Washington Lawyer

D.C. Bar 2020: Forward Five Year

From Washington Lawyer, February 2016

By Sarah Kellogg

D.C. Bar 2020 magazine headerEvery organization can benefit from self-evaluation, especially one that has watched its industry change so significantly in recent years. Mindful of those changes, and looking toward an uncharted future, the District of Columbia Bar embarked on a comprehensive strategic planning exercise over the last year to seek ways to better meet the needs of its members and the profession. The first step of that evaluation and planning process, which was guided by the D.C. Bar 2020 Strategic Planning Committee, was the approval in June 2015 of "D.C. Bar 2020's" strategic priorities and objectives by the D.C. Bar Board of Governors.

Tim Webster on strategic planning"I think there has a been a lot of change in the profession over the last five years, but I think the more dramatic changes are what's happening now and what will happen in the next five years," says Tim Webster, D.C. Bar president, Strategic Planning Committee member, and partner at Sidley Austin LLP. "The time was ripe for reevaluating what the Bar has been doing and where we want to go in the future."

In fall 2014 the Board appointed the Committee, which was intentionally broad to reflect the diversity of practices and experiences in the profession, and charged it with revisiting the Bar's existing strategic plan and proposing revisions to direct the organization's activities and resources in the future.

The result was D.C. Bar 2020's strategic priorities and objectives, which outline five critical priorities for the Bar: leading within the legal profession, empowering individual members, enhancing member value, providing public service and professional excellence, and fostering community and connections.

By formalizing its review in a strategic planning process, the Bar looked to leverage a common tool of the business world and follow up on its ambitious and highly successful 2009 strategic plan, the first time the Bar had ever employed such a process.

While the first strategic planning process was more internally driven, the most recent undertaking was designed to be significantly more member-centric from the start. The Committee embarked on a journey to reach out to as many Bar members as possible and to embed their voices and concerns in the new plan.

And Bar members have spoken, clearly and resoundingly.

"This was a comprehensive listening exercise by the Committee, with the goal of building a plan that would strategically move the organization forward to deliver value to our members," says Katherine A. Mazzaferri, the Bar's chief executive officer. "These five priorities and 15 objectives paint a picture of what we heard."

Many of those objectives respond to the current state of the profession. The roll call of concerns, large and small, is long: the changing nature of the practice of law, an increased movement of lawyers between firms, the evolving client demands on firms, a proliferation of nonlawyer legal options, the reluctance of newly minted attorneys to join groups and associations, and the shifting demographics of clients and lawyers.

"Based on what we saw in our surveys and focus groups, one thing is clear. The law may have been a static profession, but we're living in a time where the law is no less static than the lawyers the Bar serves," says Kim M. Keenan, the Committee chair, a past president of the Bar, and president and chief executive officer of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council.

Kim Keenan"If our members have upheaval, we have upheaval. Part of our responsibility is to counsel them to be flexible in the face of those changes. We at the Bar are going to have to be more flexible and more willing to apply different models and communicate in different ways at this time in our history," Keenan adds.

The D.C. Bar 2020 strategic priorities and objectives will allow the Bar to thoughtfully gauge its current activities and to build a set of initiatives for each distinct priority, and across priorities, to achieve the desired outcomes and goals, not just today but into the future.

Like most strategic planning initiatives, the success of this one will be plotted with hindsight and not at the beginning or middle of the process. To this date in the process, Committee members have described a collegial, sincere, and creative undertaking that has allowed for a full-bodied debate and an openness to the Bar's goals as it travels the long road to 2020.

A Phased Process

By definition, strategic planning is more sophisticated and takes longer to complete than a simple review. The Bar's process is a continuous one, supported by the Board of Governors and with delegated responsibilities to the staff. The entire process includes four distinct phases to ensure the final strategy is clearly stated, successfully executed, sufficiently measured, and properly evaluated.

The Board launched Phase 1 by appointing the 17-member Strategic Planning Committee in September 2014 to develop the strategic priorities and objectives that would serve as the foundation of the Bar's second five-year strategic plan. Under the leadership of Keenan, the Committee met four times between December 2014 and May 2015. Members examined changes in the legal industry and their implications, as well as the evolution of the Washington, D.C., legal community since the adoption of the Bar's first strategic plan.

