Putting a public face on the bar

Issue February 2014 By Douglas K. Sheff

Each of my initiatives - Working Families, Consumer Law and Justice for All - has a strong public component. That's intentional. While we can accomplish a great deal as lawyers, and especially as a bar association, our message only gets stronger when we bring in others to stand with us.

We've seen it already in the Massachusetts Bar Association's Workplace Safety Task Force, where we assembled a multi-industry coalition of dedicated lawyers, business and political leaders who helped push through a workers' rights bill that had failed to pass nine times previously.

The MBA's "12 for 12" program, which I wrote about last month, is also based on this kind of collaborative premise. Inviting our non-lawyer clients to advocate with us for increased court funding and legal aid amplifies our message on Beacon Hill. As "12 for 12" continues into the spring, just imagine the impact that lawyers and the public will make together when state legislators receive hundreds if not thousands of calls, emails and letters from both lawyers and their non-lawyer constituents.

The relationship between lawyers and the public is arguably our most important partnership. Members of the public are not only legal consumers (as clients); they can also be our allies in our push for access to justice for all. I believe we must continue to take affirmative steps to foster this collaborative relationship and move away from the "us versus them" perception that so often permeates public discourse about our profession.

Connecting with the media is one way to change this perception. At the MBA, we are already thought of as the place to turn for legal experts. Reporters frequently call upon our leaders to offer legal commentary or insight; just take a look each month at the Notable and Quotable section in Lawyers Journal. We're making a positive impression each time we become part of the public discussion.

We're also looking for ways to get out our own stories, as well, and video will play a major part of it. Not only is video one of the most popular means of communication, but our reach with video is immeasurable.

This month on Massbar.org I launched my first video column about our "12 for 12" program, where I addressed why it is imperative that our clients and other members of the public join us in our call to state legislators to increase funding for the courts and legal aid programs in Massachusetts. This is an incredibly important message. Now with video, it's one we can share in many places - and I encourage you to share it with your clients and friends.

This is the first of several video "columns" that I will use to address timely topics of interest to both lawyers and non-lawyers. Our Consumer Advocacy Task Force is also working with MBA staff on ways to use video to bolster the useful, consumer-focused content on our website.

As the largest statewide bar association in the commonwealth, we have the unique ability to be a go-to resource for the public. Our public outreach efforts, including video, will provide answers and point people in the right direction - often to one of our own community-based programs or Lawyer Referral Service.

Equally important, it will help put a face on our good work, showing us as the caretakers we are, and showcasing the MBA as the place to be and the people to go to when someone needs a lawyer.

On a final note, I cannot speak about the face of the MBA without recognizing the person who has been one of our most visible and respected leaders - Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy. For 25 years, as of this month, Marty has used his talents as a spokesman and coalition-builder to solidify the MBA's status as the preeminent voice of the legal profession on Beacon Hill and around the commonwealth.

Please join me in congratulating Marty - our colleague, and my good friend - on reaching this quarter-century milestone at the MBA. Thank you, Marty, for your service.