The Colorado Lawyer
Vol. 34, No. 4 [Page 25]
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CBA President's Message to Members
Diane Hartman, Queen of Communications
by Steve C. Briggs
Don’t it always seem to go
|Steve C. Briggs|
that you don’ know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
—Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"
My request seemed reasonable enough. After all, aside from being an Assistant Executive Director, Diane Hartman is our CBA/DBA Director of Communications. We had both read the letter asking what the CBA was doing to improve the image of lawyers. It would not be the first time that Diane had helped a CBA President write the monthly President’s Message.
So Diane wasn’t the least little bit suspicious when I asked her to put something together for me that describes just what the CBA does to improve our image. Of course, to say what the CBA does is to say, more precisely, what Diane does. At least, that’s what she’ll be doing until she steps away from her labors for the CBA/DBA at the end of May. That’s when she rides off into the sunset, in search of new adventures.
What Diane did not know was that her draft would provide the grist for a story on a subject other than just the image of lawyers. It would instead be a story put together with the help of CBA staff, Chuck Turner, Stacy Chesney, and Arlene Abady, about the great service for lawyers that has been provided for the last nineteen years by none other than the one, the only:
|(Left to right) CBA President Steve |
Briggs, Diane Hartman, and CBA/DBA
Executive Director Chuck Turner
Diane and the CBA
Before the CBA and DBA were a twinkle in her eye, Diane Hartman was a professional journalist. She served turns as an editor and writer at three daily newspapers, including The Denver Post, and editor for a magazine. She taught journalism at Auburn University, Regis University, and Metropolitan State University. While at The Denver Post, she was the Editor for the Sunday Contemporary section.
CBA/DBA Executive Director Chuck Turner recalls when Diane applied for the job with the CBA:
When we threw Diane in with The Docket [Denver Bar Association newsletter] Committee for an interview, I was sure that she would walk out saying, "I have no intention of working with those nutballs." Fortunately, she correctly perceived that she could easily buffalo them into doing whatever she thought best for the publication, all the while convincing them that it was all their doing. I think her only pause was when someone mentioned that "tort reform" was a big issue facing the profession. She mentioned to me later that she couldn’t understand why lawyers would care about fixing up a bunch of "fancy-pants" desserts.
Diane was not to be easily discouraged. From the start, she was a hard worker and quick learner. One of the qualities that has most impressed Chuck over the years is Diane’s remarkable ability to "turn out" a finished piece almost instantly—from a letter to the editor, to a position paper, to a column ready for publication. Not only that, but the products are clearly articulated and well reasoned, in plain, declarative English. He says, "It’s not that lawyers can’t come up with a similar result (minus the plain English), but it usually takes two partners, several associates and paralegals, a committee meeting, and a firm retreat to finalize a comparable product."
Diane and the Image of Lawyers
Diane has spent countless hours talking to many people in the business of changing opinions. Her conclusion is that lawyers are "the fall guys" for society. Nevertheless, she is quick to point out that each attorney has to take personal responsibility for his or her own behavior—being sure clients are clear about fees, that phone calls are returned promptly and politely, and that their cases are explained in detail.
At the same time, when wrong-headed criticism of lawyers appears in the press, Diane is usually the first to start thinking about whether a response will be helpful and, if so, how to go about it. For example, last spring, the Better Business Bureau ("BBB") ran an ad with a joke that implied unethical behavior by estate attorneys was commonplace. Soon thereafter, as I was walking through the CBA lobby, I saw Diane charging down the hall, steam coming out of her ears: "They are not going to get away with this!" I didn’t know what "they" or "this" was, but I knew somebody was in trouble that "they" would soon regret.
Diane recruited law firms that were BBB members to threaten to terminate their memberships. She lined up then CBA and DBA Presidents Bob Truhlar and Joe Dischinger, respectively, along with CBA executives Chuck Turner and Greg Martin, for a meeting with the BBB’s committee on ethical advertising. She prepped all involved on how to make their case. The end result was that the ad was soon removed.
