President's Message May/June 2018

So, what does the Rhode Island Bar Association President do, anyway?
Linda Rekas Sloan, Esq.

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

We continue to provide resources for attorneys focusing on preventative care to instill greater well-being in the profession…I wanted attorneys to know that the Rhode Island Bar Association cares not only about the legal profession but also about them individually.
That is the question I got asked the most when I said I was busy with my Bar Association responsibilities. Despite my inner critic voice that said, “Yeah, Linda, what the heck did you accomplish? You didn’t achieve anything!” I was reminded by my Executive Director of all the things that came to pass during my year:

I welcomed first-year law students at their orientation at Roger Williams University School of Law. I was overwhelmed at the progress of our state’s only law school in increasing the percentage of diversity in their incoming class. I offered them support and encouraged the students to consider staying in Rhode Island after graduation.

I advised newly admitted bar members at their swearing in ceremonies about opportunities to develop clients and practice areas through the Bar Association and about the New Attorneys page on our website.

I attended over 100 meetings which included at least one meeting of most Bar Association Committees so that the chairpersons and members knew that I was available to them and interested in their accomplishments. We have exceptionally strong committees, now numbering 27. Over one thousand six hundred Bar members serve on these Committees and their work and contributions form the backbone of the Association. I attended almost every meeting of the Annual Meeting Committee, the New Lawyers Committee and the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Committee. And a new Animal Law Committee was just formed after soliciting interest from members.

For the roughly 12,000 people who called the Bar Association looking for legal help, we referred them to an attorney, sometimes for a reduced fee and sometimes at no charge. These people were in crisis and needed someone to help. We got them that help. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about lawyers:

True, we [lawyers] build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures - unless as amateurs for our own amusement. There is little that we do that the eye of man can see. But we smooth out difficulties; we relieve stress; we correct mistakes; we take up other men’s burdens and by our efforts we make possible the peaceful lives of men in a peaceful state.
-    John W. Davis, (address), New York, March 16, 1946, in 1 Record of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York 101, 102 (1946)

I recruited attorneys to sign up for the Partners Overcoming Domestic Violence Project which is a pro bono partnership between the Rhode Island Bar Association, Rhode Island Legal Services, Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Roger Williams University School of Law to provide practical training for attorneys new to the practice areas of divorce, custody and visitation. This project teams seasoned practitioners with two new practitioners and a domestic violence advocate to collaboratively represent domestic violence survivors. The new practitioners leave the program with the tools necessary to continue a family law practice if they wish.

I drafted a Statement of Interest following a request from a law firm to file an amicus brief on an issue related to attorneys’ fees and SSI. The government’s position in the litigation is contrary to many well-established and important legal principles and the amici curiae outlined issues which are of paramount importance not only to attorneys but to the public’s access to justice when seeking social security benefits.

For those who are chronically stressed and burnt out, I brought awareness to the issue of wellness with regular health-related content in the Bar Journal and on social media. We featured articles in the Bar Journal from a personal trainer and from a Bar member about wellness. In addition, we created a special Lawyers Living Well page on our website full of great content. We continue to provide resources for attorneys focusing on preventative care to instill greater well-being in the profession. I received calls from attorneys thanking me for shedding a light on this issue and recognizing their own need for help. As I attended those 100 plus meetings, I wanted attorneys to know that the Rhode Island Bar Association cares not only about the legal profession but also about them individually.

I increased RIBA’s presence on social media and circulated information to lawyers via multiple platforms so that whatever format lawyers wanted to receive information, it was available.

I received regular calls about issues with electronic filing and facilitated conveying the concerns to our liaison to the Court.

The most challenging issue I faced was creating diversity and inclusion in our profession, simply because it takes longer than a year to see the results of initiatives that were implemented. I made diversity a priority and requested that every committee chair select a co-chair that was either a young lawyer, woman or attorney of color. I made the same request for the CLE panelists as well as the annual meeting speakers. I received calls from attorneys who noticed this and said thank you for the inclusive efforts because every little bit helps.

We arranged for the Defamation Experience, a CLE program based on Todd Logan’s nationally acclaimed play DEFAMATION, presented free of charge RI Bar members. The program explores the highly charged issues of race, religion, gender, class, and the law with a twist: the audience is the jury. The play was a unique interactive program. Through deliberations and post-show discussions, the audience engaged in civil discourse that challenged preconceived notions and implicit bias.

I moderated a discussion on diversity at the Roger Williams University School of Law Diversity Symposium which offers Rhode Island high school and college students an opportunity to learn about the legal profession and to interact with diverse judges, lawyers and law students. The goal is to support, encourage and get multi-cultural individuals from high school, to college, law school and ultimately to the practice of law in Rhode Island.
I attended every chicken dinner I was invited to, where I would tell everyone who would listen about all the public service projects that RIBA does and asked them to help. I wanted to see and speak with RIBA members at meetings, seminars, networking events. Whenever there was an event, I made a concerted effort to be there to hear our members’ concerns and to better understand the issues affecting them.

We promoted several free CLE programs, some including ethics credits for those struggling to afford to pay for CLEs. Through our work with our standing committees, AON Affinity (the Bar’s sponsored professional liability insurance agency), and opportunities offered by our Public Services Department, we have been able to offer 24 hours of hours of free CLE credits including 4.5 free ethics credits. We also offered four free, non-credit enrichment programs. 

I received calls from attorneys who left the practice of law feeling jaded and tried to convince them that being a lawyer is an honored profession and that they might find some sense of fulfillment doing volunteer pro bono work.

We provided enrichment programs for members that was relevant regardless of practice area. Two programs were offered in the fall: “What Writing Can do for Your Career” for aspiring authors and “Basic Building Blocks of Law Firm Marketing for Small Firm and Solo Practitioners”. Additional programs on resume writing, interview skills and financial planning were offered in the spring.

Perhaps the most prominent theme for my year was the philosophy of “paying it forward”. My wish is that I instilled in some of you our obligation in this learned profession to give back to future generations of young lawyers, women lawyers and multicultural lawyers.

My first President’s message was entitled, “What has the Rhode Island Bar Association done for me lately?” My hope is that at least one thing that I have done during my tenure made your professional or personal life a little better, made you feel connected to the Bar Association, prompted you to take on a pro bono matter or simply struck a chord with you.

Thank you for your stewardship and for strengthening the RIBA community.