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TCL > June 2013 Issue > Bar Associations—Building Your Career and Boosting the Profession

June 2013       Vol. 42, No. 6       Page  5
In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

Bar Associations—Building Your Career and Boosting the Profession
by Mark A. Fogg

 
   

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me what my favorite job has been. Selling floor coverings at Color Tile and making cars at Chrysler during the night shift in downtown Detroit are dispensed with pretty quickly. I loved my time at my old firm, and my job as General Counsel at COPIC has been rewarding and challenging. But I always answered that my job as a Chief Deputy District Attorney in Denver was my favorite. The special collegiality among lawyers in that office, my mentors, and the thrill of trying so many interesting cases contributed to a tremendous experience.

That answer has now changed. When I was considering whether to submit my name to be considered as CBA President, I spoke with my trusted colleagues and past CBA Presidents Liz Starrs, Paul Chan, and Bill Walters. Each told me I would love it and would consider it to be a highlight of my career. They were right. I now tell people that my favorite job has been serving as CBA President.

What I have especially enjoyed are the local bar visits and my interactive discussions with literally thousands of Colorado lawyers. I have learned so much about the history of our profession, current challenges for the legal system and practitioners, and what we might expect in the future. It has deepened my belief that a fundamental reason our citizens trust the law and turn to judges and lawyers to help with disputes that can be quite personal in nature is their belief that the law will be equally applied. We know that our system is not perfect, but the level of trust the public has in our legal process is remarkable. This belief and trust does not exist in most other countries.

This is my last President’s Message. I’ve enjoyed writing them and I appreciate all the warm and insightful comments you sent me. I know that a lot of you have a much longer history with the bar associations than I do; still, I think it is appropriate for me to write about the impact the bar associations have had on my career and, more important, about the impact the bar associations can have on the careers of those lawyers who have yet to avail themselves of the opportunities the bar associations can offer. Of course, there are very tangible benefits from being a member of the bar associations, from the many discounts and services they provide to the opportunities to increase your knowledge in substantive areas of the law. However, in this article, I want to focus on the more intangible, but equally important, benefits of active bar membership. I reflect on my experience with the bar associations as an example of the impact they can have on you. I then write on those areas in building your career that I believe the bar associations can help you with the most.

My History With the Bar Associations

The launch pad for my active participation came in the early 2000s when Chuck Turner called me out of the blue. "What are you doing for breakfast this Friday? Joe Dischinger (then DBA President) and I would like to talk with you about something." I didn’t know Chuck very well, but I knew Joe from several different venues. Chuck was a bit vague about the reason for meeting, but I was intrigued to learn what they wanted to talk about. We planned to meet at Le Peep on University Boulevard in Denver. It turned out that Joe wanted to make professionalism one of the themes of his presidency and asked if I wanted to chair the DBA Professionalism Committee.

Before this, I would describe my participation with the bar association as moderate. During the time I was a Chief Deputy District Attorney, I had very little contact with the bar. I may have belonged to the Criminal Law Committee for a year or two but otherwise didn’t actively participate. Our DA office was pretty much a self-contained group, and we did all of our CLEs in-house.

When I made the move to civil practice, I knew very little about the Denver legal community and wished I had been more active in the bar associations, because it would have made my transition much smoother. I would have had a better understanding about how law firms work and I would have made more contacts in the legal community.

Just after beginning civil practice in 1986, one of my partners, Kim Childs, suggested that I join the CBA Ethics Committee, because I was defending a lot of legal malpractice cases. It was a good suggestion. The Ethics Committee was and is very active, and I met many great lawyers. We usually met one Saturday every month to discuss ethics inquiries and to work on ethics opinions. I chaired a couple of opinion subcommittees. I became regarded as someone knowledgeable about professional liability. I served on the Ethics Committee Hotline for several years, which allowed me to get to know even more lawyers every week. Ultimately, I served on the Ethics Committee for fifteen years.

Time slipped by, and in 1998, John Baker asked me to join what was then called the Metro Conciliation Panel (now known as the Peer Professionalism Assistance Committee). Its mission is to help facilitate resolutions to professionalism issues between lawyers and provide advice. I did not have as much activity on the Panel as I did with the Ethics Committee, but frankly I had grown tired of the constant barrage of disdain heaped on lawyers. (Sad to say, I also had come to realize that some of it was deserved.) By this time, I had been many times bloodied and bludgeoned in the civil discovery system. Even though I felt like a proverbial "drop in the bucket," John Baker helped foster in me the resolve to do whatever I could to improve professionalism. I figured that if a good number of lawyers assumed this attitude, we could have an impact on improving the profession.

