New sections fill expanding member needs

Issue June 2014 By Jason Scally

Last month the Massachusetts Bar Association's House of Delegates (HOD) voted to establish a new Complex Commercial Litigation Section -- the second new section added during the 2013-14 membership year, along with the Workers' Compensation Section. By adding these specialty areas, both new sections fill existing member needs and open opportunities to attract new members.

The Workers' Compensation Section has been very active since its addition by the HOD last September. It is already holding monthly meetings under the leadership of Workers' Compensation Section Chair Deborah G. Kohl and Vice Chair Marianne Swenson.

The number of workers' compensation members at the MBA has tripled since the section was added, according to Kohl. "It encouraged a lot of people who weren't MBA members to become members because they see the benefit from having the section," she said.

Although the Complex Commercial Litigation Section is only a month old, its newly appointed chair, Paul E. White, has high expectations for his group, which also addresses a specialty area that members have been looking for.

"This section focuses exclusively on the litigation of business disputes and business-related disputes, rather than the broad range of business law issues," said White. Noting that the section plans to hold activities in Worcester and Springfield, as well as Boston, he added, "Commercial litigators will now have a specific home for their practice areas, whether they are from large or small firms, or in or outside of Boston."

A Workers' comp voice
Workers' Compensation had previously existed at the MBA as a subcommittee under the Civil Litigation Section. Kohl credited MBA President Douglas K. Sheff for recognizing the opportunity that creating a Workers' Compensation Section would bring to attorneys whose administrative practices makes this such a specialized area.

The benefits since the section was formed have been tangible.

"As individual attorneys, we'd say things and not be heard. Now that we are organized we speak with the voice of the bar behind us, and that's really important," said Kohl. "It's given us entry we've never had before."For example, Kohl's section has been able to establish a regular dialogue with a senior judge at the Department of Industrial Accidents (DIA), which has already led to the availability of walk-in lump sums - a welcome change that means workers' compensation attorneys no longer have to wait five weeks to get a settlement date.

There are five regional DIA offices, and the Workers' Compensation Section has already held seminars for practitioners in two of the regions: Boston and Lawrence. Another is planned for Springfield this month with a speaker who is an expert on Medicare set-asides.

The section has already created subcommittees covering legislative issues and technology (e-filing), and they just created another subcommittee to conduct seminars next year, which will be open to all MBA members. Already in the works are an introductory seminar on workers' compensation, and another on the interplay between workers' comp benefits and other benefits.

The Workers' Compensation Section has been active on My Bar Access, which Kohl said is the best place to visit for up to date information on the section, as well as workers' compensation law.

"We're bringing people in and we've made a lot of progress this year," said Kohl. "We have a structure in place that's working, and people are doing a substantial amount of work."

'Com Com' plans active year
The MBA has always welcomed commercial litigators, many of whom already participate in the Civil Litigation or Business Law sections. But the Complex Commercial Litigation Section, colloquially dubbed "Com Com," will provide a more specialized section for attorneys whose practices involves litigation in intellectual property, commercial contracts, business torts, bankruptcy and other areas across the commercial litigation spectrum.

White said the opportunity to have educational opportunities that are specific to this substantive practice area will be a huge plus to commercial litigators, like himself. He also said having a section where there are many commercial litigators from different levels of experience and judges will provide great opportunities to network and enhance one's practice.

MBA members can join an unlimited amount of sections, and White said members - especially those in the Business and Civil Litigation sections - should see the Com Com Section as a complement to other sections. "It's cross-pollination," he said. "It enhances everybody's skills as a lawyer to recognize how business disputes can arise and how they can best be handled."

The Com Com Section is in the process of ramping up for what promises to be an active 2014-15. White said the section hopes to publish a quarterly newsletter and will start offering CLE programs in the fall in each of the substantive areas that the section covers. The plan is to also hold a section-wide symposium, which will become an annual event for Com Com members.

While several positions in the Com Com section council have been filled, there are still openings available.