To set the stage for its deliberations, the Committee oversaw an environmental analysis (40 documents) and significant member outreach (surveys, focus groups, and polling). The substance of that work allowed the Committee to craft the strategic priorities and objectives underpinning the Bar's ultimate plan document. With those items identified, the Bar's elected leadership and staff will undertake the necessary next steps of identifying the organizational implications of those priorities and objectives and defining the strategic goals and initiatives to bring the strategy into reality.

"You design a plan for the next five years, and you know there are always going to be changes in the profession and changes to how lawyers practice law," says Brigida Benitez, a Committee member, the Bar's immediate past president, and a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP. "We saw from the implementation of the strategic plan in 2009 to the present that there were tremendous changes in the legal profession. That's why it was important to take another look and to have a plan in place for the next five years that reflects those changes."

The environmental review cast a wide net, examining articles, white papers, reports, and other thought pieces related to strategic thinking and challenges and opportunities for the legal profession. The purpose of the review was to identify key themes and trends within the profession broadly in order to establish a context for discussions about how the D.C. Bar must respond in support of its members.

The environmental scan also established the framework for the outreach process, guiding the design of the survey questions in outlining major trends, including changing business models, technology, globalization and outsourcing, attorney supply and demand, attorney training and development, and diversity.

To ensure the strategic planning process reflected the panoply of Bar members' views, the Committee sent online surveys to members en masse, and thousands responded. Trends outlined in the survey were explored more deeply in 21 separate focus groups, which drew participants from a broad cross-section of the Bar's membership, including those living and working abroad.

The issues that surfaced in the focus groups and electronic surveys were significant. Lawyers felt the challenges in adapting to a rapidly changing employment environment; the concerns about maintaining skills at all career stages; the struggles with stress and work–life balance issues; the need for increased member programming, both in person and remotely; the desire for assistance with career transitions; and the challenges in keeping up with technology and high-tech tools.

Drilling down deep, the Committee synthesized all the information and feedback, identified strategic priorities, and set forth the key objectives and desired outcomes for each priority. Its ultimate recommendations were presented to the Board last May and approved in June.

In the next few months, the gritty work of finalizing an overall strategy for the Bar switches to the staff, which will ascertain the implications of the priorities and objectives to the organization and its members, and then work with the Bar's elected leadership to identify resources, strategic goals, initiatives, and key performance indicators that will be necessary for implementation to begin.

Beginning in 2016, the strategic planning process will move through its remaining stages: Phase 2 (execution of strategy), Phase 3 (performance monitoring), and Phase 4 (strategy evaluation).

Broad and Substantial Input

The process that resulted in the Bar's adoption of its new strategic priorities and objectives was a robust one. At the heart of the planning process—and the driving force behind it—was the Bar's commitment to member outreach. In fact, the priorities and objectives in the Bar's new five-year plan are founded upon an energetic and all-encompassing member outreach effort.

The Strategic Planning Committee received survey responses from 2,452 members, including government lawyers, contract attorneys, solo practitioners, in-house counsel, active and inactive members, lawyers working overseas, and members of the judiciary. A total of 2,485 members responded to four targeted online polls, and 346 members participated in 21 focus groups.

Member input was extremely valuable, particularly in discussions that touched upon member policies, education, and outreach programs in specific practice areas.

The majority of members who responded to the polls—62 percent—came from the Washington metropolitan region. Forty-one percent of those surveyed indicated they were required to belong to the Bar versus 59 percent who were making a "value-based buy decision." That in itself sent an important message to the organization about the value of a D.C. Bar membership for attorneys near and far.

Survey respondents also expressed their desire for the D.C. Bar, the second largest unified bar in the country, with members in every state and 83 countries, to continue to serve as a leader in the legal profession.

The key findings of the polling showed that 43 percent of respondents believe the Bar can add value by facilitating thought leadership and by convening diverse groups to discuss issues facing the legal profession;55 percent said the Bar would make the greatest impact in a changing legal market by dividing its training resources equally to serve new and veteran attorneys;and 12 percent of members felt they had been negatively impacted by the globalization trend in the profession. The survey findings aligned with the in-person feedback.

