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Washington Lawyer

Setting the Groundwork for Success Beyond 2020

From Washington Lawyer, June 2015

By Brigida Benitez

Brigida BenitezAs the D.C. Bar’s year comes to a close—and my tenure as president comes to an end—I wanted to update you on one of this year’s major initiatives, our commitment to strategic planning, both for the Bar and for the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program. We have had two ambitious and parallel efforts underway to set the groundwork for success in the next five years and beyond.

Last fall I appointed a 17-member Strategic Planning Committee representing the diversity of our membership to develop the Bar’s overall strategic plan, which we have titled “D.C. Bar 2020: A New Five-Year Horizon.” Under the leadership of chair and former D.C. Bar president Kim Keenan, the committee began its work by reviewing the significant changes that have occurred in the legal environment and in our community since our current strategic plan was adopted in 2009. This included a review of articles, white papers, reports and other thought pieces related to strategic thinking, challenges and opportunities for the profession to identify key themes and trends.

For our new plan to reflect the voice of the membership, the committee—through the tremendous efforts of Bar staff—undertook an unprecedented process and received feedback from thousands of D.C. Bar members via surveys, polling questions, and 21 in-person focus groups that covered a broad cross-section of our membership, including members living and working abroad.

The Strategic Planning Committee then synthesized all the information and feedback, identified strategic priorities, and set forth the key objectives or desired outcomes for each priority. The committee has presented the new plan to our Board of Governors, and I expect that the Board will adopt a final strategic plan this month.

Once the Board adopts a plan, the Bar staff will work to translate the strategic priorities and objectives into real-world implications for the initiatives, programs, and services that the D.C. Bar provides. The staff will develop a multi-year approach to deliver on the 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 evaluation process whereby priorities and objectives are vetted against performance.

A parallel and equally comprehensive strategic planning exercise has been underway by an 18-member Pro Bono Program Strategic Assessment Task Force, chaired by Jim Sandman, Legal Services Corporation president, immediate past chair of the Bar’s Pro Bono Committee and former Bar president. The task force, which is comprised of members of the Board and the Pro Bono Committee, key partners from legal services providers and law firms, and other stakeholders, has evaluated the full range of the Pro Bono Program’s services, and examined ways to maximize resources in the current legal environment.

The task force received input from many stakeholders through this process, including 15 D.C. Superior Court judges, 32 legal services providers, 213 law firm volunteers and pro bono coordinators, 391 specialized lawyers, and 521 clients. That does not even include the dozens of current and former members of the Pro Bono Committee and the Community Economic Development Project Advisory Committee, who provided feedback throughout the process. The task force collected information through electronic and in-person surveys and interviews, focus groups, and outreach meetings.

In conducting this enormous outreach, the task force was pleased with the overall positive response and gratitude expressed by those asked to provide feedback. It was especially gratifying that individual clients were overwhelmingly positive about the services they received. In addition, virtually all survey respondents—98 percent—agreed that the Pro Bono Program offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, and the vast majority of volunteers said that they received adequate training and support from the Pro Bono Program staff.

The process also has shown us where we need to do better to make sure our members understand the Pro Bono Program and its mission. For example, 60 percent of survey respondents were not aware that the Pro Bono Program is an independent, nonprofit legal services organization that does not receive member dues from the D.C. Bar to fund its operations. In the Bar’s strategic planning process, there was a similar question and almost 40 percent of those respondents were not aware of this distinction.

One of my priorities this year has been to promote the Bar’s continued leadership and support for pro bono services and access to justice. Our bar has excelled and been a leader in this area. I believe this strategic planning process will only strengthen the Pro Bono Program and will result in a roadmap for the future that will help guide programmatic activities and inform the use of resources, staffing, technology, fundraising, communications, and other priorities for the next five years, including long term financial sustainability and a new mechanism for regular program assessment.

Strategic planning has been an extraordinary undertaking, and I am deeply grateful to all the committee and task force volunteers, and especially to the staff, for their hard work in completing this process and setting the Bar and its Pro Bono Program on a continued course for success. It has been a pleasure working with all of them.

The D.C. Bar is a great organization with an incredibly impressive and diverse membership. It has been a privilege to serve as its president. And I am truly grateful to have had the love, support, and friendship of many amazing, respected lawyers out navigating the profession and making it a better place. I hope I have returned their friendship and made them proud.

Reach Brigida Benitez.