December 2015Volume 103Number 12Page 22

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Four Decades of Service

Executive Director Robert E. Craghead reflects on the changes, the constants, and the lessons of his 40-year career with the ISBA.

Robert Craighead (Photo by Kari Bedford)
Robert Craighead (Photo by Kari Bedford)

Robert E. Craghead has spent his entire career with the Illinois State Bar Association. He joined the ISBA fresh out of college in September 1975 as assistant director of professional services and held a variety of positions before becoming executive director in 1994. When he began, Gerald Ford was President, the average yearly U.S. income was $14,000, and Illinois had some 28,000 licensed lawyers (in 2014: nearly 93,000).

Among many career milestones, he received the 2003 Bolton Award for Professional Excellence from the National Association of Bar Executives and was elected NABE vice president last spring. He will serve as president in 2017-18.

Bob was born in Galesburg in 1953 and is a summa cum laude graduate of Illinois College. He lives in Springfield with his wife, Fran, and has three children - Brent, Adam, and Rachel.

IBJ: You started in 1975. What are the biggest differences in your day-to-day work then and now? For example, there were no PCs then.

REC: Not only were there no PCs then, there were no cell phones or even fax machines. We communicated by hard copy, with yellow carbons for the file, and by telephone. If something really needed to get somewhere, we sent it express mail.

Just like today, many ISBA meetings were held in the Chicago area, which led to a substantial amount of travel for the Springfield-based staff. I still jokingly tell people that I live on I-55 and my family lives in Springfield. I'd estimate that I've made the Chicago-Springfield round trip more than 2,000 times. When you traveled back then, you identified pay phones along the way that worked well so you could stay in touch with the office. There were stretches of time when you were simply unavailable.

Today, as we well know, we're always accessible and the pace of the non-profit world is warp speed. We no longer worry about moving paper as much as we process data - staying on top of email and keeping abreast of projects handled digitally. And expectations of bar leaders, members, and staff for timely responses is consistent with this frenetic pace.

IBJ: How has the ISBA changed in the last 40 years?

REC: ISBA is really the members, and the association has been lucky over the years to have a solid base of active members who participate on the board, assembly, and our section councils and committees. They help us deliver quality programs and services for the regular membership, which is the main mission of ISBA.

However, the time that our active members have to dedicate to ISBA has changed. There are tremendous pressures on our members' time. In the 1970s, board meetings were typically a day and a half long, starting on a Friday morning and ending at noon on Saturday, with a social event afterward. Section councils and committees often met on Saturdays. Now, meetings rarely go more than three hours and members value their weekends.

As the bar of Illinois has grown, so has the ISBA membership. However, what once was generally accepted as a professional obligation - membership in the state bar association - is now a conscious economic choice about spending dues dollars. All members, regardless of the length of their professional careers, demand a good return on their investment, and it is our responsibility in this competitive environment to provide that.

Technology - there is no question that ever evolving technology impacts everything we do. At one point, we printed and mailed well over a million substantive law newsletters each year. We now email 90-plus percent of our newsletters. We communicate electronically, we handle membership electronically, we provide many services - notably free CLE - online, and we handle our accounting and finances electronically. Staying up to speed with technology is a daily responsibility.

One of the other big changes is that ISBA became a two-office operation in the early 1980s. The Illinois Bar Center - an architecturally significant building located next door to the historic Supreme Court Building in Springfield - is the headquarters for the association. Our Chicago Regional Office has grown since its early days to be the program and meeting hub. The ISBA maintains its commitment to the entire state by presenting programs across Illinois, but the majority of our events are held in our Chicago office.

IBJ: What were some of the top challenges facing the profession and the organized bar back then? What are they today?

REC: When I started, it seemed like all the burning issues emanated from within the profession. Lawyers were enjoying a growth and opportunity in the profession. Lots of attention was devoted to whether lawyers should be allowed to specialize. And there was a huge controversy over lawyer advertising.

Now, more challenges come from outside the profession. The legal marketplace is undergoing fundamental change. New lawyers face staggering law school debt in a less-than-robust job market. There are pressures from outside of the profession, new players trying to capture a piece of what is described as the "unmet needs" legal market. These challenges are not transitory, and the profession and organized bar have no choice but to address them.

IBJ: How can bar associations help lawyers meet those challenges?

REC: There are two key ways bar associations can help. The first is to empower our members to be productive and competitive in the legal economy. Bar associations should provide tools that help lawyers practice better at their desks.

Second, bar associations should identify and define the pressing issues confronting the profession. That helps bar leaders influence the future of the profession. Bar association staff are uniquely situated to assist bar leaders in this time of profound and rapid change.

IBJ: You mention the staff - how has it changed over the years?

REC: I have been fortunate to work with dedicated, talented people since I started. Throughout the staff, there's a commitment to providing the best possible service to the entire membership. We staff members also are fortunate to have a close and constructive partnership with leadership. I believe that the leadership has enabled us to work that way.

I mention staff commitment - today we have 633 years of bar experience in our roughly 50 staff members. That's an average of nearly 13 years per staff member. That degree of longevity and continuity is rare these days.

IBJ: You've been a bar staff professional your entire career. Why?

REC: I still like coming to work every day - really. It seems like there are always new challenges. One of our past presidents, a successful trial lawyer, often said you have to keep your skills honed. This job helps me move forward and stay current. Running in place is not an option.

But the truth is, it's fun. I thoroughly enjoy working with our members and my colleagues on the staff and making a small contribution to the progress of the legal profession.

Member Comments (3)

During the time I was involved in ISBA activities I saw Bob often and always appreciated his dry sense of humor and level of professionalism. I did ,however, always wonder what he really looked like behind the beard. I hope he enjoys a long and satisfying retirement.

Great article about Bob. I had the pleasure of hiring him those forty years ago and was deligted to see him selected as Executive Director several years after my departure for a different career in Florida in 1985. My 25 years with ISBA sure seems as not so very much compared with Bob's time there.

Congratulations Bob and all the best.

Our Executive Directer has been a 'true compass' for our association. Both his counsel to officers and advice to members has always been, 'Do what's best for the members of the ISBA.' He is unwavering in his goal to maintain the ISBA's position as both a national leader of bar associations and a professional organization responsive to the every day needs of its members. JC

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