New ACBA year means new opportunities

July 16, 2021
President’s Message by Joseph R. Williams

On July 1, 2021, I had the honor of becoming the 113th President of the Allegheny County Bar Association. When I was admitted to practice in 2009, I never imagined that 12 years later I would be given the opportunity to lead this organization; an organization that I have grown to love. The ACBA has positively impacted my professional life and personal life in countless ways. I embrace the chance to pay it forward.

I sat before the ACBA Nominating Committee to interview for the position of President-elect on March 5, 2020. Two days later, I joined approximately 700 of you at Heinz Field to celebrate the Association’s 150th Anniversary. That night, many of us chatted about the “rumor” that we might be required to stay at home for two weeks to stop the coronavirus from spreading.  

“Two weeks?!” I thought to myself. “How are we possibly going to do everything we need to do from home for two weeks?” Little did I know that two weeks would just be the beginning of a period that will define our lifetime.  

Lucky for the ACBA, our leadership rose to the occasion. Then-President Lori McMaster worked with Dave Blaner and ACBA staff to provide continuous service to our members despite the sudden shutdown. Among other things, the ACBA hosted a series of Town Halls and virtual meetings to address issues facing the Association and remote procedures in our courts in light of the stay-at-home order.

As the gavel passed from Lori McMaster to Elizabeth Hughes, and we knew that the end of the pandemic would not come as quickly as we hoped, the ACBA’s commitment to its members continued. Over the last year, our Committees, Divisions and Sections have continued to hold regular meetings. A plethora of CLEs were available, some of which included nationally recognized speakers. Zoom happy hours, holiday parties, trivia nights and escape rooms are just a few of the social gatherings that allowed us to enjoy one another. 

As the vaccine rollout continues, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has begun to ease social distancing requirements, mask mandates and other restrictions. It appears that we can be cautiously optimistic that the “return to normal” is imminent. What does that mean for the ACBA?

Foremost, the ACBA is committed to returning to in-person meetings and functions in a manner that is comfortable and safe for our members and the ACBA employees who work for us. The beautiful new ACBA headquarters in the Koppers Building was reopened on Tuesday, July 6. The summer sports leagues are back in action. In-person meetings and events are again onthe books. We will continue to monitor developments about COVID-19 positivity rates. While we hope that restrictions are behind us forever, we will continue to look to the experts for guidance about our transition.

We must identify what we can learn from our operations during the pandemic. Although the last 16 months have posed a series of challenges, the ACBA remained successful. Several groups saw an increase in meeting participation. Many virtual events sold out or saw record attendance. Town Halls gave members more opportunities than ever to hear from the judiciary about emerging issues in the court system. How do we continue to capitalize on these services while still “returning to normal?”

As we move ahead, the ACBA has an experienced and diverse group of leaders guiding it. I will have the privilege of being the first male to serve as ACBA President who will both succeed a female President, Elizabeth Hughes, and precede a female President, Erica Laughlin. For the first time in ACBA history, past chairs from all three Divisions are represented by the presential offices, with Elizabeth having previously been chair of the Homer S. Brown Division, Erica being a past chair of the Women in the Law Division and yours truly having chaired the Young Lawyers Division. Our past experiences will enable us to consider all perspectives of our membership as we make decisions in the year ahead.

Our new Secretary, Regina Wilson, served as chair of the Young Lawyers Division and served two separate terms as chair of the Homer S. Brown Division, including its inaugural year in the ACBA. Dan Fitzsimmons returns to serve as Treasurer, having just guided the ACBA to financial security through its most uncertain year yet.  

Approximately two-thirds of the seats on our Board of Governors will be held by women this year, and one-third of the seats are held by members who identify as diverse. Our Judiciary Committee, coming off of its busiest year ever, also boasts a two-thirds female majority and is kicking off its first year incorporating a new structure that was designed to ensure diversity amongst those members evaluating judicial candidates.

Your elected leaders will serve you well. But we need your help. I want to hear from you about how we can improve your Bar Association. I want you to get involved. We must build today the pipeline of leaders for the future. Please feel free to reach out to me at 412-471-9000 or at any time to discuss how the ACBA can better serve you and how you can serve the ACBA.