50 Years of Leadership: Past President Jessica Rosenbaum
Jess Rosenbaum was board president during a pivotal point in our history. She shared the following remembrances from her tenure.
During the time I was president, Washington Council of Lawyers was substantially growing its programming and advancing its infrastructure and strategic planning to support all the amazing programming board members were dreaming up. Over a few years, our board increased the number of events, graduated from “brown bag” events to more formal programs, and launched several popular new initiatives that became mainstays for Washington Council of Lawyers, including the mentoring program. A memo I wrote during my presidency proposed that we hire an additional staff person to support our then-part-time executive director (Susan Gilbert) and it notes that in 2006-2007, Washington Council of Lawyers was scheduled to host 17 programs (up from 8 events in 2001-02, and ten events in 2005-06).
In addition to increasing the number of events, the diversification of the types of events and the targeted audiences was an important pivot. Traditionally the bulk of our programming had been brown bag lunches with speakers or panels. Starting in 2004’ish, Washington Council of Lawyers started the Litigation Skills Training, the Associates Pro Bono Forum, the Annual Pro Bono Drive, one-day trainings targeting the legal services community, bi-monthly mentoring program events, a 35th-anniversary wine and cheese series – whew! This sentence from the memo reminded me just how exponentially Washington Council of Lawyers’ programming was growing – “This year, we will only have two brown bag events; in addition to our annual flagship events (the Annual Awards, the Catch the Public Interest Spirit Reception, the mock trial, and Summer Forum) the schedule will include two one-day trainings, a reprise of the Litigation Skills training, bi-monthly mentoring program lunches, a second wine and cheese event, a combined Annual Awards/35th Anniversary Celebration, a Pro Bono Drive, and a new ‘Staying Public’ forum.”
What excited me about this growth was the opportunity to sponsor programs that would welcome the newest members of the public-interest community to our bar association (through the mentoring program), would attract segments of the public-interest and pro bono community that didn’t attend our events, facilitate the provision of pro bono services, and marshal the skills of Washington Council of Lawyers members for mentoring and training activities. We have had such an incredible breadth of experience and expertise in our Board members and general membership and these programs allowed us to serve real needs in the public interest community while deeply engaging our members. A personal priority for me was creating more of a home in Washington Council of Lawyers for legal services and long-term public interest lawyers. I think that during my presidency we started “Staying Public” programming (an outgrowth of “Going Public”) to focus on the needs of and challenges faced by long-term public interest attorneys. I think we also added another panel to the Summer Forum focusing on poverty law/legal services/DC-focused work. We were also focused on increasing pro bono work and had a “Make Pro Bono Work Your New Year’s Resolution” drive that I think yielded the annual pro bono fair. The fair was not only about connecting legal services organizations with pro bono attorneys – it was structured to provide a forum for pro bono attorneys to get to know the broad range of organizations they could work with. My first love in terms of the new programming was launching the mentoring program. The program served so many purposes – welcoming to the DC community the amazingly talented new crop of public interest and pro bono-focused attorneys that arrive each year, involving those attorneys in Washington Council of Lawyers from the start of their careers, providing valuable programming that mentees were not receiving in a coordinated way through their organizations, and capitalizing on our deep capacity to provide mentoring and instruction through our incredible board members and general membership. Speaking at the first mentoring program lunch each year is one of my favorite activities.
In order to support this growth of programming as well as the commitment to providing targeted programs for different constituent groups, it was critical that Washington Council of Lawyers grow our infrastructure and formalize long-term thinking. During my term, Washington Council of Laweyers voted to expand its staff and start examining its infrastructure needs. In 2007 we also formulated a three-year strategic plan that articulated ambitious programming and infrastructure goals. (It would be fun to see how much of it has been accomplished!)
Also during my term, Washington Council of Lawyers celebrated its 35th anniversary. In addition to hosting a 35th-anniversary celebration, we hosted a series of wine and cheese events that brought together many members of our community over a range of interesting issues. One of my favorite things about planning that event was that we reached out to all of the past presidents and brought back into the fold a number of former leaders who had lost touch. I think we put together a retrospective of the first 35 years. It was an incredible experience for me to individually call many Washington Council of Lawyers past presidents who were not active at that time in order to invite them to the celebration and to hear their reminiscences about their time with Washington Council of Lawyers.
We are grateful to Jess for her leadership then and her continuing insight, inspiration, and guidance now. We will be honoring one of her legacies this summer when we invite past presidents and past board members to reconnect with current members of our community at our 50th Anniversary Reunion. We look forward to welcoming all those who have helped make us #50YearsStrong!