Strategic planning efforts move full steam ahead

April 22, 2022

President’s Message By Joseph R. Williams

Over the last two years, the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA) has faced unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although I am thrilled to report that we have navigated the pandemic well and enjoy a very healthy financial position, maintain a solid membership count and see continued engagement from our members, it remains critical for the association to recognize the way that the world has changed and be willing to evolve with it in order to best serve our members. Accordingly, one of my first official acts as ACBA President was to establish an ad hoc committee to prepare a strategic plan to move our bar association forward.

Thanks to the unanimous support of the Board of Governors at the July 13, 2021 meeting, the Strategic Planning Committee was formed. ACBA President-Elect Erica Laughlin agreed to serve as the Committee’s Chair. By August 2021, the Strategic Planning Committee was off the ground. Over 25 members representing various committees, divisions and sections; practice areas; affinity groups; and years of experience came together to recognize the great things about the ACBA that should remain, as well as opportunities for growth and enhancement of the association. The committee also had representation from the local judiciary and the deans of both Duquesne Law and Pitt Law. Following a series of initial meetings with the Committee as a whole, various subcommittees were formed to contemplate specific issues our bar faces and to identify action items and goals to accommodate them.

Marla Presley and Kelton Burgess led a group of members who addressed the needs of our Committees, Divisions and Sections. The subcommittee recognized the importance of securing future members and developed ways for the ACBA to engage law students by holding events on campus, through remote technology and through consistent messaging. Additionally, the subcommittee identified ways for all ACBA groups to ensure that they are inclusive in nature and that they are engaging diverse leadership from across the bar. Lastly, the subcommittee reminded of us the importance of collaborating with other groups, both within the ACBA and other professional organizations in the extended community.

A subcommittee relating to financial issues was led by ACBA Treasurer Dan Fitzsimmons. Through its work, the subcommittee addressed the importance of non-dues revenue through resources like the publication of the Pittsburgh Legal Journal and other legal ads and the maintenance of the ACBA-owned parking lot. The subcommittee suggested a multi-faceted approach to cover potential losses of revenue to the ACBA in the future.

Gina Zumpella and Lacee Ecker headed a subcommittee to address the marketing needs of the ACBA. The subcommittee focused on the marketing of the value of ACBA membership to potential members, as well as marketing services and programs of the ACBA to existing members to increase engagement. Programs that connect our lawyers to the judiciary and the local law schools have been prioritized by the subcommittee. The subcommittee also stressed the importance of enhancing our technology and processes to meet members where they are and make attendance at CLEs and other events as easy as possible.

To examine the state of our membership, Dana Basci led a group of members who focused on not only maintaining, but increasing the number of dues-paying members. The membership subcommittee made recommendations for the ACBA to re-engage large national law firms to increase ACBA involvement and to attract lawyers who work as in-house counsel in local companies. The subcommittee also recognized the importance of mentoring young lawyers and law students and has created an outline for a possible e-mentorship program for the ACBA to implement in the future.

Finally, Andrew Rothey chaired the subcommittee relating to community service opportunities for members. Through its work, the subcommittee affirmed the desire of ACBA members to give back to the local community through legal service opportunities, charitable endeavors and by volunteering in non-legal capacities. The subcommittee stressed the role of the ACBA in the critical task of increasing the public’s confidence in the legal system and recommended ways to achieve this important goal.

After six months of meetings, research and deliberation, the Strategic Planning Committee presented its findings to the Board of Governors on March 15, 2022. Thanks to the hard work of the Committee’s members and ACBA staff, a formal Strategic Plan is being developed for Board approval. It is expected that the Strategic Plan will be implemented over the next few years and ongoing updates will be provided to you by my successor, Erica Laughlin. But we need your help.

Throughout the Committee’s activities, and during various discussions by members of the Board of Governors, there is one resounding theme about why the ACBA has excelled as an organization: the relationships that it cultivates. Every single Officer, Board member and member of the Strategic Planning Committee recognized the encouragement they received from bar leaders who came before them and emphasized the professional and personal bonds that the ACBA has allowed them to build. If you are reading this article, you are either someone who has already been an active participant in the ACBA or someone who is interested in getting more involved in the ACBA. If you fall within the former category, then I ask that you look around your office and community for the next great ACBA members and leaders. Bring them with you to a meeting or event, or simply tell them why you think they would be a great fit for one of the ACBA’s many opportunities. If you fall within the latter and need someone to nudge you or tell you more about where your interests and talents might be best utilized, I’m your guy. Feel free to reach out to me and it would be my pleasure to talk to you about what the ACBA can do for you. But, I am not the only one, because the greatest thing about the ACBA is that every other Officer, Board member and leader of our organization will do the same.