Not all the news was good, though. Only 28 percent of those surveyed gave the Bar positive ratings on how the organization has served them in their area of practice, and only 22 percent of respondents said the Bar has been valuable to them or their professional development and career movement. Committee members considered this a seminal point to be addressed in the new priorities.

Especially telling results came in questions about Bar members changing practice areas. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed said they had switched practice areas during their careers. Twenty percent of them were forced to make those changes, while 37 percent did so based on their personal interests and 39 percent made the switch as a career strategy.

"The words 'new normal' were tossed around a lot," says Moses Cook, a Committee member, a member of the Board of Governors, and the executive director of D.C. Law Students in Court, a nonprofit that trains law students by having them work with low-income clients in the D.C. Courts. "We're definitely in a new normal in the way law is going to be practiced in the future. It's clear our members are trying to adapt to those changes."

 

Priority 1: Leading Within the Legal Profession

Among the five priorities identified in D.C. Bar 2020, the first one was widely expressed. Across geographic and practice areas, Bar members said they wanted to see the Bar function more actively as a leader in the legal profession. Most significantly, the members encouraged the Bar to foster more thoughtful conversations and to convene additional discussion groups on key issues affecting the profession.

To meet that goal, it was suggested that the Bar bring together key individuals and organizations within the profession to help define, evaluate, and identify opportunities in response to existing and emerging issues and challenges. This goal is consistent with the Bar's role of representing members across the entire spectrum of perspectives on any given matter.

"The D.C. Bar has the potential to be an international legal force and beyond," wrote one survey participant. Some 45 percent of those polled believe the Bar could offer resources to help organizations in assessing the effects of larger economic forces on the legal industry, such as changing technology and client-pricing structure.

Priority 1's strategic objectives look to enhance the work the Bar has already begun. The plan calls for Bar staff to commit to growth in the areas of thought leadership, collaborative problem solving, and organizational and operational excellence.

Under the objective of thought leadership, the Bar is expected to use its gravitas in the community to be the leading voice on important domestic and global issues that impact the legal profession, including the delivery of, and removal of barriers to, access to justice for underserved communities.

It also was recommended that the Bar put greater emphasis on partnerships and collaborations with other organizations to address immediate and long-term opportunities and challenges for the profession, its members, and the public interest.

To continue its leadership role, the Bar is encouraged to consider acquiring, retaining, and showcasing the skills and expertise of its talented staff; leveraging technologies; and conducting efficiency and effectiveness reviews of programs and processes. Moreover, the five-year time horizon should be at the forefront of the minds of Bar officers and executive staff as they strive for long-term financial sustainability and resiliency.

Priority 2: Empowering Individuals

A central theme that emerged during the focus groups was the members' need for greater variety in career choices, and the ability to achieve professional mobility when or if it is needed. That was especially true among members who indicated that a career change had been imposed upon them at some point in their professional lives.

"We talked a lot about career changes and career challenges, and not just for younger attorneys. A significant number of mature attorneys are facing layoffs because of industry consolidation," says Suzanne Folsom, a Committee member and general counsel, chief compliance officer, and senior vice president for government affairs at U.S. Steel Corporation. "We need to find ways to work with those individuals who either voluntarily want to make a change or involuntarily are thrust into a situation and forced to make a transition."

One of the objectives under this priority is for the Bar to establish frameworks for members to explore career changes by drawing on the expertise of Bar members and the profession at large. The Bar could create additional programming to address the opportunities and challenges members may encounter in their professional journeys.

"Many of us have bounced between law, business, and policy for our careers," wrote one poll respondent. "Career development services should be available to that group, which could be tapped as volunteers and donors. Law is no longer a single life-long profession but one of several skill sets active professionals can leverage."

Fundamentally, the strategy seeks to foster within the Bar ecosystem a soup-to-nuts guide to what members need to know to enhance their awareness and ability to identify relevant professional choices.

It also was noted that the Bar should provide its members with opportunities, both in person and virtually, to consider new career options and trajectories by identifying and addressing gaps in strengths, skills, and experience, and by developing both technical expertise and technological competence in the practice of law.

Another objective encourages the Bar to provide resources and experiences for individuals at every stage of their professional careers, from the soon-to-graduate law students to attorneys who are considering retirement but may still wish to contribute.

