BY JUDGE BRIAN TOLLEFSON (RET.)
I have good news and bad news for you, my readers. First, the bad news: This is my last President’s Corner article. Now, the good news: This is my last President’s Corner article.
It has been both a pleasure and a serious obligation to use this coveted space in Bar News. I sincerely hope my thoughts have enriched your time reading my writing.
I want to thank all who have worked with me, contacted me, and helped me to have a mostly positive year as your Bar president. Your names are too many to list individually given all I want to say in this last piece, but you know who you are. I sincerely thank each and every one of you.
At the beginning of my presidency, I was optimistic that I could pursue my agenda of “common ground and common purpose” and focus more on the needs of the members who pay for the majority of what the WSBA spends its discretionary dollars on. Obviously not all money spent on members is within the Board of Governors’ control—consider regulatory and disciplinary expenses. But then other forces outside the Bar Association redirected my and the Board of Governors’ attention and thus my goal took a back seat.
Here is a case in point: the ETHOS (Examining the Historical Organization and Structure of the Bar) process. The last few years have seen another group of cases in federal courts around the country challenging the constitutionality of integrated bar associations like ours that undertake both mandatory/regulatory work and also non-mandatory but often laudable work. The controlling question is whether mandatory-integrated bar associations can force all of their members to be a part of the mandatory organization that promotes certain non-germane activities.
Because of those cases, in 2021 the Washington Supreme Court directed the Board of Governors to, once again, restudy its structure. The Supreme Court asked that the WSBA answer three questions: (1) Does current federal litigation regarding the constitutionality of integrated bars require the WSBA to make a structure change now? (2) Even if the WSBA does not have to alter its structure now, what is the contingency plan if the U.S. Supreme Court does issue a ruling that forces a change? (3) Litigation aside, what is the ideal structure for the WSBA to accomplish its mission?
The Board of Governors chose to undertake this task by having seven full-day meetings to do the work in a manner suggested by one Board member and supported by Bar staff time. This was, and is, a tremendous effort in terms of WSBA staff time, resources, and Board of Governors volunteer time and attention. And it was in addition to the six regularly scheduled Board of Governors meetings this fiscal year (for a total of 13 meetings).
So rather than focusing on what didn’t happen—the Board of Governors having voted to retain the WSBA’s integrated structure, and recommending no major changes to the WSBA’s structure—I have a few suggestions for the Board of Governors moving forward now that the ETHOS process is nearly complete.
First, refocus on the WSBA’s mission statement. Here it is again: “The mission of the Washington State Bar Association is to serve the public and the members of the Bar, to ensure the integrity of the legal profession, and to champion justice.” In my opinion, the most important phrase is: “to serve the public and the members of the Bar.” Notice that there are no qualifiers like “some” or “few.” Every program, policy, department, etc., should have that select phrase as the paramount focus. It does not.
Second, adopt the business project-management model called the “Working Together Management System” used by successful businesses managers, such as Alan Mulally.11 Gist, M. & Mulally, A., “Leading Successful Implementation,” InSights (Fall, 2017)(The Center for Leadership Formation, Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics). While the original list has 12 principles, I have reduced the number and combined and reordered them into eight principles. This management system focuses on collaborative management.22 I read about this system years ago and ended up writing an article in the Pierce County Lawyer using this collaborative management system as a suggested approach for lawyers to help them better organize and manage their clients’ mediations. Those “working together” principles can help the Board of Governors analyze its approach to almost all projects or programs. Reading more about this system, more fully explained in the book cited in the endnotes,33 Lewis, J., WORKING TOGETHER – Twelve Principles for Achieving Excellence in Managing Projects, Teams, and Organizations (2002) (McGraw-Hill, New York). should be mandatory reading for every governor. This goes in the “virtual” suggestion box.
Third, with regard to the “People first—everyone is included” principle from collaborative management above, it’s important for the Board of Governors to focus more on the members and less on themselves. In other words, look outward and not inward. I realize there are different philosophies about what is better, looking inward versus looking outward. My point, however, is that over the five years of my involvement with the Board of Governors, there has been enough focus on the internal operations of the WSBA and its different silos. Now is the time to refocus on the members and the public with a view to improving services and programs that benefit more, not fewer, individuals and groups. This too will go into the “virtual” suggestion box.
