By Ona Alston Dosunmu
Welcome to 2020! It’s hard to believe it’s the second decade of the 21st century. I’m looking forward to a number of things in the coming year but I also spent a fair amount of time during the holiday hiatus reflecting on 2019 and thinking about the longer-term future of the California Lawyers Association. The result of all that hard thinking? Today I’m more convinced than ever of CLA’s extraordinary potential. I believed it in August of 2018 when I spoke to a number of you in the interview process. I believed it when I arrived at my new home a year ago to take the helm of CLA. And now, as CLA begins its third year of existence and as I enter the second year of my journey with you, I remain firm in my belief that we can grow and thrive—not only in the next decade but for the foreseeable future. But doing so requires letting go of the past and embracing the future.
Now that I have a year of learning under my belt, I have greater clarity about what it will take for our bar association to achieve its full potential as THE bar association for all California attorneys. Some of what the future holds for us is out of our control but much of what success requires is fully within our sphere of influence. I believe that one of the keys to retaining and effectively meeting the needs of existing members as well as successfully attracting new members is breaking down the silos that exist within the association and removing barriers among the various component parts of the association. Why? Because the cliché about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts is absolutely true for CLA.
Imagine a mid-year associate at a big firm who began her life as a litigation associate. Let’s call her Beth. As is often the case, Beth needs to understand a broad array of legal issues. She needs practical courtroom skills, which our Litigation Section is well-positioned to provide. But she also needs to know her clients’ businesses and industries. She needs to understand the genesis of the disputes they face. Gaining that understanding may involve learning about environmental issues—a need best met by the Environmental Law Section. It may involve a deep understanding of insurance issues—expertise housed in our Business Law Section. Perhaps she encounters an ethical question. Those best positioned to help her find an answer are the experts assembled in the Ethics Committee—in fact, it’s likely they’ve already opined on the issue she’s facing. Later, Beth may opt to go solo. We have a Section for that. Or she may go in-house where she needs to be more of a generalist. Or perhaps she becomes a partner through development of a niche specialty that requires her to go deep into a particular area of law—antitrust, for example. We have a Section for that too!
Figuring out how to be of service to Beth and to all of our current and prospective members in a way that unlocks the full value CLA offers and that meets her needs every step along the way of her professional life is the ultimate goal and challenge. If we’re successful, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.