"We're trying to ensure that our members are able to use the Bar for professional opportunities and the development of new career possibilities and networking prospects," says Amy L. Bess, a Committee member and a shareholder at Vedder Price P.C. "The Bar must be able to support our members at every phase of their careers, whether they're brand-new lawyers and entering the Bar or members winding down their practices at the end of their careers."

Priority 3: Enhancing Member Value

With more than 100,000 members in 83 countries, the Bar is presented with a particular challenge in determining what constitutes value for such a diverse and dispersed community. But by effectively growing and communicating its brand, the Bar has an opportunity to provide both real and perceived value in being a member of one of the premier bars in the country.

"Enhancing member value is something the Bar has to focus on to be able to show what its value proposition is for D.C. Bar members at this point in time," says Folsom. "It's not the same for each of us. It depends on where we are in our careers and what we're doing in our lives. The Bar needs to communicate and identify value for [Bar members] individually and as a whole."

To reach that goal, the Bar should work proactively to evaluate the needs and interests of its individual members, as well as its discreet member segments and cross-segments, to come up with a sophisticated value proposition model and to encourage and support greater individual member engagement.

Whenever leveraging the latest technologies, the Bar should seek proactively to communicate their unique value to members. In this way, the Bar would ensure that value is delivered in a manner that aligns with the diverse and disparate locations of its members.

"I am not physically located in D.C., but want to attend the CLE and training events," wrote a poll participant. "Please provide remote connectivity for these events."

A final, and most important, objective is to deliver a consistently superior service experience to members and other key stakeholders of the Bar, in person or virtually, through leading-edge technologies, in keeping with the Bar's superior member value offerings and standing as one of the premier bars in the country.

Priority 4: Providing Public Service and Professional Excellence

A foundational component of the Bar's mission is its ongoing commitment to public service. The cornerstone of that mission is addressing the public's need for superior legal representation. To achieve this, the Bar must verify the levels of competence and ethical standards of its members to ensure they are of the highest caliber.

Additionally, the Bar must commit to promoting and supporting access to justice for low-income individuals by advocating for increased pro bono services in the District of Columbia while also expanding public awareness of this challenge.

As one survey participant noted: "I did not go to law school to make money. I did not go to law school to seek career accolades. I went to law school to become prepared to seek justice. Although these objectives are not mutually exclusive, the D.C. Bar's value to me would increase if it tilted more toward the latter."

Furthermore, the Bar must serve the profession and the public interest by providing continuing education that reaches members locally, nationally, and globally—as a component of its efforts to invest in and support the technical and technological proficiency as well as the overall professional excellence of its members.

To guarantee the success of these efforts, the Bar must provide the right level of resources to support the membership in upholding the highest ethical standards of practice and to ensure the appropriate enforcement of the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct.

Priority 5: Fostering Community and Connections

An overwhelming number of responses from members focused on their desire to network and connect, both in person and online, with other individuals and organizations within the profession.

They cited the Bar as uniquely positioned to convene groups and foster opportunities for self-directed exchanges of ideas and information around practice specialty and areas of interest locally, nationally, and globally.

Members see the Bar as expanding its role as an important in-person and virtual professional gathering place, fostering rewarding connections that focus on being part of a critically important profession.

It is envisioned that the Bar would facilitate connections within its dispersed and diverse community through engagements that allow members to share their expertise and experience. "It would be helpful and valuable if the Bar provided online forums where members can ask and answer substantive questions," noted one survey participant.

It also is recommended that the Bar provide virtual opportunities for conversation and collaboration among members. In doing so, the Bar should migrate its catalog of programming and offerings online, making them consumable wherever a member may be located.

Shifting From Planning to Execution

Given the scope of the Bar's new priorities and objectives, its current resources, and the interdependency of the objectives, the Strategic Planning Committee recognized the need to sequence the implementation of the new strategic plan and to give the Bar's leadership time to execute and champion the necessary changes.

"The implementation phase, no doubt, is the more difficult one," says Benitez, the Bar's immediate past president. "It's in some respects easier to come up with the themes, priorities, and objectives that the Bar should follow than to implement all of them."

