A very grateful farewell

June 17, 2022

President’s Message By Joseph R. Williams

During the holiday season of 2019, I finalized a decision that I had been contemplating for quite some time. In the new year, I would submit an application to the Nominating Committee to be slated as the President-Elect of this Association.

By that point I had considered several factors, such as whether I was prepared to assume the responsibilities of the office and the time commitment that would certainly affect other aspects of my life, including by law practice. Above all else, I knew that the ACBA had facilitated so many meaningful relationships for me that I wanted to give back to the organization that had done so much for me.

Now 2 ½ years later, as I complete my term as ACBA President, it is remarkable to think about how much our world has changed since late 2019. My time as an officer did not go exactly as planned. We first dealt with the challenges of providing services to our members remotely. Then, we faced challenges in reopening the headquarters, returning to in-person events and enacting a vaccine protocol to protect the health and safety of our members and employees. These COVID-related issues were, of course, in addition to all of the other matters facing the organization.

Quite fittingly, the meaningful relationships I made over the years that inspired me to pursue the office of President were the very crutches that I needed as I led the Association. I could never identify in this column each and every person who has positively impacted my presidency, but I owe it to several of the ACBA’s finest to recognize what they have done to support me and enhance our organization.

My predecessor, Elizabeth Hughes, was an invaluable resource. She led the ACBA through the most uncertain time in modern history and faced more challenges than any other ACBA President. Yet, she never stopped encouraging me. She looked ahead to my year and how we could make things better, even though her term was handicapped by a number of restraints. Once the gavel was mine, Elizabeth answered every call that I made.

Dan Fitzsimmons assumed the role of ACBA Treasurer at the onset of the pandemic. There was no playbook about how to lead a trade association through a global economic crisis, yet Dan worked diligently to ensure that the organization showed excellent financial health despite unprecedented circumstances. Although he is now in retirement, Dan serves the Association as if he is at the beginning of his career – a true demonstration of his commitment to the profession.

Regina Wilson and Laura Bunting, both of whom I met, befriended and served with during my YLD days, took on the largest ask that I made of anyone in the last year. They agreed to co-chair and develop the ALLY Initiative. Along with several other members who are committed to advancing diversity, Regina and Laura started a program that is not only one of the most robust endeavors of the Association, but the first of its kind in the nation. Regina also serves as ACBA Secretary and was another voice of reason for me in her capacity on the Executive Committee.

The Strategic Planning Committee, led by Erica Laughlin, also contained some of our brightest and best. Over the course of several months, the Strategic Planning Committee identified what the ACBA does well and where it has room for growth. Last month, the Board of Governors adopted a strategic plan that will guide the Association toward 12- and 24-month goals. I was amazed by the energy and introspection of the Committee and am proud to have been part of such an important endeavor.

Three extraordinary women chaired our Divisions this year. Morgan Moody guided the Homer S. Brown Division, Julie Vanneman directed the Women in the Law Division and Asra Hashmi led the Young Lawyers Division. These leaders faced COVID-related challenges and had to tailor planning measures for events, CLEs and meetings to accommodate the needs of their members. However, all three Divisions advanced their missions this year, collaborated, and facilitated several successful programs.

Jay Silberblatt became the first ACBA member in 16 years to serve as President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and is completing his term on the ACBA Board of Governors. Jay will represent our county well in his statewide efforts over the next year. Speaking of Jays, Past-President Jay Blechman and Joe Froetschel, along with the rest of the Bench-Bar Committee, have pioneered the long-awaited return of the Bench-Bar Conference. Incoming President-Elect, Marla Presley, and incoming Treasurer, Keri Ebeck, are exceptional leaders and give me hope that our best days are ahead.

It is difficult to imagine holding this office without having Executive Director David Blaner by your side. David is recognized nationally for his talents and for the work that he has done to make the ACBA a premiere bar association. David’s institutional knowledge and guidance were critical to my ability to lead. He supported me when I expressed my short-term and long-term goals for the Association. David is aided by a great team of talented staff members. There are too many to list in this article, but I want to express particular gratitude to Amy Giesy, Christina Daub, Brian Knavish, Jennifer Pulice and Kellie Ware for their assistance this year.

Finally, I must thank your new President, Erica Laughlin. Working alongside Erica for the last year has been an absolute pleasure. She is smart, pragmatic and determined. Whenever an issue, big or small, arose Erica and I had the ability to speak candidly and focus our discussion on how to best serve the membership. I was consistently impressed by Erica’s ability to think sensibly, while still striving for creative solutions. Perhaps the greatest privilege of my service is the opportunity to pass the gavel to someone who loves the ACBA as much as I do and will take it to even greater places. Erica will make us all proud.

Thank you all for the opportunity to serve as your President. It has been one of the greatest honors of my life. And now, back to Family Division I go…