wondered how I was ever going to accomplish it all. And the closer it got, the more insurmountable it all seemed.

I knew that my firm was exceptionally supportive of me taking this role. I never doubted the dedication of my colleagues. I knew that I could rely on them to pick up the slack, take on more than their share, and act as an invaluable sounding board when I most needed advice. I was confident that it would take little convincing to have my friends to sign up for all of the ACBA events, open their hearts and wallets for our charitable endeavors, and understand that my free time would be all but non-existent. I knew this would be the case before Erica ever handed me that gavel. 

Nevertheless, as the day drew closer and the reality set in, it was nothing short of overwhelming. And almost immediately I understood that – despite Dave’s frank warnings – I had significantly underestimated what was to come. My sole calendar was about to become three. My days and nights and weekends would be committed months in advance. My days were going to be double and triple booked. I would be expected to make remarks at ACBA events (and not recycle my jokes). And I would make, cancel, and rebook so many flights that my TSA status would be on the line! 

And now that we’ve reached the middle mark, it is finally starting to seem manageable. The positive and reassuring words of our members, that I receive weekly, keep me going. I rely heavily on my Executive Committee, Dave, Tracy, Jenn, Mary Ann, Brian (and ALL of the ACBA staff), and I look to the Board every day just to get by. I am becoming a pro at mapping out visits to lawyers and law firms and have had 1001 successful coffee dates, happy hours, and meetings over eggs Benedict. So, I wanted to stop and look back on the last six months and see how I got here. And it all started with one step.

In the beginning, I was looking so far ahead that nothing seemed possible. The mountain ahead of me seemed too high and too steep. I started asking “how will I ever make it to the top?” And the single best piece of advice I got in response was, “by putting one foot in front of the other and taking a step.” Simple, right? I just needed to hear it. 

So, I took that one step. And I haven’t stopped moving yet. Sure, I’ve stumbled. But I kept going. I’ve thought of this advice truly hundreds of times since taking the gavel. It applies equally to all issues: work or personal, big or small. 

Nothing is impossible when you focus on what is in front of you and what you can control. And as I have pointed out in every President’s Message thus far, you don’t have to do it alone. Let me help you take one step.