With numerous statewide and regional affinity and national bar associations to choose from, many members of the 8,500-person Connecticut Bar Association say the statewide bar does a good job of keeping and attracting members in providing networking opportunities, up-to-date relevant information for attorneys, and has well-established lobbyists working on their behalf at the Legislative Office Building.
Association members—including current CBA president Cecil Thomas—were interviewed in an attempt to learn more about whether the long-time association is meeting the needs of its members. Most said that, yes, the association does do its best to keep members informed and engaged via producing more then 400 programs a year and offering a plethora of committees for members to be a part. Those committees includes ones geared toward younger attorneys, women attorneys, those in certain practice areas or even members of the LGBTQ+ community, among others.
Others also said the association could do a better job in making itself more relevant to solo practitioners and small firms via more outreach; should do more to provide mentorship opportunities for older attorneys to work with younger attorneys; and should walk a fine line when getting involved in political stances.
Longtime CBA member Bob Kaelin of Murtha Cullina spoke for many when he said the association offers great support and is an invaluable tool for all attorneys, especially younger ones.
“Networking is a big part of the CBA,” said Kaelin, a member for 29 years and someone who is active with both the Commercial Law and Bankruptcy Section and Litigation Section of the CBA. “With networking, you build relationships and trust and build camaraderie.”
Attorney Rebecca Iannantuoni of Day Pitney’s New Haven office said the networking aspect is vital.
“Networking is how you get more work and how you learn,” said Iannantuoni. “When I was a young attorney, one of the first things I did was join the CBA.”
Iannantuoni, like many interviewed, said the expertise and advice she learned from more experienced attorneys via bar association events was invaluable.
Iannantuoni, a member of the association’s Estates and Probate Section and Elder Law Section, said the association met the needs of its members during COVID-19 as best as it could.
“Soon, everything including the annual meetings went virtual,” Iannantuoni said. “Everything transitioned to virtual and remote and the CBA made sure we could still get our intellectual updates, practice updates and that connection to one another. They kept up well with COVID. I’ll be a member of the CBA for as long as I am a practicing attorney.”
Similarly, Myles Alderman Jr. of Alderman & Alderman in Hartford, said: “As a young lawyer starting my career, I met [through the CBA] many other young lawyers that would become life-long friends and colleagues.”
Pullman & Comley’s Lynda Munro said the CBA does a good job in “providing forums for conversations through particular association sections which helps not only further substantive dialogue, but also provides an opportunity for human connection particularly for lawyers feeling adrift and alone during COVID.”
Many also said there are areas the association can improve upon and or make changes in.
Attorney Peter Bowman of BBB Attorneys LLC in Stratford has been a member for 12 years and sits on the association’s Medical Marijuana Committee and Cybersecurity Committee.
Bowman said he appreciates that the CBA “offers forward-looking committees like the ones I am on” but also said they can be more of a resource for older attorneys.
“I also think they need to acknowledge there is a generation of attorneys that are considering retirement and they need to be a resource for those attorneys,” Bowman said. “They should view it as an opportunity to present mentorship opportunities for those attorneys; have them mentor younger attorneys who can then mentor the older attorneys on issues like technology.”
Attorney Anthony Minchella, a member for 25 years, is also on the CBA’s House of Delegates.
Minchella, of Minchella & Associates, said the CBA “needs to improve their outreach to smaller and solo practitioners because those attorneys are looking at this as a numbers game and are asking why they should pay the membership fee and what will they get out of it.”
Association fees vary depending on the involvement of the member and can range from $200 annually up to $500 or more annually.
Politics and when to take positions on issues has been a concern that needs to be addressed, many members agree.
“One criticism I’ve heard more then ever before is balancing politics,” Kaelin said. “There are some lawyers that resigned when the CBA took a position on something. It’s a fine line and we all know that politics is the third rail. I think you just have to be careful. Certain issues you have to chime in on, but you also have to remember that it can turn some people off. I know the ABA [American Bar Association] does it and I know the CBA will do it. I just think they need to tread lightly and as infrequently as they can when it’s a hot topic.”
Bowman said “I feel strongly the CBA shouldn’t be political” although he understands why the association will get involved in speaking on some issues.
“There was discussion in a recent legislative session about putting a sales tax on lawyers fees. in that sense, it’s a great idea for the CBA to get involved and they did,” Bowman said, “I think that was part of the reason why it did not pass. However, I do not think they should engage in the endorsements of candidates or take positions on issues outside of those that affect lawyers. There is the potential of alienating some members as opposed to creating collegiality which should be the goal.”
Former CBA president Mark Dubois, a member with Geraghty & Bonnano in New London, said the association does a lot right, including being one of only a few organizations that “has a consistent presence at the state Capitol for all lawyers. We were there for all lawyers on every issue. We have a full-time lobbyist and part-time lobbyists and every section or committee has a legislative liaison reviewing proposed legislation.”
Diversity and inclusion within the CBA is another hot-button issue where attorneys are divided.
Dubois, on one hand, said: “We are working very hard on diversity and inclusion, but it’s an area that can be improved upon. If you go into the lobby [of the CBA], all of the pictures of the presidents going back more than 100 years are mostly old white men. The last few years that has radically changed and more women and people of color are in leadership roles.”
Attorney Robert Mitchell of Mitchell & Sheahan in Stratford has been a member since 1987. He’s also a former chair of the association’s Labor and Employment Committee.
While Mitchell says he’s all for diversity and inclusion, he did say, “I think we are making too much of diversity and inclusion for the sake of diversity and inclusion. I know that puts me in a small minority of members. The primary function of the legal system is to provide equal justice for all citizens and that should be our focus. I don’t think diversity and inclusion are invalid goals. I just think it is too much of a focus. Everything we do is under the lens of diversity and inclusion and that’s going a bit too far.”
Another area that Mitchell would like to see the association tackle more deals with older attorneys.
“It would be helpful to me if they did more dialogue on where your career goes after you are 65 or 70,” said Mitchell, who is in his late 60s. “They do not do that as far as I know; although the ABA does quite a lot of it.”
A CBA member since 1999, attorney J. Paul Vance Jr. has done two tours on the association’s House of Delegates and Board of Governors.
Vance said that “in some ways the CBA meets our needs and in other ways we have a way to go.”
Vance, of Logan Vance Sullivan & Kores Trial Lawyers in West Hartford, says the networking is invaluable.
“There might be 100 lawyers in a room of a House of Delegates meeting. These are different people with different areas of law and I want to hear what their challenges are, especially with COVID,” Vance said. “It’s so important to get involved with the CBA if, for nothing else, to read and see what is going on in the practice of law and not just your little area but the practice of law as a whole.”
Vance did say he’d like the CBA to reinstitute its review of judges.
“The association used to provide reviews for judges,” Vance said. “I’d like to see that restarted again. We’ve talked about it the last several years; it just makes sense. People should get recognized and if they are not up to par, then you find a way to improve.”
CBA president Thomas said he welcomes comments and advice from members, saying, “I always welcome the opportunity to talk to members and hear their concerns. The CBA also maintains a webpage for the online submission of concerns or inquiries.”
Minchella, who is one of two attorneys and four staff at his small Middlebury firm, said the “biggest thing to me is that the CBA creates a glue for attorneys in the state to keep them connected with each other.”
Minchella said the association gives you what you put into it.
“You get out of it what you put into it,” Minchella said. “It’s like the people that go to college and do not take part in extracurricular activities; you won’t get much out of it. I feel being in the CBA is a very important part of the entire experience of being an attorney. You are making money running a business and supporting a family, but there is more to it. You have to give back.”