Robert Holloway's very busy year
Robert L. Holloway Jr. wants to make one thing clear: the success
of the initiatives and goals of the Massachusetts Bar Association
are not to be credited to a particular president, or even a
particular group of officers. They are the opportunity and
responsibility of the entire membership and staff of the
organization, many of whom work below the surface and out of public
view, over a long span of time.
After years in the MBA officers' circle, he spent his presidential
term taking up, with the rest of the officer group, three
initiatives that had been in the works for some time: membership,
education and public relations. Looking back on his presidency,
which ends Aug. 31, Holloway and his successor, President-elect
Douglas K. Sheff, emphasize that continuity and consensus are key,
and that the three initiatives become permanent parts of the MBA
organization - not dependent on presidents and other officers who
serve in one-year cycles.
"There's a learning curve, and we have to be patient with staff
and volunteers, working together going forward," Sheff said. The
goal is to create cross-pollination between committees. For
example, the education component puts on programs that attract new
members and creates good publicity. "It's a synergy that has to be
perfected," Sheff said. "We have an interplay between staff and
volunteers, and an army of volunteers we didn't used to
The challenge facing the MBA is getting people to join, and once
they do, to set the stage so that they can become active members.
In a tough employment market for lawyers, the MBA and other bar
associations can provide contacts, guidance, mentoring and
interaction opportunities with more experienced lawyers.
Forty years ago, at the beginning of Holloway's career in 1973,
people joined vocational and professional trade groups, as they had
since trade groups began, for the collegiality, the contacts and
the educational resources. Lawyers would join several bar
associations, not just one; it was part of the culture, the same as
with volunteering for town boards, which Holloway has also
Online resources and social media have supplanted a lot of that
among the under-40 crowd. "The profession is less collegial and
less cordial and that's because there is less personal interaction,
in my opinion," Holloway said. "And I'm not one of those people who
yearns for the good old days. I can tell you stories about those
days, but most of what we do in the legal profession today - not
all, but most - is better than what we did 40 years ago."
So the MBA's officers' group has worked on improving internal
communication, which in turn leads to how to communicate better
with membership, and equally, how to communicate with outsiders
that barely know bar associations exist, he says. "The problems
facing organizations like the MBA are no different from problems
faced by all aspects of our society. …You cannot expect to have the
same culture to develop, again, that existed 40 years ago."
The membership group did not set a particular numerical goal to
increase the headcount, he says. Instead, a standing committee,
comprised of MBA members and staff, chaired by MBA Vice President
Christopher P. Sullivan, focused on the needs, interests and
desires of potential members. The goal, says Sheff, is to widen the
resources of MBA staff in terms of membership cultivation. During
Holloway's tenure, he says, lawyer-staff communications have
The Supreme Judicial Court will soon implement a rule requiring
all newly admitted lawyers to complete a one-day "Practicing with
Professionalism Course" within 18 months of being sworn into the
Massachusetts bar. In collaboration with the MBA's Education
Department, this year's group of officers assembled a
professionalism course that met the standards issued by the SJC
Committee on Professionalism. At the urging of MBA Past President
Richard P. Campbell, the MBA will be collaborating with UMass to
deliver the course several times a year to newly admitted lawyers
across the commonwealth. The partnership for the professionalism
course is consistent with the notion that the MBA serves lawyers
from all disciplines, in all practices, throughout the state.
The MBA's statewide High School Mock Trial Program had 150 or more
participating Massachusetts high schools, and involved many
volunteers to put together. The law firm Brown Rudnick LLP has a
long tradition of serving as a financial supporter of the effort,
and this year received a Pro Bono Award as part of the Access to
Justice Awards at the MBA's Annual Dinner.
By year-end, the officers' group seeks to have accomplished most
of the improvements to the MBA website, making it as user friendly
as possible, responding to input from many people. The launch last
December of My Bar Access, an online member-to-member community
exclusive to MBA members, combines social networking,
member-created content and imperative bar resources. Members can
instantly connect with each other.
That's part of the invisible activity, below the surface. The more
visible activities are Holloway's ongoing, in-person communication
with the MBA's affiliated bar associations, attending as many of
their events as is workable - and encouraging other officers to do
"And it's been appreciated. We've gone to many events of our
affiliated bar associations where it's been pointed out that they
couldn't remember the last time that all of the officers of the MBA
had attended the events," he says.
The public relations/media project, headed by Sheff, will coalesce
communication initiatives that have been in the works for a long
time, and to foster teamwork. "There's a lot of good stuff that
lawyers do and the MBA does that nobody knows about," Holloway
says. "So one of our initiatives, and it's ongoing, along with our
membership initiative, is to get the word out."
He stresses that while he may be the most visible, the outreach
initiatives are those of all the officers, not just himself. One of
the most tangible measures of success of the outreach this year was
the MBA Annual Dinner, held on May 9, which attracted more than
1,000 attendees. "Turnout doesn't just happen. People have to want
to do it, number one, and number two, they have to be asked. And
people do like to be asked."
One of the main points of the outside education efforts will be to
make the public aware of how much pro bono time lawyers contribute.
In fact, Sheff notes that attorneys perform more pro bono work than
all other professions combined.
Holloway says this is a blessing and a curse for the profession.
"Part of what's happened in areas of legal needs is that rather
than having adequate funding for legal services, there's an
expectation that there's going to be greater commitment to pro bono
activities by lawyers," he says. "The cost gets spread
disproportionately. The cost of the delivery of those services is
borne more by lawyers than by the society at large." Society needs
to spend more money to ensure that people have adequate access to
legal help when they need it, he says. "We can't just rely on
volunteers all the time to do that. It's not fair to do that and in
the long term, it's not realistic."