In short, Diane has brought to her work as Communications Director the intelligence and courage to be both an honest critic and passionate defender of lawyers. We could not ask for more.
Diane and the Media
One of Diane’s consistent goals has been to get good stories about lawyers in the paper or on television. Often, editors are not interested in these stories, but she has gotten her share published. She notes that the public can see lawyers as problem-solvers every week on Channel 9 at LawLine 9. Each year, she’s been involved in getting lawyers to be available to answer questions at the People’s Fair and on the Sixteenth Street Mall in Denver during Law Week.
Thanks in part to the good efforts of Diane, at least 800 senior citizens attend Senior Law Day free of charge. Also, twice monthly, Diane’s Communications Department sends a legal help column to newspapers across Colorado. She has set up workshops at newspapers around the state, organized criminal lawyers to educate reporters on big cases, and recruited water lawyers to inform newspaper reporters and editors about the present and future of Colorado’s "liquid gold."
While receiving little fanfare, Diane talks to reporters almost daily in an effort to educate them. Reporters know they can depend on Diane’s Communications Department, which is why it receives calls from all over the state and nation (and sometimes even other countries). Diane puts these callers in touch with lawyers who will represent the profession well on various sides of a story. She and her staff regularly meet with new reporters, spending many hours going over resources that the CBA can make available to them.
Last year, Diane traveled around the state to nine venues with the Colorado Press Association, gathering lawyers, judges, and reporters to talk about the latest hot topics. In doing so, she was not only keeping reporters and editors up to date on current issues and events, but also building good relationships for the future. She and her staff often recruit lawyers to write letters to the editor, press releases, and e-mails that let the public know the good works attorneys are doing around Colorado. This "behind-the-scenes" type of work is what often gets news crews out to events in which the CBA is participating.
Currently, Diane and her staff are recruiting a group of lawyers who will be available to radio stations when a news story with a legal slant breaks. Another project is a big "Media Day" in May, which Diane is coordinating with the Colorado Press Association and the Boulder County Bar. On this day, reporters and editors from the around the state will be invited to participate in learning about current legal topics to improve their reporting.
The Communications Department also puts on workshops called "Working with the Media." Lawyers get to practice what they should and shouldn’t say to the media and how to make the best impression.
The one constant behind this seamless tapestry of regularly orchestrated efforts and events has been the guiding hand of Diane Hartman.
The Media and Diane
Diane’s commitment to improving the relationship between the legal community and media has left an impression on those who have become more than just colleagues over the years. Denver Post reporter Joey Bunch states:
As an accomplished former reporter and editor, Diane has done a great job of building bridges between newsrooms and courtrooms. Whenever I need a well-spoken expert to simplify or amplify a point, Diane always has a Rolodex full of ideas. I suspect the law community has no idea how much she does to raise their profile.
Joe Sinisi, another former Post reporter, describes her this way: "In a world of more and more communication toys and less and less actual communication, Diane Hartman never lost sight of a publicist’s—or an editor’s—job: to communicate." He adds:
As a Denver Post city side reporter dealing with legal issues or—tougher yet, getting hold of the right legal voice on deadline—Diane would either have the information or name and number when you needed it, or she’d get back to you that same afternoon and well before deadline. This is a dependable response pattern that’s getting harder to come by in an age of PR people with no clue of deadlines and "check our website" responses. She was missed then and will be missed now.
We Will Miss Her Too
Chuck believes Diane has been an immeasurable help to the associations and the leadership of the Bar in so many seen and unseen ways—a wonderful talent and worker on behalf of our members. Like the CBA presidents before me, I have also come to appreciate Diane’s unique blend of dedication to improving the image of lawyers, her passion for truth, and her creativity in accomplishing our goals. She combines these wonderful traits with a great sense of fun, southern charm, and unbridled enthusiasm. The Colorado Bar Association is losing not only a valued executive, but also an invaluable friend.
Diane, you will be missed—but not forgotten.
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