Because the Bar staff will have authority to recommend programs and processes in response to the strategic plan, much of the practical effects of the process will be overseen by them. In fact, the staff should prove to be integral to identifying areas where opportunities and challenges may emerge, or where enhancements might be required.

"The staff portion of the planning is an important part because that's where we activate those big, broad goals into actual activities," says Keenan, the Committee chair. "They're going to add the magic, and they're going to create the path forward. The Committee said this is where we want to go. It's up to the staff to say how we're going to get there and to do it cost effectively."

While the Committee established a high-level foundation for the strategic plan for the next five years, the execution will come from the grit and hard work of the Bar staff. They will have to balance the various needs internally in developing more detailed project plans and assigning resources to them.

With the Board's adoption of D.C. Bar 2020, the Bar staff will immediately work to translate the plan's strategic priorities and objectives into real-world implications for the initiatives, programs, and services the Bar already provides. The staff will likely develop a multiyear approach to deliver on certain identified initiatives. There also would be an annual evaluation of the strategy so that, as opposed to waiting for five-year intervals, there can be a more robust review process whereby performance is vetted against priorities and objectives.

"It's such a labor-intensive effort that the staff needed to be in both the processes, invoking and assessing what the landscape looks like and trying to make an estimate and predictions of the needs of our constituents in five years," says Bess, a Committee member. "It's like trying to see through a crystal ball."

The strategic plan can be used to frame new ideas, projects, decisions, challenges, or conversations. It also can be used as a starting point in budget discussions, a common language leading in lengthy and engaged debates about the Bar's financial future.

An important ingredient of this process will be the flexibility for staff to make course adjustments, revise strategies, and reallocate resources if and when necessary. Moreover, a culture of accountability at all levels and effective communication will best serve the process of implementing the plan.

A Corresponding Path

Operating on a parallel and equally ambitious track during the strategic planning process was the Bar's 19-member Pro Bono Center Strategic Assessment Task Force. The task force assessed the Pro Bono Center's current services, and examined ways to maximize resources. James J. Sandman, president of Legal Services Corporation, former Bar president, and former chair of the Bar's Pro Bono Committee, chaired the task force.

Here, too, input from stakeholders played an important role in the task force's deliberations. More than a thousand stakeholders from law firms, government agencies, other legal services providers, clients, and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia participated in the assessment through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and outreach meetings.

Stakeholders found the Pro Bono Center's strengths to include a high capacity to fill the critical, unmet legal needs of thousands of low-income individuals and a wide range of volunteer opportunities across all sectors of the legal profession. However, a key survey finding revealed that people were confused about the relationship between the D.C. Bar and the Pro Bono Center. About 60 percent of respondents did not realize that the Pro Bono Center is a separate, nonprofit legal services provider whose operations are not funded by Bar member dues. In addition, the focus groups and interviews overwhelmingly indicated that many were not aware of the Center's overall services and resources, including its legal services for community-based nonprofits and small businesses.

Three priorities for the future direction of the Pro Bono Center emerged from the process: (1) promoting an increase of pro bono services in the District of Columbia; (2) providing innovative pro bono leadership; and (3) ensuring long-term financial sustainability and resilience. In addition, the task force recommended a new name—the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center—that more accurately reflects the comprehensive services the organization offers to Bar members and the public. The name was announced in June at the 2015 Presidents' Reception fundraising event welcoming Webster as the Bar's 44th president.

Going Forward

Like any process that looks ahead, the proof will be in the final result. Depending on practice area, some of the priorities and objectives identified by the Strategic Planning Committee may seem far-fetched and ill-advised given today's circumstances. Others may seem so obvious as to disappear in plain sight, yet they linger as issues of concern for many Bar members. The value of the process will be determined in the coming years, of course, but strategic planning itself has already proved valuable in fine tuning ideas and expectations.

The newly established strategic priorities and objectives will allow the Bar to assess the depth and breadth of its current activities, and to spotlight potential flaws that need to be repaired, adjusted, or removed.

"Organizations like the D.C. Bar are key for people as they look to advance, expand, and transition their careers," says Folsom. "Strategic planning is a living process. I don't think by the time we get to 2020 we will be able to say we're done yet, but that is a good result. This is an ongoing, living process."


Sarah Kellogg is a regular contributor to Washington Lawyer.