Garcia's focus on communication, collaboration and community drives successful MBA year

Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 By Cameron Woodcock
Article Picture
2022-23 MBA President Grace V.B. Garcia

In a membership year notable for topical programming and the in-person return of staple events, outgoing Massachusetts Bar Association President Grace V.B. Garcia guided the organization with a fitting emphasis on the “three Cs” of communication, collaboration and community. 

Throughout the year, Garcia highlighted the interplay between each aspect of her presidential theme, namely that effective communication leads to better collaboration, which in turn helps cultivate a sense of community. According to Garcia, that concept was best epitomized by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee’s three-part program series on microaggressions in the workplace that ran between January and June. With a focus on gender identity, mental health awareness, and attracting and retaining people of color, the programs encouraged constructive engagement and healthy dialogue between different segments of the bar, all while modeling thoughtful speech when addressing colleagues, Garcia said.

Garcia speaks at her President's Reception to kick off the 2022-23 year.
In support of her goals as president, Garcia asked members to “invite someone to the table” to increase the number of first-time participants at MBA events and call attention to the opportunities available to those involved in the organization. Nearly 25 years after her own membership experience began with an invitation to attend the Annual Gala, Garcia said that others seemed to find similar inspiration to join the MBA based on encouragement from their coworkers.

“There were so many events where we had brand-new people who said they attended because someone had invited them,” Garcia said. “I think that people often need a personal invitation to try something new. It’s really important that people continue to ask others to go to an event, go to a CLE, go to a social event, and see what’s happening in terms of programming.”

MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy commended Garcia for her outreach to nonmembers, saying, “Grace went above and beyond to welcome new people to the MBA, which only strengthened our culture of inclusion and our commitment to ensuring a diversity of voices and perspectives across the organization. By paying forward the generosity that inspired her to become involved in the MBA, she set a wonderful example that many others followed — all to the benefit of our community.” 

The Power of Partnerships

Garcia opens the MBA's Juneteenth Reception.
The 2022-23 year also saw the MBA continue its active partnership with affinity bar associations and other legal groups to offer programs of historical significance to attorneys from Black and Brown communities. The first event, held in October, took participants on a virtual tour of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, chronicling the evolution of American civil rights from the 1600s to the present day. Later in the year, the MBA’s DEI Committee held a reception celebrating Juneteenth — and by extension the effective end of slavery in the United States — that featured a group walk to the Embrace Statue on Boston Common.

Garcia praised the educational and social impact of both events and said that they illustrate why the MBA should look to involve other organizations in program development, particularly on issues that hold special meaning to broad sections of the legal community.

“There really is no reason to keep such events to ourselves, but rather, it is important to share in those experiences with our partner organizations,” Garcia said, noting that the museum tour alone enjoyed the sponsorship of 30 affiliated bar associations.

Garcia with the 2022-23 MBA officer team.
In conjunction with its ongoing commitment to racial equity and inclusion, the MBA expanded on previous efforts to support emotional well-being in legal practice by publishing the written accounts of lawyers who have faced mental health challenges. Spearheaded by the MBA’s Lawyer Well-Being Committee, the article series ran in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and sought to empower attorneys to confide in others about their personal battles with burnout, anxiety and other work-related issues.

A former co-chair of the Lawyer Well-Being Committee, Garcia said that normalizing conversations about mental health often begins with showing people that they are not alone in their struggles, especially within their peer groups.

“There is no question that when people hear from others who are like themselves, it’s helpful. And that’s true of so many things, whether it’s a new parent, a new lawyer who is going through the same things in their new job, and certainly with regard to well-being,” Garcia said.

Although proud of the MBA’s work in the areas of well-being and DEI, Garcia described them as evolving challenges in the legal community that require continued investment by members of the bar. In addition, she noted that both issues have only taken on greater urgency as recent survey findings indicate that social and emotional factors within the profession have caused an increasing number of attorneys to change careers. As a result, Garcia said, the MBA has rightly avoided becoming stagnant in its efforts to prioritize well-being and DEI, choosing instead to tackle them anew each year.

