Dubois-Mark
Attorney Mark Dubois ()

To those of you who have better things to do than keep track of my career, I just became the president of the Connecticut Bar Association. Some will wonder as to the wisdom of any organization that would choose me to lead it. Point well taken. It may have had something to do with supply and demand. I am as surprised as anyone.

So my editor asked me whether I would continue to write this weekly column, now that I have a new title. I think I will, as long as folks understand that when I pontificate here, I am speaking for myself and not the organization I lead. Official announcements and CBA policy statements will be in Connecticut Lawyer. What you read here is just what one friend calls “Mark being Mark.”

So why, at this stage of my professional development, would I take on this bar leadership role? Well, ego probably played a part. But more important, this profession has been pretty good to me, and the chance to give a bit back was welcomed.

In preparing to take the gavel (a recycled one we found in the CBA basement that had been used in the 1940s by something called the Junior Bar Association), I asked some folks who had done the job before for some guidance. I got three pieces of advice.

First, it was “do no harm.” Many bar leaders apparently come in with great plans on how they are going to solve big problems. The reality is that a one-year term means that the amount of systemic change any one president can achieve is very limited. The best associations adopt a long-range plan and do not allow any deviation from it. Otherwise, resources and staff time are spread too thin, and successive generations of new programs all drift into various stages of incompletion after their champion has moved on. So it is best to adopt modest goals, usually along the lines of finishing what was begun rather than picking new mountains to climb. Sound advice.

The second point was to be humble enough to realize that most of what you do as a bar leader will be responding to externally created challenges. Most folks tell me that they spent great parts of their leadership years doing things they had no idea were going to be on the agenda. We don’t get to deal the cards, just play the hand the best we can.

Finally, I was told to leave the place a bit better than I found it. I, like most, started through the chairs figuring that when I got the reins of power I would right some wrongs and change the face of the profession and the practice. Now, after watching many good starts drift toward incompletion, and a few actually move slowly toward realization, I understand that modest goals are the best ones. Small wins are still wins.

We have a robust number of bar groups in Connecticut, so many that it is not uncommon for groups to schedule conflicting events on the same day. And we are at a time when new lawyers are not inclined to go to bar meetings every night of the week like some of us old hands do. The groups that will be successful in the future will be those that are affordable, relevant and unique. I think my group does some things no one else does, and does them pretty well. I think we will survive. But we can’t be complacent. Yesterday’s powerhouses can become tomorrow’s also-rans in a heartbeat.

The practice of law has always been as much a business as a profession, at least for the decades I have been in it. This means that in addition to professional issues, we need to address the business aspects of what we are and how we do our work. Markets are powerful things, and can transform industries and professions quickly. Two powerful market forces at work right now are the trend toward self-representation and the push by nontraditional providers to have access to our markets. We ignore either or both at our peril.

This smoke is not going back into the bottle; things are only going to accelerate. Court systems are going to have to fundamentally transform what they are and how they deliver access to justice, and bar associations are going to have to help lawyers find their place in this new world. That should be enough for a presidential year. More than enough.•