Everything Mark D. Mason wants to accomplish this year as president of the Massachusetts Bar Association is summed up in his chosen theme, "United in the Law."
As the first openly gay president in the MBA's history, Mason recognizes the diversity of the state's lawyers and judges in terms of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation — not to mention political leanings. But Mason wants to bring those diverse elements together, making the MBA a more unified force.
"It's important for me to work toward strengthening the ties of the members of the bar and focus on our common goals," he said. "We've set an ambitious agenda designed to bring together many bar associations across the commonwealth with a shared view of accomplishing certain goals and aspirations."
At the top of that list is Mason's creation of a program that will bring enhanced civics education into high school classrooms across the state with teams of attorneys, judges and possibly legislators.
"It is terrifically important for me to get the Civics in Education program off the ground in a big way," Mason said. He hopes to eventually send 1,000 lawyers or more into Massachusetts classrooms on a regular basis.
Second, this year, Mason wants the MBA to establish or strengthen relationships with law schools across the state to improve programming, law practice management and recruitment of minority students. There have been discussions about increasing the pro bono and mentoring opportunities available to law school students, he said.
Mason wants to build on the model established in 2006 by the MBA Task Force on Diversity, which sends teams of minority attorneys, MBA officers and judges into high schools and colleges to encourage greater minority involvement in the profession.
"As part of our thematic approach of the year, we are continuing with the wonderful work the Task Force on Diversity has started. We are focusing on ways the Massachusetts Bar Association can increase minority enrollment in law schools, as well as increase minority membership in the bar."
Mason's final top goal is re-organizing the Young Lawyers Section Council as the Young Lawyers Division, reflecting the significant role it plays in the MBA. As the chairman of the Young Lawyers Task Force and a past chairman of the Young Lawyers Division, Mason said he is committed to increasing the participation of the Young Lawyers group.
With the change, Young Lawyers will no longer be a section council, but will be elevated to a division of the MBA, meaning it will have more autonomy and its own budget. In its place, Mason is creating the General, Solo and Small Practice Section Council.
For all of the section councils, Mason is intent upon improving communication with members, especially online.
"We're increasing communications with our section councils," he said, "and I look forward to energizing our membership through the Internet."
Other plans on his agenda for the 2006-07 year include:
• Creating a Standing Committee on Membership Development, which Mason says will creatively enhance membership recruitment. "Our membership is very much unaware of the depth to which we're engaged. We're certain that by increasing communication with our members through the section councils that members will better understand the value of the work we're doing."
• Improving relationships with county and specialty bar associations. "Our goal is to serve as the bar association which unites the other bar associations across the state."
• Lawyers in Transition: providing assistance to those who are re-entering or temporarily exiting the profession.
• Creating a Solo and Small Practice Section Council, modeled on the American Bar Association's program.
"It is terrifically important for the Massachusetts Bar Association to build on the success of its Committee on Judicial Independence," he said, noting plans for programs dealing with the interaction between the judiciary and the media and helping build the public's confidence in the state's court system.
Mason said the MBA is planning to sponsor a statewide Bench Bar Conference, possibly in November. Currently the Bench Bar Forum is a part of the MBA's Annual Conference, but Mason said he wants to see it featured more prominently as an individual event, with close cooperation from the Supreme Judicial Court.
"We contemplate a significant collaboration with the Court in providing community services through Civics in Education as well as promoting dialogue between the bench and the bar," he said.
SJC Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall will welcome Mason at his President's Reception at the MFA on Sept. 7.
"It is important to me to ensure that the MBA build as many bridges, establish as many partnerships as are necessary to accomplish some very large goals," he said. "Together, we can accomplish so much more than any one bar association standing alone."
Mason is concerned that lawyers devote their energy to emphasizing their similarities, not their differences.
"My observation is that our profession has suffered from some degree of factionalism. It is counterproductive for members of our own profession not to work together," he said. "One of my goals is to break down the impediments to a free discussion that have been set up over the last several years."
The diversity of the state's attorneys in terms of geographic location, sexual orientation and racial and ethnic makeup needs to be seen as a strength, not a weakness, he said.
"That diversity strengthens our unity, and we need to recognize the significance of our diversity," he said.
After the MBA announced that it would cosponsor the May 17 event celebrating the second anniversary of the Goodridge decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Mason said the MBA received a number of e-mails and letters from upset members. Regardless of individual members' feelings on divisive issues, Mason said the state's lawyers and judges should work in unison toward common goals.
"I want and expect comment on all that we do," he said. "But differences in philosophy do not change the fact that we're united by the common thread that is the law."
Warren Fitzgerald, who just finished his 2005-06 term as MBA president, said Mason, whose term officially begins Sept. 1, has already done an impressive job.
"Mark is already off to a running start with many new and many continuing projects and programs that will add to the MBA's position in the profession and its contribution to our members and the public," Fitzgerald said. "I do expect that he and the officers will continue what I hope are the early stages of an upswing in MBA activity and prominence."