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Illinois Bar Journal

The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

April 2010Volume 98Number 4Page 172

April 2010 Illinois Bar Journal Cover Image

President’s Page

Defense Lawyers - You Can’t Afford Not to Be ISBA Members

By
John G. O’Brien

Civil defense lawyers - here's why you owe it to yourself, your colleagues, and your clients to belong to your state bar association.

Let me get right to the point. There has been buzz in the defense bar that ISBA is tilted in the direction of the plaintiffs' bar.

As a president of ISBA who practices exclusively in the real estate arena, I don't find a plaintiffs' bar bias. And, to the extent there may be truth in it, that's all the more reason for defense lawyers to join the ISBA and make their voices heard and their votes count. In our democratic association, any segment of the bar that chooses not to participate effectively disenfranchises itself.

As professional groups go, it's difficult to find a more democratic (with a small "d") organization than the Illinois State Bar Association. This is true of the way ISBA leaders are selected (every member gets to vote) and also of the opportunities to fully participate in the deliberations and substantive work of the Association (every dues-paying member is eligible).

In my experience, the Illinois State Bar Association strives to represent all areas of the practice. I think we have done a pretty good job of it, not by shying away from issues, but by allowing everyone a seat at the table to have a voice.

Policy questions - such as whether prejudgment interest should apply in certain cases - are decided by the 201 elected delegates to the ISBA Assembly. After open debate, a clear majority of the delegates voted in favor of the proposal, that had been vetted through numerous sections and the Board of Governors.

Is the ISBA dominated by the plaintiffs' bar? I looked at the backgrounds of the five most recent ISBA presidents and found that only one was a plaintiffs' trial lawyer. Others were a big firm commercial litigator, an administrative lawyer, a family lawyer, and a civil defense lawyer. Go back 10 or 15 years and the same ratio would apply.

  • Some of the most sought-after assignments in ISBA are held by defense lawyers. Our judicial evaluations committee that reviews supreme and appellate court candidates, for instance, has been chaired in recent years by Paul Bown of Brown, Hay & Stephens, and by Al Sternberg of State Farm. Our Strategic Marketing Committee is chaired by John Bailen of Bruce Dorn. Robert Park of Snyder Park & Nelson chairs our Civil Practice and Procedure Section. Other examples abound in our CLE, legislation, and publications committees.
  • Numerically, ISBA's membership is dominated by transactional lawyers.A snapshot of the typical ISBA member is a lawyer between 45-50 years old, practicing in a firm of five or fewer lawyers, and involved most likely in trusts/ estates or real estate work. Trial lawyers, both plaintiffs and defense, account for perhaps 10 percent of our members.

So why should defense lawyers accept my invitation to join their state bar? Besides the obvious (a seat at the table), let me describe just some benefits members receive: Fastcase legal research, free to every member; ISBA E-Clips, our electronic Illinois and Seventh Circuit case digests sent to every member every workday; CLE programming that is practical and affordably-priced for members; ISBA Mutual, lawyer-owned and managed professional liability insurance; and maybe the most important - the intangible benefit of opportunities to interact with other lawyers from across the state, whether professionally or socially.

The profession needs all of us. The ISBA needs your views so that a significant component of the bar is afforded a balanced perspective on issues. One of the greatest lessons I've learned through my leadership at ISBA is that while "plaintiffs' lawyers" may often be adversaries in the courtroom, they are just the same as "defense lawyers" in that they are all "trial attorneys." The vast majority of the time, there are very few issues that our ISBA "plaintiffs' lawyer" brothers and sisters will not constructively discuss and work towards a mutually agreeable solution. In those situations where there is an agreement to disagree it is done with civility and grace.

I am sincere in extending this invitation to members of the defense bar. I invite you to consider that this is your state bar, and we are on the proverbial twoway street: We need each other.


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