OCBA UPDATE: Our strategy is working

By Peter Alter

Just two years ago, in April 2010, the Oakland County Bar Association adopted a strategic plan to be implemented over a three-year period through 2012. This strategic plan, our first in more than a decade, established a clear vision:

"In three years, Oakland County lawyers and the Oakland County community will view the OCBA as a safe harbor, an organization dedicated to providing service and support. Lawyers will recognize the OCBA as a welcoming community that effectively equips them to deal with the challenging legal practice environment. Similarly, Oakland County residents will increasingly recognize the OCBA as an important community stakeholder that they can turn to for assistance."

We are confident that over the last 24 months we have moved effectively to successfully implement this strategic plan and make our vision a reality. While I would like to recite everything that we have done during these last 24 months, there is not enough space or time to do so. Instead, I will focus on a number of highlights that demonstrate the success that has been achieved.

One of the key goals of the OCBA's strategic plan was to provide valuable services to lawyers practicing in the current economic climate. The definition of success, we believe, is when our members will say such things as, "The OCBA makes me a better lawyer and equips me to deal the challenges that face me in practice." The benchmarks of determining that success include member retention, higher attendance at seminars and other events, and an increase in the use of services, among other things. Through the hard work of our dedicated staff, led by our indefatigable executive director, Lisa Stadig Elliot, and the hard work of scores of lay leaders including our board, committee chairs and others, much success has been achieved.

First, we have substantially reorganized our CLE Committee, whose membership now consists of a liaison from each of our substantive committees. There has been terrific collaboration in developing and hosting seminars, including an as-yet-unannounced seminar regarding veterans' issues scheduled for later this year. A new energy is evident as the committee strives "to promote the educational and professional needs of the OCBA members."

Second, we have enhanced our programming for new lawyers, including a terrific basic skills seminar series entitled "Introduction to Practice" (Dan Quick developed this a few years ago, and Karen Safran brought it back) and the "May It Please the Court" seminar. This seminar, which coincides with the annual "Meet the Judges" event, provides an opportunity for new lawyers to learn about the "ins and outs" and the "dos and don'ts" of the courts. This year's program features the chief judges of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Truly, it is something that every litigator should attend. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the "OCBABC's of Practice," a program specifically developed to deal with the newest lawyers - lawyers who may not yet even have jobs.

Third, when our Solo/Small Firm Committee didn't seem to be able to attract enough members to its regular meetings, we came up with a new concept. We eliminated monthly meetings and instead developed a listserv to serve the same audience. We now have 73 lawyers signed up for that listserv and a substantial amount of camaraderie and cooperation has developed.

Fourth, we established a pilot project extending free OCBA membership to new admittees for a period of two years. For the current year, the first year in which the results of our pilot project can be ascertained, we have an incredible retention rate of 48 percent of the new admittees. There really cannot be a better and more reliable barometer of the value of services we provide to lawyers.

To be sure, we are far from done. We look forward to establishing a marketing committee to provide a page in LACHES highlighting OCBA benefits and services, and to continue enhancing our profile through social media, including our presence on Facebook and Twitter.

One of our other goals has been to encourage active participation of OCBA members in order to foster a sense of community and to provide networking and exchanges among lawyers and judges. In ways big and small, our goal is being achieved. We want to be more "user-friendly" and "member-friendly," recognizing first-time attendees at events and having our officers and other board members serve as greeters at our Holiday Gala and Annual Meeting, welcoming you to the OCBA family. We have developed the OCBA @ Work program, recognizing a different member every week, posting it online and on Facebook. So far, we have recognized 23 of our members - and there are lots more to come. Each month in LACHES, we highlight another one of our members. Our Mentor Program for new lawyers has been well-received and continues to improve. In the future we look forward to having an OCBA open house - both at the OCBA office and at the lawyers' conference room at the Oakland County Circuit Court. Stay tuned!

Finally, another critical goal of our strategic plan is for the OCBA to play a recognized role in serving the Oakland County community. Our definition of success is that we continue to increase the number of individuals throughout the community that we serve and, at the same time, enhance the reputation of the OCBA.

Our commitment to pro bono services is second to none, as evidenced by our Legal Aid Mini Clinics, the Help Desk, our Speakers Bureau, Senior Law Day, food drives and our activities supporting veterans, to name just a few. But, frankly, that is not enough - especially when there is so much more to be done.

Over the past several years, we have substantially increased the number of groups with whom we interact and with whom we partner. For example, during the last year our Elementary Mock Trial Program was expanded into three school districts, with further outreach planned for the coming months.

We have reached out to various non-profit organizations, including faith-based groups and other community-based groups such as Oakland Family Services and Youth Assistance. In turn, several of those groups have asked us to provide speakers, to work with them on specific projects, and to consider having a Legal Aid Mini Clinic in their community. That is exactly the reason why one of our next Legal Aid Mini Clinics will be in Farmington Hills. And, of course, although you have heard much about it, our award-winning Pro Bono Mentor Match program continues to develop and expand its outreach into the community.

Clearly, the OCBA is working hard to improve, to enhance the reputation and skills of lawyers in the community, and to reach out to our community in an effort to make an important difference.

* * * * *

Our "Unsung Hero" this month is attorney Joel Wisniewski. Joel is a new attorney dedicated to providing pro bono service and giving back our community. In the last year, Joel has participated in at least five FLAP clinics, several times serving as a last-minute replacement for another attorney. In one of his cases, he represented a client with a particularly troublesome Personal Protection Order matter. Joel's client had been subject to years of physical abuse - including repeated punching, choking and kicking - from her husband. After the court had granted a PPO, to protect the client Mr. Wisniewski was successful in assisting the client in getting the order modified to remove the husband from the marital home. Later, during the same case, he was successful in obtaining an extension of the PPO beyond the original one-year period.

We congratulate Joel Wisniewski on his commitment to providing pro bono service.

As always, please feel free to give Lisa Stadig Elliot, our executive director, a telephone call or send her an email and let her know that you would like to find a way to get involved in one of our pro bono programs. There are so many to choose from. Your participation is most welcome and the experience, unquestionably, will be a rewarding and gratifying one.

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Peter M. Alter, a partner in the Southfield office of Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer, & Weiss, is the 79th president of the Oakland County Bar Association.

Published: Fri, May 18, 2012

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