A Sad Sight
I have been attending OSB conventions since 1977. That's over 20 years. For most of that time they were extremely vital and lively. Issues of great importance were thrashed out on the floor. Speakers from all types of practices and of all ages rose to speak and, eventually, to vote. The bar was a living organism and its members fully involved feeling connected to each other and the bar. The convention halls were full of attorneys, right to the back wall. The atmosphere was often electric.
We discussed specialization, whether there should be a statement about the death penalty, whether Legal Aid should still get funding and other, less exotic, but still critical issues. The convention was a place where new lawyers met their entire, extended 'family.'
Then, some years ago, in what appeared to many of us to be kind of a stealth action, the bar went to the legislature and changed, forever, the bar's convention format from town hall to house of delegates. (At the most recent convention another attorney, well respected in the bar, amazed me by stating his same feeling that this was achieved, in effect, without alerting the membership. He mentioned some sort of resolution that could or should have gone to the membership for vote but instead was taken, quietly, to the legislature. Why was it necessary to have the legislature make this decision? Perhaps because the membership did not support it and would not approve it.)
To say that I was upset about being disenfranchised would be an understatement. I thought perhaps I was alone but I have found that I am not alone. Over the years, from comments made by other attorneys, it appears that many members, delegates and non-delegates, find the house of delegates system a real disappointment and the reason they no longer feel any attachment to the bar.
I attended the last convention a few days ago. During meals and the opens sessions, I heard again and again from attorneys that the house of delegates system wasn't working for them and that they no longer felt connected to the bar.
I attended the house of delegates program this year and I have to say it was a pretty sad sight. A portion of the membership, not even filling half the room, cordoned off from the others, those not permitted to vote. Most of the attendees had left. Why stay when you can't vote? What I saw was a mere shell of the vibrant entity I remember. It looked shrunken and withered.
The atmosphere was subdued and even depressing. There was a strong 'us and them' sense. That does not appear to me to be the way to stay in touch with your members.
I would strongly recommend that you ask the members whether they want to retain the town hall format. With today's electronics we can 'patch in' members from all over the state. They can listen from home and vote from home.
As a young lawyer I learned so much and gained so much from being able to attend town hall meetings where the entire membership spoke up. There was a history, and there were all sorts of viewpoints. For one day I was connected to all the members from all the firms, big and small.
Perhaps it is easier to control your membership under a town hall format and perhaps that was a factor. Or perhaps someone wanted us to look like a 'big bar.' I don't know and I don't care. I think the price, of alienated members and greatly decreased participation, is too high to pay for whatever the perceived benefit was.
Let's determine whether there are a sufficient number of us out there who care or want a change. Watch your response. If I am the lone voice on this issue - so be it and I will drop it. If not, perhaps it is a matter which should be given further consideration.
Note: The matter of the OSB House of Delegates
has been discussed for about 30 years. In 1992, the Board of Governors
submitted a plan to a vote of the OSB membership. Some 9,346 eligible
ballots were sent out, and 3,367 ballots were returned. The concept was
endorsed by a vote or 2,020 to 1,224 (62.3 percent to 37.7 percent). In
1995, the legislature enacted the plan. The first house of delegates meeting
was held in 1996 in Medford.
George Reimer's August/September Bar Counsel column, Officers of the Court: what does it mean? does a good job of stating the law and analyzing the duties and responsibilities of attorneys. However, he misses the point. His analysis reminds me of the non-importance of counting the number of angels on the head of a pin.
Although there may not be 'officer of the court' duties and obligations distinct and separate from those generally imposed upon attorneys, the term conveys a powerful message to the community and the courts. Sure, we are paid to 'fight like hell' for our clients, but we are also employed to responsibly counsel them. When we litigate, in the eyes of society, we are holding ourselves up to a most visible standard. It is a powerful privilege to enter a courtroom and assume the role of an 'officer of the court.' The courtroom aura that surrounds us and the legal spoor that we emit not only suggest, but demand, that, as servants of the people, we are under a special duty (not legal, George) to conduct ourselves civilly, honestly and above reproach. That's what it is, and that's what we do.