From the President: Year as DBA President was Career Highlight
by Jim Benjamin
lthough May has traditionally signaled an end of a long winter and a new beginning with shades of young greenery and wildflowers, the unexpected snow showers in May mean this year’s transition to spring truly belongs to the month of June.
And so, it is fitting that leadership of the Denver Bar Association will also be transitioning at the end of this month. Although it will be a welcome relief not to simultaneously juggle time impositions required to perform the duties of the presidency and maintain a thriving law practice (not to mention the most important aspect of life: spending as much time as possible with family), the experience has been the best of my legal career. I am truly disappointed the year has passed so quickly.
There is no question that the hundreds of wonderful new acquaintances made along the way is the reward bestowed on the soul who is blessed to spend a year as president. I treasure the fact that I now have more close friends than my Outlook contacts list is capable of holding.
The president (and president-elect) also have the fortune of attending the National Conference of Bar Presidents. Those conferences provide the invaluable exchange of activities being conducted by our counterparts across the country and facilitates discourse as to what other associations are doing to meet the needs of the profession and maintain relevance. There also were two other huge personal benefits. First, I formed friendships with people from Texas, California, Alaska, Nebraska, South Carolina, Washington, Vermont, and others. I have personally met brethren from all corners of the country who take pride in being part of this profession. Second, I witnessed first-hand that professionals in our DBA are the best in the country and exemplify the finest in professionalism. Those who have preceded me are responsible for the rest of the country viewing Colorado, and specifically Denver, as practicing the highest quality of law and displaying a level of professionalism idolized by others. What a sense of pride comes with representing the DBA.
For those members who are afforded the pleasure of taking on this role in the future, I suggest on the day before commencement of your role as president-elect you start writing thank you cards to each of the DBA presidents who precede you, because it is their conduct from which you inherit such credibility and esteem.
Equally adding to the experience are the unsurpassed abilities of our bar staff. Chuck Turner and Greg Martin are so exceptional at what they do that the question most often left for the president is, "Where do I sign?" While I may have appeared to always know the appropriate events a DBA president ought to attend or seemed prepared with necessary agendas and back-up materials, it was wholly the product of Dana Collier Smith and Denise Lynch, for whom the forthcoming flowers are inadequate to express my thanks. Another person at the staff for whom I am truly grateful is Sara Crocker. She is a talented writer and an even more talented editor. These monthly messages would likely have been child’s play for Dan Brown or John Grisham, but for a person whose 40 years of experience involved a stilted writing style using words such as "Whereas" and "Now, therefore," Sara has edited my work into a column that I am continuously surprised to hear members actually read.
I recently attended a University of Colorado program where the keynote speaker’s topic was "Unplanning for the Future." His underlying theme was that everything is changing so rapidly that even in the short term it is nearly impossible to predict what will happen. He pointed out that at the start of March Madness, Google and ESPN had online brackets filled out by 9.6 million persons. At the end of the first round, how many people had accurately selected all the winners? Zero. His advice was to stay flexible and respond to current events rather than adopting stringent goals.
I started my term with a similar philosophy, focusing on responding to needs rather than creating a "supply" for which a changing economic and social structure might mean no actual "demand."
Several projects quickly emerged. When a simple inquiry as to what regular lines of communication existed between major Denver players such as the Denver Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Denver Partnership, the city attorney’s office, and the mayor’s office, revealed an answer of "none," that gave rise to the idea of the Denver Coordinating Council. Formation of the council has been initiated, but efforts will be ongoing to engage participants and begin the exchange of ideas and plans affecting Denver.
Near the start of my term, I learned that the lease on our association’s home would be expiring in February 2014, unless the association extends it by July. This served as the catalyst for a committee of bar and CLE of Colorado representatives to investigate space opportunities that would best fulfill our needs in the long term. The committee members have identified several facilities for direct negotiation and that project is continuing.
Working with Native Americans for the Mandan Indian Project, which aims to help them prove title to reservation land they own or that has been passed down through generations, has been a project of mine and one for which I have solicited volunteers in this column. Volunteers met last month, and several are already conducting legal research. This is likely to be a volunteer project with longevity rivaling or exceeding the legal battle over the land on Taylor Ranch.
But, it hasn’t been all work, and I was thrilled to witness so many important legal events this year.
The heart and soul of the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations’ Professionalism Coordinating Council is the Hon. Russell Carparelli of our Court of Appeals. When the American Bar Association announced it was soliciting nominations for a member who epitomized professionalism, Carparelli was a natural. Not only has he lectured across the state on professionalism, using the DBA’s award winning vignettes as a tool, but he also created a new program, "Practicing With Civility: It’s a Skills Thing." It was short work for the ABA to agree; Carparelli was selected as the inaugural recipient of this national award. Once again, Colorado shines for producing the best of the best.
In April, I was given the pleasure of assisting CBA President Mark Fogg in recognizing CBA members from Denver who had been in practice 50 years or longer. Mark and I personally chatted with each of the recipients to learn from them highlights of their half-century of practice. There is nothing else to say besides how humbling it is to be among such great counselors. Each was an absolute delight to converse with. I am so fortunate to be able to participate in the DBA counterpart event, the Seniors Spring Banquet, on June 4.
Whether by design or by tradition, the fiscal year-end has a built-in celebration with the 25th Annual Barrister’s Benefit Ball. Chaired this year by two of DBA’s energizer bunnies, Jaci Casey and Michelle Ferguson, the theme of Down & Derby was a huge success. I do not know if I will find the occasion to wear my seersucker suit again, but the picture of Isabell in her orange and raspberry "sherbet hat," and I with my straw hat bearing the event date on the band, will be a screensaver for years to come.
One final celebration is all that remains to conclude one of the most memorable of my life: the annual DBA Awards Party, set to start at 6 p.m. on June 6 at the Ralph Carr Colorado Judicial Center. The event is free and open to all DBA members. This will be a great opportunity to see the judicial center, including the newly dedicated education center. More importantly, we will have the chance to honor four members who have made significant impacts on our professional community. I sincerely hope you will attend so that I can personally thank you for having allowed me to represent you.
The DBA will be in great hands starting July 1. I am honored to know Dan McCune personally and professionally, and his leadership qualities are par excellence. To Dan, I wish you success over the next year. If you find it half as fulfilling as it was to me, it will be the highlight of your professional career.D