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President's Message: ‘How Can I Help You?’

Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019 By MBA President John J. Morrissey
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MBA President John J. Morrissey

I am incredibly proud to be elected president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. But I don’t think anyone is prouder than my father, William Morrissey. Even now, despite his advanced age and frail health, which has led to an extended hospital stay, my father has bragged about my new role at the MBA to every single doctor, nurse and therapist — not bad marketing for a personal injury lawyer, if you think about it.

In all seriousness, however, my father is more than just my biggest cheerleader; he’s also my greatest inspiration. He set the example that with hard work and focus anything is possible. He taught me the value of friendship and the importance of giving back. He never let my siblings and I forget the oft-quoted passage, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” And he would end every phone conversation with family or friend with, “How can I help?”

In the year ahead, as I continue to build upon the successes of the giants of the bar who have come before me, I will endeavor to live up to the values my father has taught me as I pursue two primary goals, which I believe will make a positive difference for our members, our profession and our community this year. 

First, I intend to address issues of attorney wellness identified in the July 2019 report of the Supreme Judicial Court Steering Committee (“Well-Being Report”). Second, I plan to develop a framework for data-driven decision-making at the MBA, which I believe will allow it to more effectively respond to the changing needs of our members and the profession. 

With your help, as well as with the support of my fellow officers, MBA Chief Legal Counsel Marty Healy and his amazing staff, I know together we can accomplish great things this year. 

Attorney Wellness

The SJC’s Well-Being Report provides a comprehensive review of the challenges faced by lawyers and contains specific recommendations to address these challenges. There are three components of wellness, which I believe the MBA is uniquely suited to address this year: inclusion, civility and fellowship. 

Inclusion: I believe the MBA has done a good job on diversity and inclusion, but we can and must do better. I am proud to report that more than 60% of the section chairs that I appointed this year are women, and more than 70% of our incoming Leadership Academy class are also women. But good is not good enough, as long as we continue to have underserved groups that are not adequately represented in membership and among leadership. 

The MBA is what we collectively make of it. If we want a diverse organization that truly reflects our profession and our community, I will need the help of every MBA member in recruiting colleagues from across the state from underserved groups for MBA membership and, ultimately, for leadership positions. 

Membership without engagement is just window dressing. Towards this end, I intend on scheduling a forum for the leadership of all of our affiliated minority bar associations and other stakeholders to discuss diversity and inclusion, and develop strategies for engaging all of the members of the bar. 

We are fortunate that my predecessors have created a clear path towards leadership in the MBA. We have a vibrant Young Lawyers Division that has done a fantastic job engaging new members of the bar. We have section councils and standing committees that provide opportunities for leadership across a wide range of practice areas. Thanks to the vision of past MBA Presidents Chris Kenney and Jeff Catalano, we have the Leadership Academy that has allowed us to identify the rising stars from across the state for future leadership positions. Our goal now must be to do a better job getting underrepresented groups on this leadership path. 

Civility: The erosion of civility continues to be a major challenge to lawyer wellness, and the MBA is the perfect vehicle to address this challenge. I intend to reengage the Civility and Professionalism Committee to take the lead on this critical component of wellness.

In collaboration with county bar associations, we will resurrect meetings in courtrooms across the state to provide a forum for discussions on civility between the bench and bar. All of our continuing legal education programs will include a civility component. 

Fostering mentoring relationships is another component of our wellness program. A mentor once advised me: “Being nice is good for business. Someday that attorney across the table from you will be asked the value of your case.” For the solos and small-firm attorneys who make up a significant portion of our membership, we should strive to offer role models and mentors who can demonstrate by example the benefits of civility. 

Fellowship: The MBA does such a great job on continuing education and professional development that I believe the power of fellowship obtained by active members is oftentimes overlooked. We live in an age of technology that has allowed attorneys to become more efficient and effective, but it has also resulted in increasing isolation within the legal profession.

Active involvement in the MBA allows members to engage socially with their colleagues and develop bonds of friendship that go beyond continuing education and networking. I am convinced a big part of the reason that I still love the practice of law after 27 years is the friendship and support that I have received from my fellow members. 

Data-Driven Decision-Making

For nearly 110 years, the MBA has been led by the best and brightest in the profession. For the organization to continue to evolve and flourish in the future, we must transform the organization from top to bottom through data-driven decision-making. 

We need to understand who we are, and that means gathering information to understand what is working and what is not working. We cannot assume programs that have worked in the past will continue to work in the future. In order to grow, we have to understand the needs of both members and non-members to develop responsive programs and services. 

Data-driven decision-making will also put us in a better position to achieve our first goal of improving attorney well-being. Regularly gathering information about the success or lack of success of diversity and inclusion efforts, for example, will allow us to continuously work towards improvement. 

The first step will be the appointment of a standing committee to begin the process of building a framework for decision-making that will be based on data, not just the anecdotal experiences of the current leadership team. This will not be a one-year project; it will be, in the words of our newest member of the leadership team, Damian Turco, “a forever project.”

As you can see, we have an ambitious agenda, and we have a lot of work to do to accomplish our goals. 

I am honored to serve as president, and together we will make a difference this year. Let me start this year by asking, in the words of my father, “How can I help you?”