The MBA, along with others, successfully lobbied lawmakers to get
a judicial pay raise for judges (see p. 10 for more information).
Led by Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W.
Healy, the MBA advocated for a sound court budget and additional
funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. Many
members worked on these endeavors.
Advocacy above and beyond the usual occurred after the Boston
Marathon bombings. The Boston Marathon Volunteer Lawyer Initiative
attracted dozens of lawyers who have assisted bombing victims by
working on claims on a pro bono basis. Holloway commends Paul E.
White, a partner at Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen PC, who
is chair of the MBA's Civil Litigation Section Council, with
leading the volunteer program for the marathon victims. "He's an
example of the kind of terrific leadership we have," Holloway says,
and notes that despite the media attention garnered by the effort,
much of the work is done in relative obscurity.
White credits Holloway as the driving force behind the MBA's
challenge to the way the One Fund dispensed compensatory funds for
victims. The MBA has asked Attorney General Martha Coakley to
intervene in the administration of funds by the One Fund, asserting
that some seriously injured victims received very low payouts or
none, due to the way eligibility criteria were applied. The One
Fund's goal is to compensate victims as promptly as possible, but
the MBA wants to see criteria that consider the downstream costs of
medical treatment and other factors that can vary from individual
Challenging a charitable effort on such a scale, particularly an
effort spearheaded by Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas
Menino - not to mention Kenneth Feinberg, who administered funds
for victims of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 - was not an
easy thing to do, White says. But Holloway persisted. "He totally
supported the fact that we had to do something further," White
Holloway set up a process for addressing the issue and then
supported it in ways that didn't interfere with the process, White
The MBA has never been short on good ideas, Holloway says - the
challenge is how to implement and execute those ideas. The
organization has a core component of volunteer leadership without
which it could not exist in many respects. That core includes not
just the officers but members of the executive management board,
members of the budget and finance committee, section council chairs
and members, standing committee chairs, and members of the House of
Delegates. Cumulatively, they constitute a minimum of 250 leaders
who are people committing significant time for the benefit of the
MBA and the profession.
Section councils meet monthly; each member is responsible for a
task or project. The time commitment may be several hours a week on
average throughout the year. For officers, however, the time
commitment is considerably more; as president or president-elect,
it could be a full-time job. "Everybody in this officer group is in
private practice. Not only are they volunteering a substantial
amount of time, it costs them money to do that because it's taking
time away from their private practices," Holloway says.
He made a commitment to traveling the state to spread the word
about what the MBA can offer. The result: "I tell people that my
long-term bar association involvement made it much easier for me to
do business. I can pick up the phone and I can call people. …
That's just one of the things you can get out of it. It's a very
practical and measurable benefit that you can get by joining and
being active. Go to the events. And membership is not that
expensive. The moral of the story is that the membership concept
has been to underscore the benefits of being involved. Not just
being a member, but being an active member."
Beyond The Beltway Mindset
During his presidency, Holloway has made an effort to spend time
with members from Central and Western Massachusetts, as well as the
eastern part of the state, to make sure that issues in the
profession, including problems in the court system and advocating
for an adequate court budget, are understood by all lawyers across
"The reality is, most lawyers are focused on how to practice law
in a manner that's going to allow them to make a reasonable
living," he said. "It's especially true today, because of the
downward pressure on fees and changes in a number of areas of
traditional practice for solo and smaller firms."
About 70 percent of the approximately 55,000 actively licensed
lawyers in the state practice in firms of five or fewer, making
Holloway's 15-member firm large by comparison. The pressures and
issues that small practitioners deal with, he says, are regular
people who are buying and selling houses, or need some estate
planning done, or have a child who got picked up for
operating under the influence - things that affect most typical
middle class families. There are market limits to what lawyers can
charge. Twenty-five to 30 years of economic pressure on lawyers
goes counter to the public perception, which until recently was
distorted by the highly publicized entry level starting salaries
for new law school graduates going to work for the largest law
firms. That's not so true any more, with big firms cutting
"Lawyers are middle-class folks, by and large. And so economic
realities create an ongoing challenge for bar associations,
including the MBA, and that's why these initiatives in reference to
education, media and public relations, are ongoing efforts, and
they have to be ongoing efforts," Holloway says.
In It For The Long Term
Change has to be long-term to stick. "It's not fair to staff and
it's not fair to volunteers to set up unrealistic, unattainable
objectives in the early stages," Holloway said. "Really what you're
doing is you're trying to change the culture and change the tone.
And that's what we intended. As to whether or not it's been
successful, that's for others to say."
Issues of how to improve the operations of the court system are
not all that different from issues of how to improve the operations
of the MBA, he says. Is more money needed, or would reallocation of
resources be more effective? "To the extent that there are things
we're not doing so well, do those things better. To the extent that
we should be doing certain things that we're not doing at all,
we've got to get people to do them," he said. Again, it's not just
the ideas themselves - it's the implementation and execution.
"It's especially difficult if things are done in just one-year
cycles," he said. "If there's one takeaway from this, [it's that
this] was not a one-year deal. This is multi-year. … The game plan
was to put things in place that we hope will have a life beyond Bob
Holloway's presence. Because it wasn't Bob Holloway's presidency.
He happened to occupy that position for one year, along with five
other officers who worked with him and each other to put these
initiatives together, with the game plan that this group of
officers on an ongoing basis and the officers that follow ideally
would work to continue to improve upon and refine these objectives,
with these being the building blocks. So we'll see. The ultimate
results are down the road."