Panelists Offer Powerful Advice, Personal Stories to Aspiring Association Leaders
NEW YORK, August 7, 2008 – The ABA is committed to diversity, but as Janice Brown of San Diego told lawyers in a forum on ABA leadership opportunities, “a commitment only means what it means as long as there’s action.” She challenged her audience to “pay your dues,” study the ABA structure, show up, be willing, follow up and tell the ABA “if you are going to deal with it, deal with it today.”
Brown and her fellow speakers, all in ABA section leadership positions, had advice for aspiring leaders from diverse communities, and for the ABA, generously salted with personal accounts of bottom line gains from their association experiences. They spoke at a forum sponsored by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession and co-sponsored by the Corporate Counsel Committee, the Minority In-House Counsel Group and the Section of Business Law.
“They taught me how to lobby,” said Brown, encouraging listeners to participate in ABA Day, an annual April gathering in which lawyers from across the nation converge on Washington, D.C., to press issues important to the profession with their own members of Congress. Brown said she soaked up a day’s worth of lobbyist training, took talking points and advocacy materials and gained entrée to her legislators’ offices because she was working as part of the ABA team. That helped her create relationships that have been significant back home, she said. Her ABA work has taught her leadership skills effective in her firm and her practice, has opened networking opportunities for business development and has made her “a better person,” she said.
Orlando Lucero of Albuquerque urged listeners to figure out what it is they want to achieve from the ABA, or other associations, and identify the association components that offer a logical route to achieving it. He also suggested listeners redefine diversity as “all inclusive, all encompassing, all welcoming,” and work to get more people involved in leadership.
Seattle lawyer Jacqueline Parker said she attended a section committee meeting to learn about specifics, and was the only African American and one of only a few women in the room with 100 Caucasian men. She mingled with attendees, and kept attending meetings and programs, and found she had “a chance to play” with federal officials and nationally prominent lawyers in the field. “If you prove yourself on the very public level of the ABA,” you develop credentials that resound with clients, or may facilitate a next job, she said. She particularly urged audience members to be active on two paths—diversity and substantive law.
Donna Frazier of Shreveport suggested one option for more rapid advancement in the ABA is to look at smaller sections. “In addition to showing up, be willing. If you are willing to work, they will find a job for you to do,” she said.
The panelists agreed that the ABA has progressed in diversity, and has demonstrated good intentions. “But when good intentions come in conflict with power, power wins.” Brown told her colleagues it is “important to act powerful,” to “ask for what you want.” Change means “getting comfortable with what is uncomfortable,” and creating institutional change in the ABA may require diverse lawyers to make both themselves and the association uncomfortable, “and that’s okay!”