Planning for our future

To date, my past articles have concentrated on dealing with the current economic situation as a bar association and as a profession. This article will deal with planning for our future by way of a revised strategic plan. Strategic planning is defined as "an organization's process of defining its strategy or direction and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy including its capital and people."

In 1999, the Oakland County Bar Association board of directors developed a strategic plan for the bar association. Obviously, there have been dramatic changes in the 10 years since the last plan. As president, I felt it prudent, given those significant changes in the economy and the manner in which we are now practicing law, that thorough planning be commenced and a revised strategic plan developed. It would clearly help the bar utilize our resources most effectively in this crucial time in our history.

To initiate this undertaking we enlisted the services of the American Bar Association, which offers a wide range of assistance to bar associations in their strategic planning process. The board felt this was the most economic and effective way to proceed since the ABA has significant experience in this area and it would be a waste of time and resources for us to "reinvent the wheel" as to the methodology employed, and as to what works and what does not. As a result, Jennifer Lewin from the ABA's headquarters in Chicago was hired to "walk us through" this process from its initial stages to the adoption of a revised plan.

The first step was a membership survey that was transmitted to our members electronically. If you recall, this was sent out last September and a significant number of our members responded. In addition, the survey was also sent to non-members and former members to glean a clear picture of the thoughts and opinions of those who had been members of the bar association as well as those who have never been bar association members. The questions in the survey spanned a whole host of matters, priorities and values, programs and services, substantive law and practice areas, participation by individual members, continuing legal education, leadership and general concerns of the membership.

Upon completion of the survey, its results were tabulated and eventually encompassed in a 29-page report. Upon receipt of the report, I asked board members Michael Lee and Tom Howlett to prepare an executive summary for use at a strategic planning retreat. It was perceived that an executive summary, synthesizing the information from the membership survey, would be a worthwhile tool and save significant time at the retreat. The participants would be saved the tedious task of sifting through individual answers of the survey and be able to focus upon matters of importance to the bar in a more organized fashion.

On November 13, 2009, the board of directors, in partnership with representatives of the Oakland County Bar Foundation, the New Lawyer's Committee leadership and the Oakland County Bar Association staff, met at the Iroquois Club in Bloomfield Hills for the planning retreat and began work on arriving at a solid strategic plan. The planning retreat lasted the entire day commencing at 8:30 a.m., with a working lunch and concluding at 4:00 p.m. with a wrap-up, collating the ideas that had been discussed not only in whole-group sessions but in the small workshops as well. In addition to the board of directors, the OCBF members, New Lawyers leadership and OCBA staff, Jennifer Lewin from the ABA was there to guide our discussions and tabulate the strategies and ideas developed. At the end of the retreat, it was determined that Ms. Lewin would provide a general report of the retreat and then the retreat participants would form small groups to work through the core goal areas. Ms. Lewin's report became available in late December 2009 and the work groups are, at present, synthesizing the core goals so that a report from each of the groups will be ready for discussion and, if necessary, action at the board's March 2010 meeting.

The primary goal areas are:

§Provide valuable services to lawyers practicing in the current economic climate.

§Encourage active participation of the Oakland County Bar Association members to foster a sense of community and to promote networking among lawyers andjudges.

§Play a recognized role in serving the Oakland County community.

§Ensure that the OCBA's resources are used effectively and efficiently.

As I said in the title of this article, we are planning for OUR future. I am sure we all realize, as each day seems to bring additional challenges, that we must prepare ourselves for possible greater changes in our economy and the manner in which we practice law. As a result, planning for the future now becomes crucial to our very existence. I know from the comments I have heard that spirit is high in our bar and that we will go forward together, unified to meet any challenge that is set before us.


Kurt E. Schnelz, a principal shareholder in the Birmingham law firm of Schnelz Wells PC, is the 77th president of the Oakland County Bar Association.

Published: Thu, Feb 25, 2010