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Feedback and Leadership at the Oregon State Bar

Ten years ago I was stumbling around in Seaside at the Oregon State Bar Convention.  As the President of the Washington County Bar Association my mission was to attend a "Leadership" meeting.  All local bar association presidents are automatically a member of the Bar House of Delegates.  One of the Bar Convention agenda items was a "Leadership" meeting for local bar leaders.  Having found the correct meeting room, I was a minority of one.  There was no one else there.  I went back to the Bar reception desk to inquire about the meeting.  The best answer I could get was that the meeting apparently was cancelled because no one showed up. 

Three years ago I was elected to the Board of Governors for Region Four (Washington, Tillamook, Columbia and Clatsop Counties).  I commenced a newsletter on various Bar activities and asked for feedback from the lawyers in Region Four on various topics.  Bar leadership did not like either the mode of communication or the questions I asked for feedback from the grass roots of our Bar. 

Now I know why there was nobody at that meeting and why Bar leadership does not like  iconoclasts.  The Bar is an oligarchy.  An oligarchy is defined as a government by the few, especially by a small faction of persons or families.  "Greek oligarchies were based on...the notion that their members were superior to other men."  There is a small, tightly-knit group of people in Portland/Lake Oswego that run things at the Oregon State Bar; no others need apply.

The house organ for this oligarchy is the Oregon State Bar Bulletin  and your new and improved model is at your newstands now.  Paul Nickell is the editor.  He mentions that the new look is not the one that "...you have come to know and recognize."  He does not say that you know and love the Bulletin.  Mr. Nickell acknowledges that the changes are purely cosmetic while "...all of the regular Bulletin columns and departments remain."  Karen Garst, Executive Director of the Bar, once cynically remarked that the only thing people read in the Bar Bulletin are the disciplinary reports on who is in trouble and who moved where.  Here is why.

Most of the content comes from Bar staff, not Bar membership.  Never is there a minority view or a controversial subject matter suggested.  Iconoclast-lawyer Bruce McLaughlin is reported in Willamette Week not the Bulletin.  Seldom does a Board of Governor member not from Portland get a chance to be an author in the Bulletin  nor does your local House of Delegates member get to do an article.  You will hear from Bar staff often in the Bulletin.  Sylvia Stevens perhaps the most.    The only feedback is in the 'Letters' section and that is heavily censored.  Landlord-Tenant lawyer Craig Colby takes the Disciplinary Department to task this month which results in the disciplined lawyer getting further raked over the coals in print through Mr. Sapiro's reply. 

When is the last time your Board of Governors member for your Region asked you for your feedback on anything?   When is the last time your House of Delegates member asked your opinion on how he or she should vote at the Annual Meeting?  Board of Governors Bylaws require that your representatives seek your feedback.  The Oregon State Bar Manual supplied to your Board of Governors members for their November, 2006 Retreat at the Columbia Gorge Hotel did not even have the Bylaws in the manual.  Some people do not act unless they are held accountable.

Posted on Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 08:11AM by Registered CommenterLAUREN PAULSON in | CommentsPost a Comment

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