So, it was this passion that Joe and Chuck tapped into when they requested my participation. I became the Chair of the DBA Professionalism Committee, then served as the Chair of the CBA Professionalism Committee for several years. There was a core group of about twenty members who faithfully met on a monthly basis. Attorney Regulation Counsel John Gleason approached me about creating professionalism teaching tools. This resulted in my working with John Baker and John Gleason on the professionalism vignettes, which the Professionalism Committee then adopted as a project. The vignettes were and are being used in hundreds of interactive discussions and even won the ABA Professionalism Award in 2009. In truth, it is this passion for professionalism that Joe and Chuck tapped into that led me down the path of the significant impact the bar associations would have on my career. I went on to become DBA President, CBA President and, at John Gleason’s recommendation, one of the Chairs of the Chief Justice Commission on the Legal Profession.

So, that’s generally my story with the bar associations. How might being active in the bar associations help you?

Engage Your Passion to Improve
the Profession or Legal System

One of the main benefits of being involved in the bar associations is that you can express, develop, and follow a passion to address a problem that you otherwise may not be able to do in your everyday practice of law. You will meet like-minded colleagues. You can help develop resources with bar leadership or, as a leader yourself, help to solve the problem. You have the ability to reach hundreds, if not thousands, of attorneys to support the cause.

In 2008, the economy severely threatened the ability of many Colorado lawyers to make a living. The CBA, under the leadership of Bill Walters, decided to create and generously fund an economic task force to come up with solutions to help lawyers. Dan McCune stepped up as one of the leaders on this project, along with Jen Wascak. Dan and Jen met often with their task force and reported to the CBA Board of Governors and Executive Council on everything that was being done with the fund. It was very successful. (Dan McCune will become DBA President on July 1, 2013).

In 2011, the CBA, along with the Chief Justice Commission, envisioned the creation of a program to assist the large number of discharged veterans. John Vaught, who had been a river boat commander in Vietnam, approached me and said that he would like to help lead the program. The Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans program was formed and has been very successful. Hundreds of attorneys and judges have been recruited to assist with the program. It has led to the proposed creation of a Military and Veterans Affairs Section of the CBA pending approval by our Board of Governors, which will meld the Military Law Committee and this program in establishing a separate Section for this important part of our bar. (John Vaught will become DBA President in July 2014.)

Crossing the Generational Divide

The bar associations provide unique insights into those things that are common and those things that are different among Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennial lawyers. I have had the opportunity of attending several conferences focused on pinpointing the commonalities and differences among the generations and how they will affect the practice of law. I also have worked with numerous younger lawyers on projects that allowed me to witness the special knowledge and skills they bring to the table. I’ve discovered that working with new lawyers in the bar is a great tonic for "the law isn’t the way it used to be" syndrome. By the same token, participation in bar association activities gives new lawyers the opportunities to tap into the insight, values, and knowledge of more experienced lawyers.

Polish Your Crystal Ball

By being active in the bar, you are exposed to many of the new ideas that are being formulated in the practice of law. This can be extremely helpful in developing your own practice. The "verticalization" of larger firms and the increasing "super specialization" of smaller firms have the potential to revolutionize the practice of law. Firms may no longer be organized horizontally along practice areas, such as transactions, real estate, or civil litigation, and instead may be vertically organized by industries, such as automotive, healthcare, and alternative energy. A law firm can provide advice on legal implications in an industry, as well as counsel on every aspect of what may affect the company or person in the industry.

The United Kingdom recently changed its law to allow a percentage of nonlawyers to be owners of law firms. There is much debate about whether the profession should head in this direction. There have been many articles published on the increasing use of unbundled legal services and limited scope of representation in smaller practices. It is a difficult concept for lawyers to get their head around. A couple of years ago, these were novel concepts, but the bar associations have provided a lot of education on these topics—and today, these tools are used by a large percentage of lawyers.

Further Development of Your Leadership Skills

Motivating yourself is one thing; motivating others toward a common goal can be even more challenging, especially where there is no immediate economic incentive. The bar associations offer tremendous opportunities to develop leadership skills that will have a much greater impact on your career from economic and service perspectives. This is especially true in Colorado, because the CBA and local bar associations are voluntary bar associations; this means they belong to you. If you want to have leadership positions in your firm, public service office, or the legal community, the bar is a perfect place to hone these skills. You can be, for example, a section leader in specific areas of substantive law, a committee chair or member, active in the Young Lawyers Division, or involved in special task forces. The key is to let the current leadership know your interests. Don’t be shy. Call or write your bar president or the bar staff for suggestions on how you might get involved.

Collegiality and Friendship

On any given committee, in any bar section, or in any bar association, you will find yourself interacting with judges and lawyers who are everyday legends in the Colorado legal community. This possibility is available to each of us who participates in the bar associations. Sooner than you think, you also may be considered by new lawyers to be one of these everyday legends of the bar. The common bonds we share in our profession and the caliber of skill and depth of character of our members are priceless. Enjoy them.

I just had the pleasure of attending the dedication of the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, where Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke. She stated that institutions and buildings develop "souls" that are shaped by those who give them meaning. Legal communities and bar associations also develop souls that are shaped by those who give them meaning. Thanks to you and dedicated bar association staff, our legal community and our bar associations have developed great souls.

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