Another new year with resolutions for some and non-resolutions for others; or, perhaps, broken resolutions after just a few weeks. Regardless, how do we juggle all of our commitments?
Two key words to incorporate into your vocabulary this year, if you don’t already use them as needed, are “no” and “help.” While saying no may sound harsh, I learned while raising children that an explanation, along with the “no,” will soften that delivery while helping the other person to see and understand things from your perspective. I remember one of my bosses teaching me eons ago that everyone needs to ask for help when they start treading water, and not to wait until we’re drowning. People who know me are reading this and wondering what took me so long to see the light: Let’s just leave it that wisdom does come with age. Now, as for practicing what I am preaching …
If you are involved on a board or committee, then you already know that service provides invaluable experiences. My 99-year-old grandmother taught me that we should try everything at least once; she meant everything legal, of course. But, by all means, election and service to a board or committee are commitments that should be revered and not taken lightly, or made if they cannot be kept. It is unfair to the members of the association and for the good of the association to commit and not follow through or not to step down if you reach a point that prohibits you from getting the job done. Leadership is not about titles; it is about dedication and integrity. And, regardless of how everyone feels about each other, post-election, post-disagreement or just generally, personal feelings must be kept aside and the good of the association must always be at the forefront.
Good leadership is also about being respectful of everyone’s time. As 2013 president of The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, I have asked all committee chairs to begin meetings at the appointed time and to end 45 to 50 minutes later. Unfortunately, I have already broken my own resolution, but am picking myself back up and will try again. I can only hope that my awesome board of directors and our equally awesome 2013 committee chairs will understand that I am committed to finding a way for my good intentions to get me everywhere I would like to go.
Leaders should also keep in mind that there is no “I” in team. Drowning is avoidable through delegation. Many committee members are happy to help when asked, and getting and/or keeping members involved and motivated is a sign of a great leader. Not that I generally go around quoting Henry Ford, but one thing I agree with is his statement that, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” For those who cannot commit to a board or leadership position, joining a committee is a great way to participate and network without having all of the responsibility fall on your shoulders. Another option is volunteer pro bono and community service. For several years, members of PAP have been getting together monthly for a night of pro bono service at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), which will continue in 2013.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the federal holiday marking the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 29th anniversary of the day’s designation as a national day of service. In addition, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s march on Washington, D.C., for jobs and freedom and the delivery of his infamous “I have a dream” speech. Consider grabbing your kids or gathering a team at the office to pay it forward through community service this coming Monday. Local opportunities are listed at http://bit.ly/eSnQ8N. As for yearlong opportunities, there are many worthy nonprofits in Philadelphia, such as the Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program, PILCOP, SeniorLAW Center (annual prom) and Support Center for Child Advocates (annual benefit and toy drive), as well as many others that should match your interest. The Philadelphia Bar Association’s annual 5K Run/Walk is one of the oldest and most respected community events of its kind in Philadelphia; the bar expanded its Military Assistance Program last year and its Advancing Civics Education program is now in its fifth year. The bar has also recently partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to provide wills on a pro bono basis and will further support servicemen and women of the Delaware Valley by referring any local Coast Guard member or family member to a volunteer attorney for pro bono service if possible.
Both PAP and the PBA have numerous committees and volunteer opportunities relating to many practice areas and interests. Each provides opportunities to learn, participate and network. PAP and the PBA have joined together this year to offer discounted dual memberships for PAP’s voting paralegal members ($140 for a combined membership).
Besides participating on a committee or board, paralegal and bar association memberships offer opportunities to gather annually for meetings and conferences. If you have never attended an annual conference, making time and budgeting for this should definitely go to the top of your new year’s resolution list. The opportunities to learn and network are priceless, and I especially consider some of the friendships and resources I now have through paralegals across the country to be invaluable. Many local attorneys feel the same way about the bar’s annual Bench-Bar Conference every fall.
I have no doubt that this year will be exciting for both PAP, as we celebrate our 40th year, and the PBA, the oldest association of lawyers in the United States, now in its 211th year and with only its sixth female chancellor at the head, Kathleen Wilkinson. Find time to join us, won’t you? •
Judy Stouffer is the law firm administrator and senior paralegal at Berner Klaw & Watson. She is the 2013 president of The Philadelphia Association of Paralegals, celebrating its 40th year, and co-chairs the Philadelphia Bar Association’s green ribbon committee.