In another example of the MBA rising to meet the needs of today’s lawyers, the 2022-23 Leadership Academy Fellows devised the Transition Into Practice Program Series to support young attorneys and impending law school graduates in their acclimation to legal employment. Presented over six installments between April and June, the series covered topics ranging from managing client expectations and responding to mistakes to preventing burnout as a new practitioner. 

Garcia said that the series represented a unique approach to career development for emerging and prospective lawyers given their proximity in age and experience to the faculty members leading the programs. More broadly, she added that the important work undertaken by this year’s class underscores the continued viability of the Leadership Academy, as does the presence of several graduates on the MBA’s officer team and section councils.

Community Events Return

During the latter part of her term, Garcia presided over the May 11 Annual Gala and the June 21 Volunteer Recognition Awards Reception, two events last held in person in 2019. The Annual Gala returned with a characteristically strong turnout, as close to 1,000 people gathered at the Westin Boston Seaport District to applaud the 2023 honorees and hear a keynote address from Harvard Professor and homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem. Meanwhile, at the Volunteer Recognition event, six attorneys received commendations for their dedicated service to the MBA, joined in celebration by their family members and colleagues. 

Garcia with her children.
Garcia hailed the return of both events as a critical development for the MBA, particularly given her efforts to build a culture of communication, collaboration and community. While the Annual Gala promotes camaraderie within the MBA community, the Volunteer Recognition Awards serve as an important acknowledgment of the member-driven nature of a nonprofit organization, Garcia said. 
“The success of the MBA is based on so many people who volunteer their time, because staff can’t do all the work themselves. It is really important to highlight that we rely on volunteers and that they’re phenomenal,” said Garcia, who has served on the Volunteer Recognition Committee since its inception.

In the same year that celebratory programs continued in their traditional format, November’s Annual State of the Judiciary Address added a new panel discussion of court officials, including Supreme Judicial Court Justice Kimberly S. Budd. While the event still featured Budd’s customary remarks to the legal community, the roundtable discussion took place in lieu of other speeches by Trial Court leaders to provide a more interactive experience for the audience. Garcia, who moderated the panel and relayed questions submitted by members of the bar, noted that stakeholders appreciated the opportunity to engage more directly with the heads of the court system and to attend the event remotely or in person.

Addressing Universal Issues

During the summer months, Garcia also issued statements in opposition to two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that received widespread media coverage for their potential ramifications to the rights of marginalized groups. Through its rulings, the court ended the practice of race-conscious admissions in higher education and held that the First Amendment permitted a designer of wedding websites to refuse services to same-sex couples.  

Discussing why she felt compelled to weigh in on the decisions, Garcia said, “I think it’s important for the MBA to remain at the forefront of addressing all legal issues that affect our communities and access to justice. In this case, both decisions impacted not only our members, but the legal community as a whole.”  

Garcia speaks at the MBA's Leadership Academy Graduation..
For Garcia, the MBA’s attentiveness to universal issues within the legal community aligned with her own mindset while serving as president, during which she most enjoyed meeting attorneys who practice outside of the realm of civil litigation. Similarly, she relished the platform to meaningfully address some of the prime concerns for MBA members seeking to improve their quality of life in the profession.”

“As president, I had the opportunity to address issues like well-being and DEI, where I otherwise would not have been able to make such an impact,” Garcia said. “It’s gratifying to know that we had an impact throughout the year, and I’m very thankful for the officers and Marty Healy, who have been fantastic.” 

One of those fellow officers, incoming President Damian J. Turco, said that Garcia’s efforts over the last year have positioned the MBA for sustained success during his term and beyond.

“Grace’s dedication to enhancing communication, promoting collaboration, and fostering community within the legal profession has done more than simply adjust our effectiveness this past year. She’s adjusted the trajectory of our progress in a very positive and lasting way.”