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Chinn: Super February

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iba-chinn-scottUsually, there would be no reason to expect February to be a “hot” month for the City and for the IndyBar. But this is no usual February.

The midyear meetings of the American Bar Association were held in New Orleans earlier this month. As bad luck would have it, the meetings overlapped Super Bowl week in Indianapolis and for some even Super Bowl Sunday itself. But despite the conflict, a number of IndyBar leaders made the trip to the Crescent City to take part in the meetings, to represent the IndyBar, and to fulfill various speaking obligations.

And let’s be honest, if you are going to miss a portion of the Super Bowl festivities in Indianapolis, New Orleans isn’t the worst place to drown your sorrows. The meeting week did start with a sense of foreboding in that when we arrived in New Orleans, we immediately saw on the television monitors that Punxsutawney Phil had committed us to six more weeks of winter. But after a brief bout of rodent-inspired profanity, the situation improved.

The IndyBar has long been a leader among bars in the country and that was on display during the meetings. IndyBar Past President and Metropolitan Bar Caucus Board Member John Kautzman moderated a panel on judicial selection issues at the National Conference of Bar Presidents (NCBP) meetings. And IndyBar Past President and NCBP Membership Committee Member Chris Hickey moderated an NCBP panel on strategies to attract and retain new members. Both panel discussions were very well received.

Another happy development in New Orleans was news that the Indianapolis Bar Foundation is the recipient of the National Conference of Bar Foundations (NCBF) Fundraising for Success Award for the IBF’s “Giving Level Improvement Program” – an initiative that raised funds from targeted donors at the end of the 2011 giving year and permitted the IBF to exceed its campaign goals for the year. I was pleased to make a presentation on that initiative and about the importance of IndyBar/IBF collaboration to a gathering of the NCBF representatives.

While we were in New Orleans, we received innumerable positive comments and well wishes from lawyers all over the country regarding the success of Super Bowl activities and coverage up to that point. There is no question that being from the IndyBar had some cache, because of the events in Indianapolis. And as heartwarming as that is, the point of the meetings is to learn about bar activities around the country and about trends in the profession. So, let me briefly recap three issues we heard about from our peers in other places.

First, there remains a deep concern about declining membership in many bars around the country. While IndyBar membership has actually been increasing over the past few years, our leadership is focused on making sure IndyBar members continue to derive value from membership. Because February is literally the “drop” deadline for IndyBar members that haven’t renewed, please take a moment to make sure that you have. We value your membership and your input.

Second, there was a discussion among metropolitan bars about the increased need for pro bono or subsidized legal services, especially in the family law area. That confirmed what we already know about our community. As we’ve communicated before, IndyBar has committed to take a more active role to assist the Heartland Pro Bono Council and to communicate with the local legal services providers. IndyBar Past President Mike Hebenstreit is leading that effort.

Finally, serious concerns persist about our new lawyer colleagues that are having trouble finding legal jobs. Some bars are trying pilot programs and engaging in other outreach efforts to help students find jobs, gain skills, and cope with hanging out their own shingles. We are “ears wide open” about those issues. I tend to think the most important thing we can do about this problem in the short term is informal – established lawyers spending time meeting and networking with new lawyers who are unemployed or underemployed. You may not have a job to offer, but you have some ideas, some wisdom, and some encouragement to offer – and these interactions inevitably lead to positive results down the road.

It’s good to be back in town, basking in the glow of a Super Bowl week well executed and that put some warmth (literally and figuratively) into February in a City that is usually a little bleak this time of year.

Stay warm.•

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