My First Trip to the Chapter Leadership Institute

By Michelle Cohen

The Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) held its annual Chapter Leadership Institute (CLI) in Minneapolis, Minnesota from July 20, 2017 through July 22, 2017.

CLI was hands-down one of the most intense, but valuable ALA conferences I have attended thus far. (Thank you to the New Jersey Association of Legal Administrators (NJALA) for sending me to this wonderful conference.) I only wish I could have taken part in CLI prior to the two national conferences I have been lucky enough to attend. Why? Because CLI is a primer for all things ALA. CLI is a much smaller conference than national conference, making it far less overwhelming. I had a much better opportunity to have meaningful interactions with other truly engaged and interested ALA members from all over the United States (and beyond).

The opening session of CLI answered the question, “What is ALA?” The session reviewed the many elements of the ALA website, how the entire organization is configured from the Board of Directors to each region (there are six total) to the individual chapters, the multitude of committees that exist at the national level and all the ALA staff that are available to further support the chapters. It was like finally getting the roadmap for how to travel from one place to another!

The introductory session continued by reviewing the importance of our local and national business partners. It also highlighted the amazing social action performed by national ALA. (It runs its own foundation!) This charitable arm of ALA helps to promote programs via chapter grants to develop education, bring its members outstanding educational sessions at national conference, assist emerging leadership with attendance at future CLIs and, most impressively, provide outreach to legal service professionals dedicated to the most vulnerable and underserved populations, granting ALA memberships to these professionals so that they, too, may have access to ALA’s education and support networks.

I would not have understood or ever known about any of this had I not attended CLI. It made me finally comprehend that being associated not only with the NJALA, but with national ALA, as well, matters. At some point, have we not all questioned why we are paying dues to two separate organizations? Well, this is but one, concrete example. There is power in knowledge, and I left feeling empowered and just plain proud!

What struck me as quite lovely was that, during this very first session, the speaker discussed priorities, and took the time to acknowledge that, if you were at this conference, you were either a leader or a potentially emerging leader of ALA in some way. ALA cared enough to remind us that we are all volunteers, and of the importance of caring for ourselves, our families and our jobs before our ALA (and other) obligations. I have been to many other organizational conferences on local and national levels, but this was the first time an organization set out immediately to encourage its members to care for themselves first and foremost. It was heartwarming and made me feel like maybe I picked a great place to park my valuable spare time when I chose to get involved in the NJALA.

It would be impossible for me to tell you everything I learned at this conference. I took copious notes at every single session on topics such as improving business partner relations, how to improve our chapter’s social media presence, the scoop on incoming leadership in the form of those born between 1982 and 1995/1996 (I am now vehemently against using the “M” word, i.e., millennial), diversity and inclusion trainings, communication strategies and so much more. But the bulk of the session themes were about leadership, discussed using various metaphors (like mountain climbing) and ideologies (like servant leadership). The bottom line is that both ALA and NJALA need emerging leaders to continue to remain relevant, vibrant and available for the next generation. 

The NJALA is proud to be distinguished as the oldest and first chapter of ALA, having just celebrated its 50th anniversary. We need to prepare for the next fifty years, and we cannot sit back and assume that “someone else” will take care of the organization. You need to consider yourself that “someone else” and think about getting involved with our chapter. 

Are you a past board member who hasn’t found the passion to get back involved?  Well, come on down, because people could benefit from your prior experiences and wisdom. Feel like you have no time as it is and that getting more involved will cramp your style? We could use your help with things that take minimal time out of your schedule, but have a huge impact on our membership. The best part about this organization is that the people in it are lots of fun. They make volunteering seem like no big deal because you enjoy their camaraderie and the results of seeing your work translate into meaningful educational sessions or scholarships or a donation to a charity that is heartfelt, and really does make a difference to our local and immediate community (or the world).

On the last day of CLI, ALA presented its strategic plan for the next few years. ALA’s goals are no different from our own individual chapter goals, for the most part, and that is because we are all working to improve the same thing—an organization in which legal professionals can network and elevate their knowledge and opportunities across the board in their respective legal practices. This well-planned conference did a great job sharing with its participants the tools we need to take back to our chapters and teaching us how to best use all this great information.

I hope I have inspired even one person to consider getting more involved with our chapter, as CLI has re-inspired me. I promise you that it will not be a waste of your time.

Michelle Cohen is the Director of Human Resources and Office Manager of Schneck Law Group LLC in Livingston, New Jersey.

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