It takes a village

Issue August 2013 By Christina P. O'Neill

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 have."


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 done.

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 improved.


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 the same.

"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.

PR/Media Initiative

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 to 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 said.

Holloway set up a process for addressing the issue and then supported it in ways that didn't interfere with the process, White says.

Getting Involved

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 commonwealth.

"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 back.

"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."