OCBA UPDATE: The intangible benefits of membership

By President Thomas H. Howlett

October marks an exciting and bittersweet month for the Oakland County Bar Association.

The excitement stems from our bar year being in full swing. Our more than two dozen committees are each now hard at work. Planning for a broad slate of OCBA activities is fully underway, including multiple judicial candidate forums for the upcoming election, a spectacular Holiday Gala at the Townsend Hotel on December 3 and an expanded Circuit-Probate Bench/Bar Conference debuting in early 2015.

But October also is bittersweet because the OCBA parts ways each year at this time with a small number of members who have failed to renew their memberships. Bylaws require us to drop from the rolls those members who have not renewed their memberships by October 31, abruptly discontinuing all notices of events, activities and opportunities to engage with Michigan’s largest and most vibrant voluntary bar association.

Each year, some members understandably fail to renew due to retirement or relocation. But other members, particularly those newer to the practice of law, regrettably let their OCBA memberships slip away, most probably because they have not yet fully experienced the many intangible benefits of long-term membership.

One goal of the OCBA board’s current strategic plan is to work even harder to retain our current members and to reach out to new ones. Board member Michael Lee is leading a group of OCBA bar leaders in developing new approaches to retention and recruitment that will be unveiled in the coming year.

But we all have an ongoing obligation to help acquaint members, particularly any newcomers wavering on the value membership, with the intangibles of OCBA membership that can enhance a professional career and serve our community.

So, as any decent trial lawyer ought to do, let me offer some evidence.

Each year at our Annual Meeting, the OCBA honors members who are celebrating 40 years in practice, and this year, we tweaked the questionnaire that these honorees complete and provide to us in advance of the ceremony.

One new question asked of each 40-year honoree was “Why should a new lawyer in 2014 belong to the OCBA?” And many of the written answers were poignant, powerful and on-point with regard to why membership in the OCBA should matter to new lawyers. (Space limitations allow me only to share some of them here.)

“The practice of law is changing in an ever-increasing pace,” wrote James W. Heckman. “This bar can help you keep up with those changes. It can show you how to give back to the community … Most importantly, you can learn from others on how to balance your personal and professional life.”

Mark S. Papazian stated, “[T]he resources available to members of the bar now as opposed to 40 years ago are remarkable,” and that “getting your name ‘out there’ pays handsome dividends to your legal opponents, as well as the attorneys before whom you practice.”

Michael S. Hohauser, a former OCBA president, wrote, “This is a profession. It is not a part-time commitment. Every activity in which one can engage in that enhances one’s professionalism makes one a better lawyer. The OCBA offers numerous such events and activities.”

Conceding that he had “not taken advantage of the wonderful resources of the OCBA as much as I should have,” Jeffrey T. Stewart nonetheless wrote, “The main advantage … is the opportunity to learn from others what you cannot get from the books and building working relationships that will endure throughout one’s career.”

And Charles J. Taunt also focused on relationships, writing, “The practice of law is a relationships profession and business. You need to know your colleagues in private practice and the judges, facilitators and case evaluators before whom you will appear. The activities of the OCBA are the best way to build those relationships.”

The Hon. Joan E. Young of the Oakland County Circuit Court’s Family Division answered, “OCBA is the best opportunity to meet others in the legal profession,” citing her own experience early in her career in which she chaired the OCBA’s Membership Committee “and got to know everyone.”

Eric A. Andrzejak commented, “Membership in the OCBA allows new lawyers an opportunity to become acquainted with experienced lawyers and judges,” and that it also gives members “opportunities to become personally involved in programs promoting the practice of law within our local community.”

Ralph “Randy” Safford answered that OCBA membership “is the best way I know for a lawyer practicing in Oakland County to leverage a commitment to give back to our community.”

The messages from our 40-year honorees with regard to the value of OCBA membership for new members contained recurring themes – community, resources, relationships, giving back.

So if you are among the select few for whom this will be your last month of membership due to your renewal status, please call the OCBA now and stay on board. And for the rest of us, let’s remain committed to making sure that our newest members feel welcome so they remain with us and enjoy over the course of a career the intangible benefits of being part of the organization that is at the heart of this legal community.


Share your thoughts about the OCBA or anything else. Direct line: 248-502-0862. E-mail: thowlett@googasian.com.


Thomas H. Howlett, of The Googasian Firm PC, is the 82nd president of the Oakland County Bar Association. Share your thoughts about the OCBA or anything else: direct line 248-502-0862; or e-mail thowlett@googasian.com.