By Nena Cook
"I Will Follow Our President Anywhere She Goes, Unless It Is Too Scary, Dangerous, or Raining…"
Those prescient words from an Oregon State Bar member wonderfully describe my experience as president of a mandatory bar with nearly 13,000 active members, many of whom feel passionately about their professional organization. Each year, the Oregon State Bar president comes into office with great hopes, dreams and aspirations. Those goals can only be accomplished with the help of a dedicated board of governors. I was fortunate to serve with just such a group and am grateful for their many hours of hard work and for the support they exhibited throughout the year. Without each one of these talented individuals, we could not have implemented three significant initiatives — initiatives that I hope will continue to enrich the professional lives of all OSB members.
When I took office, one of my main goals was to encourage participation and increase opportunities in the bar for women and lawyers of color. To that end, we improved the percentages of women and lawyers of color who write chapters in our CLE publications and who speak at bar-sponsored CLE seminars. We actively recruited these lawyers to run for the Board of Governors and House of Delegates and appointed many of these qualified lawyers to serve on bar committees. We hope to continue this goal in 2006 with the establishment of the Oregon State Bar Leadership College.
The mission of the Leadership College is to train, recruit and retain emerging leaders for the bar and the state’s legal community by focusing on leadership development, diversity, communication and professionalism. The Leadership College Advisory Board, comprised of distinguished lawyers and judges from throughout the state, will work with participants to identify their specific training needs and define a strategy to develop those targeted skills over the year. You can learn more about the Leadership College from the bar’s website.
Loan Repayment Assistance
The second major initiative we launched this year was a statewide Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). Through the efforts of recent law school graduates and the Hon. Ann Aiken, the board’s Access to Justice Committee chaired by Linda Eyerman decided to focus on building support for such a program. Each of Oregon’s three law schools has programs that assist law school graduates who would like to go into public service, but who cannot afford to do so because of their staggering debt load. Over the past ten years, tuition at all three Oregon law schools has risen between 37 and 52 percent. In 1993, law school graduates carried an average debt of about $37,500. Now, that average has grown to $75,000, and about one-fifth of law students face debts of more than $105,000. More than half of those students still had unpaid debt from their undergraduate institutions.
In April, a group of representatives from the bar, the Campaign for Equal Justice and the Oregon Law Center traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Oregon’s congressional delegation to discuss, among other things, their support for federal debt forgiveness for those involved in public interest work. In addition, the Board of Governors requested that the House of Delegates approve a $50 per lawyer dues increase, with $5 of that increase dedicated to the initial funding of a statewide LRAP program. The house approved that request effective Jan. 1, 2006.
The Access to Justice Committee will be charged with developing a structure for LRAP including program oversight, administration and funding options. We expect to make the first distributions in the fall of 2006.
Our final significant accomplishment this year was signing a letter of intent for the construction of a new bar office building. Over the past two years the future of the bar center has been the subject of great study and discussion. While the number of bar employees has been growing at half the rate of the growth of our membership, we estimated that the present facilities would be at capacity in five to seven years.
Under the leadership of Frank Hilton, who chairs the board’s Budget and Finance Committee, the board studied various alternatives and determined that remodeling the current facility was not a viable long-term solution. By constructing a new building, we will provide more space not only for the bar’s staff, but also for bar members attending CLE seminars and other bar-sponsored events. By establishing a designated space for CLE seminars, the OSB will save the money it now spends on facility rentals and will be better able to serve our members with advanced video technology and streaming video for those attending CLE seminars electronically. All members will receive more information about the new bar center in the coming weeks. Construction, which will be located near the current bar center, is expected to begin in late 2006.
I leave office having logged 1,276 hours and traveled over 10,000 miles in my capacity as president. It has been my distinct privilege to meet with so many of you and represent the Oregon State Bar from the halls of our nation’s capital in Washington, D.C. to the local restaurant in Coos Bay, one of my favorite cities in our state. During this year, you have been kind enough to share with me your thoughts, suggestions, ideas and yes, even directives. We have accomplished some good things together and made the Oregon State Bar an even stronger institution than it was before.
I would like to thank my partners and colleagues at Sussman Shank, who assisted and supported me during my presidency. These wonderful people helped in immeasurable ways. I want to especially thank my partner, family and friends for their love and patience. My son was four months old when I took office. He has now grown and developed into a beautifully inquisitive child. His favorite toy is a small wooden gavel that is engraved with the words "President of the Oregon State Bar." I hope he someday has an opportunity to experience what it means to be a member of a great institution like ours.
Thank you for the tremendous honor of serving as your president. It was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.
Apply to the 2006 OSB Leadership College
Do you want to be better prepared for leadership opportunities and challenges? Would you like a chance to meet and interact with prominent legal and community leaders; develop leadership skills; explore long-term opportunities for leadership; and form a lifelong network?
If you answered yes to these questions then you should consider applying for admission to become a fellow of the Oregon State Bar 2006 Leadership College. The mission of the Leadership College is to recruit, train, and retain emerging leaders for the legal community and the Oregon State Bar. The college will focus on general leadership development, diversity, communication skills and professionalism. Fellows of the Leadership College will be selected based on demonstrated leadership potential with special attention to diversity of all types. Fellows will commit to a one-year program consisting of five three-hour sessions over the course of 2006. The program is available at no cost.
If you have demonstrated leadership potential and have been admitted to the OSB for three years or more, complete the application available at www.osbar.org or by calling (503) 620-0222, ext. 384. Deadline is Dec. 15.
© 2005 Nena Cook