Happy Birthday, NJALA—The First 50 Years are Behind Us

By Kurt Brown

Last month, we officially marked our organization’s 50th anniversary since its initial formation. In today’s ever-changing culture, this symbolizes a major accomplishment. I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on how our organization was formed and where we go from here.

One area that is always puzzling to our members is if the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) was formed in 1971, how is it that the New Jersey Association of Legal Administrators (NJALA) is celebrating 50 years in the year 2017?

Our association was initially founded in 1967 by a small group of legal managers. At its inception, it was known as the New Jersey Law Office Management Association. Its first president was Joan Stern (who I believe at the time was Joan Carew). The association later changed its name to the New Jersey Legal Management Association. Joan was the office administrator for the firm of Hannoch, Weisman, Stern & Besser in Newark (not Roseland). Hannoch Weisman, as many of us in the business for a long time remember, was once the second largest law firm in New Jersey before their untimely demise in the late 1990s.

Back then, there was development in the works to change the legal manager’s role to a newly-coined term, “administrator”. The administrator took on a greater role in the management of a law firm. It was this role that propelled administrators from different firms to gather and collaborate on the issues that they faced in their respective firms.

Fast forward to 1971. Bradford Hildebrandt, who was also a past president of our association, founded the ALA together with Bob Weil and Mary Ann Altman. According to Brad, the three of them met one night over dinner and discussed whether they could take the framework of the New Jersey association and apply it on a national level. Brad then discussed the idea with two other administrators, and they all agreed that a national organization was attainable. 

Back then, the annual dues for ALA were only $45.00. At the time of ALA’s first compensation survey, the median total compensation of administrative managers in private law firms (of all those that participated) was $17,450.00 per year.

In 1972, the ALA introduced the concept of local chapters. In March of 1972, Richmond, Virginia was the first official local chapter. This was followed by the South Florida and New Jersey chapters in June. Lastly, in July, the Los Angeles chapter was added. Of these four chapters, only New Jersey was an existing formed organization. The other three were newly-formed groups due to the national momentum of the ALA. So, despite being the third chapter officially admitted to the ALA, it was our group that initially started the ALA.

In 2022, when ALA formally recognizes NJALA for its 50th year as a chapter, we get to throw another party. We can call it the 50/50 55 celebration.

How is it that we lasted fifty years? In a nutshell, it’s because of the dedication of our members and the gracious support of our business partners. Our own website states the following: “The New Jersey Association of Legal Administrators (NJALA)…was established…in an effort to assist each other in the management of [our] respective law firms”. This has been updated to include “The New Jersey Association of Legal Administrators is dedicated to the continued improvement of law office operations through monthly educational programs…and, perhaps most importantly, by encouraging ‘networking’ with other administrators”. 

Although all true, our website doesn’t state the most important element of why we come back year after year—that being the comradery, friendship and the common threads we share. This is exactly why we have socials during the year, and participate in activities such as community challenges and regional and national conferences. It’s a chance to put aside the work elements and catch up on a personal level with other members. 

However, over time, we all experience social changes. In 1972, when our chapter joined the ALA, we had 31 members. Today, NJALA membership is at 138. Though this may be down from just a couple of years ago, we are fortunate that the decline has not been drastic when compared to many other professional associations, including national ALA.

So how do we ensure our continued success for the next 50 years?

In our June 2017 newsletter, Elli Albert wrote an article entitled What CAN You Do? NJALA Opportunities Available to All Members. A link to the article can be found here: http://mailchi.mp/abe57cb9c941/june-2017-njala-newsletter. In this article, Elli writes “There is no question that we not only want our general members to get involved on committees, but that we needinvolvement of our members to help move our programs and our organization forward”.  

The key here is involvement. The whole is only as good as the sum of its parts. NJALA cannot advance without the participation of our members. The “way we’ve always done it” thinking is not part of our philosophy. We invite members to express their opinions, share suggestions, make inquiries and ask what they can do to help. At the same time, we want to know what members think NJALA can do for them. Are you getting value from being part of this organization?

I encourage you to reach out to me or any other board member at one of our meetings to talk about NJALA. Contact information for all board members is located on our website. Feel free to call or send an e-mail. We would love to hear from you. 

I am proud to be a member of the NJALA, and wish us all continued success for the next fifty years.

Kurt Brown is the Executive Director of Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost, PC in Denville, New Jersey.

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