One of the goals of the Women and the Law Committee, through its quarterly newsletter, is to share with our readers information about women in leadership positions within and outside of the ISBA. We wish to “spotlight” the contributions women make to the organization, the profession and the community at large. In furtherance of that goal, Catalyst Co-Editor, Sandra Crawford, sat down with ISBA’s Board of Governors’ member, Michele Jochner, to chat about Michele’s unique contribution to the Bar. The conversation focused upon Michele’s leadership over the past several years in establishing the annual Solo and Small Firm Conference (SSFC) as a major event on the ISBA calendar.
Catalyst (Sandra Crawford): Wow, Michele, what a great event (the 3rd Annual SSFC held September 6th- 8th at the Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles, Illinois). Tell us a little about your involvement with this ISBA conference.
Michele: Well, my involvement dates back to 2003 when I was serving as the Chair of the ISBA General Practice Section Council. At that time, together with Bob Downs (ISBA Past President 2005-2006) and others, we established a sub-committee within that Section Council to explore presenting a multi-track educational conference for ISBA core membership. We had heard about a similar conference hosted by the Missouri Bar for its members, so we started with an exploration of that model. Understand, Missouri’s Bar differs from Illinois’ in that membership in its Bar is mandatory where membership in our state bar is voluntary. But the General Practice Section Council was intrigued by the model and began asking questions about how we could host a similar educational opportunity here in Illinois.
Catalyst: Help us understand what you mean by “ISBA core membership.”
Michele: The majority of the ISBA members are either solo practitioners, like yourself Sandra, or small firm practitioners. This conference was organized to speak to the needs of that specific group within the larger membership. Total membership in ISBA is around 34,000. Solo and small firm lawyers make up a large percentage of those members. From the beginning, it was essential to the planning committee that we understand and address the needs of those solo and small firm members. It was also essential that we have diversity on the planning committee. Over half of the Committee was comprised of women members. It was important to have diversity within the Committee so that we could be sure we would be informed about and could address the diverse interests of the conference attendees, particularly those who work alone or in small firm settings—our core membership.
Catalyst: Got it. What happened after that?
Michele: By 2004, our vision of what the conference would look like became clear. We worked with the ISBA Executive Director and staff to make the event happen. Lots of time went into the logistics and planning. The first SSFC was held in September, 2005. The response was so great from the core membership that we had to close the registration that first year so we could accommodate all the attendees. We were also very successful in obtaining sponsorships from various local bar associations and vendors. It was amazing. I then went on to head the SSFC planning committee for the next two years. In 2005, the conference had 200 attendees. In 2006, it had 300. This year we had 400. The growth and acceptance of this conference format, as I said, has been amazing. It is likely to continue to grow.
Catalyst: Tell us about the current SSFC planning committee and how our readers who might be interested can volunteer and get involved.
Michele: The SSFC is now a stand alone committee of the Bar with about 25 members from all practice areas and regions of Illinois. As I said before, diversity of the membership on the SSFC Committee is very important. Members of the SSFC are appointed, like other committee members, by the Bar President. Those interested in serving should make their interest known either to the ISBA President or to ISBA Executive Director, Bob Craghead. The Committee’s appointment cycle may run a little bit differently than other Bar Committees because the focus of the SSFC Committee’s work is the planning and hosting of the conference which takes place in September. The planning for 2008 will be getting underway now that the 2007 Conference is over.
Catalyst: You also served as moderator for various panel discussions at this year’s SSFC. (See photo insert—Michele moderated a panel discussion on developments in the Alternative Dispute Resolution field which included the interviewer). Tell us a little about the different panels and other aspects of the conference.
Michele: Again, diversity in the panels and the programs is essential to the planning committee. The SSFC Committee is committed to presenting a wide range of topics. This year we had three distinct tracks: Effective and Ethical Practice; 21st Century Law Practice; and substantive law. The Missouri conference model upon which we are based has grown to eight different tracks from which participants can choose SSFC attendees can pick and choose the different educational sections they wish to attend. They can pick topics that meet the particular needs of their own practices and can get CLE credits as well. Also, as you know Sandra, in addition to the educational and credit aspects of the SSFC, there are the social and networking aspects. The three day event includes exhibits, receptions and group breakfasts and luncheons, which feature speakers on more general topics of interest to the profession. These social components give the attendees from around the state opportunities to meet and to get to know each other and to develop new friendships and see old friends. It is just an amazing opportunity and a wonderful thing to be part of, and I have really enjoyed my involvement with the SSFC since its inception.
Catalyst: Thank you, Michele, for sharing with us and for all your volunteer work over the past several years in making this conference happen for ISBA core members.
Michele: You are welcome. Looking forward to seeing everyone at the 2008 ISBA SSFC, which will take place next September.