The Listening Tour is one way we shape the journey
COLUMN > A Note From the WSBA Executive Director
BY TERRA NEVITT
Happy New Year! As we welcome 2022, the WSBA is embarking on a journey, and I invite you to come along. Grab your bag. Let’s go! With the exception of a few carefree adventurers, I’m sure most of you would like to know where we are going … not to mention a few other key details: Do I need comfortable shoes? Fancy clothes? A passport? What’s the snack situation?
Most of us appreciate knowing the direction we are going. Purpose and planning, in fact, are downright critical in many situations. To quote Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
So where are we at the WSBA going in 2022 and beyond? I am excited to say we have a new roadmap for the journey ahead, formed after many months of planning. This roadmap takes the form of strategic goals that will set the direction and resources for the WSBA:
• Goal 1: To provide relevant and valuable resources to help all of its members achieve professional excellence and success, in service to their clients and the public, and to champion justice.
• Goal 2: To uphold and elevate the standard of honor, respect, and integrity among WSBA members in order to improve public confidence in the legal profession.
• Goal 3: To promote access to justice and improve public confidence, trust, and respect of members of the public in our legal system and Bar Association.
• Goal 4: To promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal system and profession.
• Goal 5: To manage the business of the state Bar Association in a prudent, efficient, and cost-efficient manner.
• Goal 6: To foster an organizational environment and culture that demonstrate a commitment to staff and embody the organizational mission and stated values of the WSBA.
The WSBA Board of Governors approved these six goals upon the recommendation of the Long-Range Strategic Planning Council last spring. As part of that work, we reviewed strategic planning efforts from the past few decades, and we realized the organization’s strategic goals, at the highest level, remain pretty constant. My guess is that most of you will look at this list and think, “Meh, seems about right,” because the goals are not only constant but quite broad. Which means the critical work will be deciding how we implement and prioritize—how we operationalize—the strategic goals. That effort will also belong to the Long-Range Strategic Planning Council.
And here is where I want to invite you, once again, to come with us as we plot the course for the Bar’s future journey. Part of the Long-Range Strategic Planning Council’s work is to communicate with you, the members, and other stakeholders about the goals and potential initiatives we might undertake to further those goals. This will be part of our overall outreach work conducted by the Board as a whole as well as its Member Engagement Work Group. We hope to let you know where we’re headed, and give you the chance to influence that direction, or simply hop on the train and come along with us!
There are a number of ways we will reach out to you in the coming year. We have revamped our ongoing member engagement survey—working with a professional survey company to reach more members and safeguard confidentiality of responses—and we plan to incorporate several strategic goal-specific survey questions in the coming quarters. We will weave priority and resource conversations into annual meetings with stakeholders such as leaders of sections, county bars, specialty bars, law schools, and civic organizations. We will also continually provide updates via our website, Take Note email newsletter, and Bar News.
As in previous years, the Listening Tour will be an opportunity for you to engage in a meaningful and personal way with your WSBA president, local WSBA governors, and me as we travel across the state to hear from you.
Here’s a look at what happened last year on the Listening Tour. After a COVID-19- caused hiatus in 2020, we were able to connect in person (masked up! safely distanced!) with WSBA members in Kitsap, Snohomish, Island, Skagit, Pacific, Mason, and Spokane counties between July and September. We also conducted a remote session for members in Asotin, Columbia, and Garfield counties.
Many of our conversations in 2021 related to the challenges of rural practice. Everyone agreed that recruiting and retaining legal professionals is a challenge for rural communities, particularly for public positions, which are often underfunded and low paying (especially for attorneys with substantial law school debt). Some members cited depressed local economies as a recruiting challenge; some talked about the challenge of having to hang out a shingle and maintain a broad set of practice areas without the support staff or resources available to new attorneys in a law-firm environment. But there are also benefits: flexibility and close relationships with judges and colleagues, for example. We are taking a slew of suggestions back to the WSBA’s Small Town and Rural Committee (which was born out of previous Listening Tours) such as recognizing and acknowledging excellence in rural practice, higher compensation, help with student loans, having a supportive and energized local bar association, and addressing mental health challenges.
On the 2021 Listening Tour, we also talked quite a bit about Washington’s Admission and Practice Rule (APR) 6, which provides a pathway to licensure without attending law school. Our conversations touched on access to justice, and in some places we heard, “pro bono isn’t happening,” while in others we heard the opposite, that everyone gets taken care of one way or another in a small community. The future of the WSBA office is always a hot topic, and we talked about moving headquarters out of downtown Seattle (to Olympia? Satellite offices?) and, perhaps, even buying a building. We heard frustration about the Washington Supreme Court’s decision to grant diploma privilege and about the experience of being the subject of a random audit or a grievance. We did hear a number of appreciative comments as well, and topping the list is the Legal Lunchbox™,11 www.wsba.org/for-legal-professionals/wsba-cle/legal-lunchbox. which is a monthly free CLE program that members can use to meet all of their required credits in a reporting period. We also heard appreciation for the insurance marketplace,22 www.wsba.org/for-legal-professionals/member-support/health-insurance-exchange. being able to volunteer remotely, practice management resources,33 www.wsba.org/for-legal-professionals/member-support/practice-management. and the WSBA’s Practice Primer series.44 Visit www.wsba.org and click on “WSBA Store” for more information.
I cannot reiterate enough how meaningful and important these conversations are to WSBA leaders. Nothing takes the place of direct conversation and engagement. In 2022, and beyond, these Listening Tour stops will take on even more significance as we invite you to help map the WSBA’s future; we will be seeking your input on strategic priorities and initiatives that will set our near- and long-term direction.
I hope you will join us on this journey!
4. Visit www.wsba.org and click on “WSBA Store” for more information.