Washington Lawyer

From the President: ‘Service’ Motto Applies to Both Profession, Life

From Washington Lawyer, July/August 2014

By Brigida Benitez

Brigida BenitezI am proud and deeply honored to be the new president of the D.C. Bar. I follow in the footsteps of some of my personal heroes. Our bar, with more than 100,000 members, is the second-largest unified bar in the country, and, humbly, I believe it is the best. The leaders who have come before me, together with our extraordinary staff and our volunteers, have created an organization of which we can be proud. Our bar’s commitment to excellence and public service is unparalleled.

The Bar’s core mission is to enhance access to justice, improve the legal system, and empower lawyers to achieve excellence. Our service makes this mission a reality. Consequently, my theme for the coming Bar year is “Commitment to Service.” It encompasses how I view my role as president and my priorities during my tenure.

One of my priorities is to promote the Bar’s continued leadership and support for pro bono services and access to justice. Service to those in our community who need it most is perhaps the most important duty we have as attorneys. Our bar has excelled and has been a leader in this area. One of the highlights of my work with the Bar was serving on the Pro Bono Committee. I was privileged to work with Judge Vanessa Ruiz to help create a Spanish Language Advice and Referral Clinic (now the Immigration Legal Advice Clinic), which has served hundreds of people in need. It is immensely gratifying to know that with a small investment of time at a clinic, you have helped someone. It’s what our profession is all about.

The Bar’s Pro Bono Program is widely regarded as the best in the country. The challenge is to continue to find ways to better serve those with the greatest needs in our community. I am committed to building on our fine tradition through strategic planning for the Pro Bono Program to continue to serve the community in the best way possible.

I also plan to continue the Bar’s partnership with the D.C. Access to Justice Commission and work with our legal services providers who are in the trenches delivering critical legal services to the poor. By continuing to highlight these issues, working together, increasing our effectiveness, and providing good opportunities for our members to get involved, we can serve our community and continue to make a difference.

Another goal for me is to encourage mentors and role models for young lawyers so we can help them develop into leaders. I believe in the importance of creating and providing access to opportunities, opening the door wider, and helping others make their way through it. We can serve one another, as service can take the form of mentoring and leadership. I moved to Washington, D.C., years ago—the first lawyer in my family and the first college graduate. Never would I have imagined that I’d become D.C. Bar president. I am here because others served, so I, in turn, have sought to serve others.

My former partner, the late John Payton who served as Bar president from 2001–02, first got me involved with the D.C. Bar. John was a role model who became a mentor and a friend. I learned much from John, and he had a tremendous impact on my career. I enthusiastically support the Bar’s John Payton Leadership Academy, designed to identify and train our next generation of leaders. The Bar’s Board of Governors recently passed a resolution naming the academy after John Payton, which is a fitting tribute to a great lawyer and leader who cared about the development, training, and mentoring of young lawyers, and who believed in the importance of public service. I hope to expand our tradition of leadership by exposing our newest members and young lawyers to role models, mentors, and examples of the best values of our profession.

Also, as president, I plan to focus on service to our members and our profession. I plan to assemble a task force to examine the impact of the globalization of the legal profession. We have members throughout the United States and in 83 countries in the world. I see that as great promise and great opportunity. Our profession has become increasingly global and many members are engaged in cross-border practices. We’re also seeing more foreign lawyers practicing in the United States. The D.C. Bar historically has been at the forefront of cutting-edge issues, and we are well-positioned to have a leadership role in this evolving landscape.

Finally, I also plan to appoint a Strategic Planning Committee so the Bar can continue effectively and efficiently fulfilling its core objectives. I had the pleasure of serving on the Bar’s first Strategic Planning Committee five years ago. This is an ideal time to review that plan in light of changes in the profession, to consider the Bar’s key role, and to craft an updated strategic plan, all with a view to better serve our members and community.

We have an amazing history of leadership, excellence, and public service in the D.C. Bar. I’m honored to serve as president and to help continue these traditions. I ask the Board of Governors, the staff, and all of our members to join me to work together to enhance and advance our bar. I look forward to working with you.

Reach Brigida Benitez at bbenitez@dcbar.org.