The 2014 Bar Leaders Conference, held in Houston on August 1-2, was filled with speakers and presentations aiming to strengthen, inspire, and celebrate local bar associations—all while participants earned CLE credit.

Each day, attendees could choose from a diverse selection of panels, with topics ranging from Law Related Education and Access to Justice to mentoring and Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans. Also offered were roundtable discussions that encouraged participants to share their own experiences and ideas on successful—or struggling—local bar initiatives and suggestions for improving State Bar efforts to connect with and support local leaders.

The weekend ended with a western-themed party that featured casino games and more than 60 door prize baskets provided by delegates. Details on select panels are provided below.

General Session Luncheons

Kicking off the Bar Leaders Conference, Vicki Clark, owner of Building the Capacity of Organizations, took the stage during Friday’s general session luncheon to give the audience tips on how to strengthen and inspire a bar association to increase its impact. “The only way your association is going to grow is if the members change,” Clark said, touching on her presentation’s theme of making bars “mission driven and member focused.” Below: Vicki Clark delivers the Local Bar Leaders Conference keynote presentation on servant leadership.

Clark explained that methods of leadership are always evolving and that servant leadership—which turns the traditional hierarchy pyramid upside down, placing management heads at the bottom of an organization chart and members at the top—makes members more likely to participate in and contribute to the association. She emphasized the importance of delivering transformative experiences to members, valuing people who are different, building a sense of community, nurturing the spirit of fun and allowing members to relax and be themselves, and not just “passing out marching orders.”

Saturday’s lunch took a “Lunch & Learn” format, allowing attendees to network at their tables while eating. Following the meal, Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva M. Guzman presented pro bono service awards to several local bars.

Breakout Panels

These sessions brought in experts to cover a range of topics from igniting an online presence and running an effective meeting to cross-association collaborations and lawyers as lifeguards. During Law Related Education sessions, panelists provided insight into the classroom projects I was the First. Vote for Me! and Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay!. Attendees heard practical tips for presenting material to students and saw examples of videos and teaching techniques that are used during the lessons.

At a Saturday session titled, “TYLA: Building Uncommon Leaders,” small-sized and recently formed young lawyer groups were encouraged to reach out to prospective members by utilizing the county-by-county information kept by the Texas Young Lawyers Association. Other conversations focused on the possibility of raising the age limit for young lawyer associations to ensure that effective members remain active and pass on their success while transitioning to the “Big Bar”; preventing the loss of members with children by hosting family “fun days” and events for kids to meet members of the judiciary; the importance of reaching out to law students; and how young lawyer associations should work with the area’s local bar association.

Roundtable Talks

The Bar Leaders Conference Roundtables offered valuable opportunities to brainstorm successful strategies and solutions to common hurdles. Attendees shared experiences from their successful community service projects, and also offered suggestions for others interested in completing similar projects. Examples of events ranged from chili cook-offs and fun runs to Habitat for Humanity workdays and will-drafting events.

Participants also exchanged ideas on how to deal with challenges that certain initiatives present. One local bar that was having trouble attracting veterans to its free legal clinic was advised to focus on holding such events at the most appropriate location, due to the transportation issues that many veterans have, and also to consider reaching out to local veterans organizations and nearby veterans health care facilities. Another bar association located in a rural area of Texas expressed difficulty in fundraising; an urban association replied with a suggestion that they hold local CLE seminars for the legal community, which reportedly helped it raise thousands of dollars to use on service activities.