Annual Events

Leadership Academy's Michelle Bercovici

Michelle Bercovici, photo courtesy of Alden Law GroupAt Alden Law Group, PLLC, senior associate Michelle Bercovici is one of five attorneys at the boutique/small firm. For the past eight years, she has put in countless hours of substantive case work. So when Bercovici heard about the D.C. Bar’s John Payton Leadership Academy, she wasn’t sure if the experience was right for her.

“I initially thought that the Leadership Academy was going to be something for new lawyers, right out of law school who are just figuring things out,” Bercovici said. This idea was quickly dispelled as she learned more about the Academy. “It is a program designed for people from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. It’s really for anyone with a passion for leadership,” she said.

Bercovici applied and was accepted to the first class of the Leadership Academy in 2013. During the program, it became apparent that the inaugural class was not only a passionate group of attorneys, but a fun one as well. When asked about her most memorable session, Bercovici couldn’t pinpoint one experience. There were the intensive workshops focusing on skill-building and strength-finding and interactive sessions focusing on applying on those skills. There was the tower building exercise (items may have been taped to the ceiling, she laughed) and working together at the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program’s Advice & Referral Clinic.

Part of the value of the program to Bercovici was the diversity of content provided, including inspiring discussions about leadership with active Bar and community leaders, such as Kim Keenan, president and CEO of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council and former D.C. Bar president, Annamaria Steward, associate dean of students at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, and Jim Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation and former D.C. Bar president.

To this day, the first class of the Leadership Academy keeps in touch. They e-mail each other questions. They send invites to social gatherings. They connect.  “A lot of the memorable parts were really about that community we had and building that community,” she said of her Academy peers, who called themselves “The Guild.”

While coming from a small firm can add its own challenges—work commitments are high and free time is rare—Bercovici highly recommends the program to other small firm attorneys. “When your day-to-day universe is very small, it’s nice to have this ongoing connection to leaders from a variety of backgrounds. You get a variety of perspectives that you can then bring back to the firm,” she said. Participants also gain access to strategic planning and corporate consultants, and have time set aside for professional development with a strong focus on examining their own skill sets.

As for time constraints, Bercovici said it was never an issue. The three full-day sessions, as well as the visit to the Advice & Referral Clinic, are planned months in advance and scheduled several weeks apart. She also found the spacing of the sessions beneficial. “It gives you time to actually digest and apply these lessons in the interim,” she said.

Nearly two years after graduating, Bercovici continues to use the skills she gained during the Academy at both her job and in her roles in the larger community, including as chair-elect of the D.C. Bar Sections Council where she will work with the 20 sections to collaborate efficiently and effectively.

In reflecting on her experience with the Leadership Academy, Bercovici said one of her biggest takeaways from the program was trusting her own strength and leadership skills. “I’m a younger attorney,” she said. “I’m getting used to the fact that being young doesn’t mean you can’t inspire folks. You don’t need to be the charismatic person in the front of the room. Being a leader is often helping others shine.”