Successful Board of Governors retreat enhances strategic planning efforts

October 22, 2021

President’s Message By Joseph R. Williams

When I took the gavel as ACBA President, one of the initiatives that I wanted to define my term was the Association’s look into the future to identify how we can continue to be the best bar association on the planet. In furtherance of that goal, on July 13, 2021, the Board of Governors approved the formation of an ad hoc Strategic Planning Committee. Chaired by President-Elect Erica Laughlin, the Strategic Planning Committee consists of approximately 25 ACBA members representing various groups within the ACBA. The Committee, which we have coined our very own “think-tank,” consists of newly admitted lawyers and seasoned lawyers alike. Several current and past chairs from the ACBA’s three Divisions as well as various Sections and Committees, serve as well. Representatives from each of the ACBA’s affinity groups also serve. 

“We made a deliberate decision to ensure diversity among the members of the committee by way of experience level, race, gender, practice area and level of association involvement to ensure the feedback we receive comes from a collective voice that’s truly representative of our membership,” explained Laughlin. 

In the months of August and September, the Strategic Planning Committee held two meetings to begin the process of identifying areas of growth and refinement for the Association. For Laughlin, the work of the Committee is critical to the future of the organization. 

“Goals are only aspirations without a strategic plan to achieve measured success,” she stated. “The full Committee has met twice to recognize the key issues we want to focus on as we consider ways to enhance the ACBA for the benefit of its members, our profession and the community.” 

Having served the ACBA for approximately 30 years, Executive Director David Blaner understands the importance of introspection by the organization’s leadership and management. “One of the most important duties of a governing Board is to conduct strategic planning on a regular basis,” Blaner said. “Things change and bar associations need to adapt to the changes that are occurring in the legal profession. Strategic planning gives the Board and management the opportunity to ask where we are today as an organization and what issues we need to address in order to remain relevant to our members.”

As we come out of month 19 of COVID-19, the need to evaluate the services provided to ACBA members is timely. Strategic planning efforts have taken place outside of the designated Committee itself. Indeed, from September 9-11, 22 members of the ACBA Board of Governors gave up time from their busy schedules to attend a planning retreat on behalf of the Association. During the retreat, the Board addressed a number of issues which are impacting the progress of the Association. Some of the topics subject to Board deliberation included membership; financial matters; functioning of Committees, Sections and Divisions; and governance.

“The board retreat was a good opportunity to hear from other ACBA leaders about their perspectives and what they have heard from our colleagues in the various Committees, Divisions and Sections,” said ACBA Secretary Regina Wilson. “It is important that we now embrace the feedback that we are receiving and identify goals for the Association as we move out of the pandemic and begin our return to normal.”

Following the retreat, the Strategic Planning Committee convened again to review the observations from the Board of Governors. Several subcommittees were established so that the ACBA think-tank can address specific issues and begin developing action items and goals for the ACBA to undertake moving forward.

As part of strategic planning efforts, member engagement will continue to be a top priority. While the pandemic has posed a series of challenges for the ACBA, it has also presented new opportunities. Many Committees, Divisions and Sections have observed increased attendance at meetings held on Zoom. This enhanced member engagement has proven to be beneficial to the various ACBA groups. Correlatively, most groups continue to hold meetings either remotely or through a hybrid of remote and in-person. The ACBA leadership recognizes that each member has a different level of comfort with the virus, as well as varying personal and professional obligations, which impact one’s ability to attend in-person functions. Therefore, the Association strives to afford both types of opportunities moving forward.

Strategic planning efforts will also identify potential for outreach. The future success of the ACBA depends on the pipeline of future members that can be enhanced through initiatives implemented in collaboration with local law schools. Additionally, beyond the legal community, the ACBA strives to further enrich its visibility in the community at large through public service projects, educational opportunities and the like. ACBA leaders recognize that recent events have caused the public to lose confidence in the legal system; it is incumbent upon the Association to be part of the remedy.

We are blessed to have the dedication of several ACBA members leading the charge in our strategic planning efforts, but we are always welcome to more ideas and points of view. We remain ready to serve. If you want to be part of the efforts to shape the future of the ACBA, reach out to me or any of the ACBA officers. There is no voice or idea too big or small for this process. Together we will solidify the bright future of the ACBA.