Fourth, one of the principles the WSBA keeps repeating is the phrase “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” I am aware that the phrase has different meanings to different groups. Regardless, how about applying that phrase as a method to enhance participation in the volunteer needs of the WSBA? Currently, the WSBA has more opportunities (vacancies) than volunteers to fill available volunteer positions. Several WSBA committees and boards are struggling to fill some spots.
Volunteers at the WSBA, including the Bar Association president, are uncompensated for their time because they are volunteers. What is the solution to attracting and retaining volunteers? Might I suggest some ideas? How about making it easier to volunteer? How about reducing the barriers to participation? Would you volunteer more if you received free CLE credits? How does the WSBA demonstrate meaningful appreciation or recognition? Members of any organization want to feel appreciated, respected, listened to, and valued. Since volunteer participation is down, it’s time for the Board of Governors to develop volunteer engagement strategies and reverse that trend before there is an irreversible decline. I’m confident that our Bar staff is eager for Board of Governors leadership to take up this important endeavor.
Improving the willingness to participate in elections for the Board of Governors is also especially important. When I ran for WSBA governor in 2017, it was a five-way race for my district. I haven’t seen that type of participation in any race since. I am concerned that busy legal professionals are aware of what the Board of Governors has been focusing on over the past few years and find little value in the agendas for them or their constituents. Is it time to reevaluate what the Board of Governors spends its valuable time and attention on?
Each person serving on the Board of Governors should explore the idea of making quarterly reports of their activities to let everyone in their district know what a governor is doing as an ambassador and liaison. This used to happen, and admittedly it is time consuming if the governor is truly fulfilling those roles. But it is enlightening, helpful, and productive, nonetheless.
Fifth, district governors should have full access to their constituents’ email addresses. Is it because some legal professionals have expressed concern that they do not support having their email addresses released to the legal profession or the public? There are many ways to both protect privacy and enhance communication between a governor and constituents. Consider asking each member to have a public email address devoted solely to informal WSBA communications.
Finally, and related to almost all the points above, I hope that the Board of Governors will consider adopting a real “benefit-cost”44 See Zerbe, R. & Scott, T., “A Primer for Understanding Benefit-Cost Analysis” (https://aisp.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/0033_12_SP2_Benefit_Cost_000.pdf). A much more extensive text is: Zerbe, R. & Bellas, A., “A Primer for Benefit-Cost Analysis” (2006)(Edward Elgar, pub. Cheltenham, U.K.). review of almost every part of the organization. This BCA (Benefit-Cost Analysis) has not been part of the ETHOS structure study. I realize that this is not an easy ask. It will require hiring an outside organization that specializes in such work. The Board of Governors, the staff, the members, and the public deserve to know what programs and services the WSBA has that are meeting the WSBA mission statement, and I believe this methodology is the best approach.
Thank you to all. It’s been a great year to be president of the WSBA, and with my virtual “suggestion box” full to the brim, it’s time to welcome your incoming president, Dan Clark, and support him as he navigates the volunteer waters in his own way.
Welcome aboard, Dan!
1. Gist, M. & Mulally, A., “Leading Successful Implementation,” InSights (Fall, 2017)(The Center for Leadership Formation, Seattle University Albers School of Business and Economics). While the original list has 12 principles, I have reduced the number and combined and reordered them into eight principles:
- People first—everyone is included
- Facts and data
- Compelling vision, comprehensive strategy, and relentless implementation
- One plan—propose a plan, positive, “find-a-way” attitude
- Clear performance goals
- Respect, listen, help, and appreciate each other
- Everyone knows the status and areas that need special attention
- Emotional resilience—trust the process
2. I read about this system years ago and ended up writing an article in the Pierce County Lawyer using this collaborative management system as a suggested approach for lawyers to help them better organize and manage their clients’ mediations.
3. Lewis, J., WORKING TOGETHER – Twelve Principles for Achieving Excellence in Managing Projects, Teams, and Organizations (2002) (McGraw-Hill, New York).
4. See Zerbe, R. & Scott, T., “A Primer for Understanding Benefit-Cost Analysis” (https://aisp.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/0033_12_SP2_Benefit_Cost_000.pdf). A much more extensive text is: Zerbe, R. & Bellas, A., “A Primer for Benefit-Cost Analysis” (2006)(Edward Elgar, pub. Cheltenham, U.K.).