June 2021Volume 109Number 6Page 8

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President's Page

After All, I Was the Future Once

It was a most unexpected year, yet full of accomplishments.

Dennis J. Orsey

As I write my final President’s Page and reflect on the events of the past 12 months, I am reminded that my entire presidency consisted of only two live ISBA events due to the pandemic—both at the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield. The first being my installation as president on June 19, 2020, and the second being the installation ceremony for my successor Anna Krolikowska on June 17.

For my entire ISBA year, the COVID-19 pandemic loomed over decisions regarding programs, projects, and meetings. All travel and live programming were cancelled. The Zoom platform became the predominant way we communicated with each other. We were also faced with an economic downturn at the start of my presidency and a racial reckoning. In spite of all of this, we managed to create programs that benefitted our membership and of which we can all be proud.

My thanks to Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke for working with the ISBA to host the Access to Justice Listening Tour. We made virtual stops at 10 separate events throughout Illinois and met with judges, practicing attorneys, court personnel, and others to learn how the pandemic affected court operations and the delivery of legal services. We learned that using technology through virtual court appearances is an efficient, cost-effective way to represent clients on most routine matters and is likely to continue into the future. All Listening Tour events were recorded and are available for viewing on the Access to Justice webpage.

I am most proud of the Rural Practice Initiative (RPI) and how demand exceeded all expectations during the program’s inaugural year. My thanks to Daniel Thies and Lois Wood, who cochaired this effort along with a great committee, and ISBA Assistant Counsel Krista Appenzeller, who served as liaison to the committee. These individuals worked tirelessly to develop and implement a statewide program to address the need for lawyers in rural communities in Illinois and provide access to justice to citizens in need of legal representation. On June 8, 2021, I will join Chief Justice Burke in welcoming RPI Fellows who were selected for placement in this program and thanking members of participating law firms for their commitment to rural practice. This is a program the ISBA can be proud of as it continues to grow in future years.

On the day I was sworn in as President I chaired the first virtual ISBA Assembly meeting where we approved a resolution on racial inequality drafted by Dr. Mary Milano and Kenya Jenkins-Wright. As cochairs of our Racial Inequality Steering Committee, these leaders have guided the work of the committee to undertake an affirmative and association-wide program to provide equal justice, eliminate barriers to full inclusion, and create affirmative approaches to professional responsibility. It is a credit to the committee’s success that it helped to pass the criminal justice omnibus reform bill recently signed into law. The committee’s work will continue in the coming years.

I am pleased with the virtual programing we were able to deliver to our members during these troubling times. Our two-day Solo and Small Firm Conference in October 2020 had record attendance and provided needed wellness programming. These meetings were followed by other programming to address the economic, physical, and mental stress incurred by our members. We looked for new ways to connect with our membership by hosting the ISBA’s first ever virtual town hall meeting as part of our Midyear Meeting. Over 200 members from around the state attended the town hall to discuss issues and ideas affecting the practice of law. I look for this event to be repeated in the future as another way to stay in touch with our membership. We learned that by using the Zoom platform we drew record attendance at our Assembly, Board of Governors, Committee, and Section meetings. The virtual meetings also resulted in substantial savings to our association.

We partnered with other bar groups like the Appellate Lawyers Association to conduct a virtual candidates forum for the Fifth District Supreme Court seat along with a program on recent Court decisions. Both of these events were well attended.

In January 2021 we conducted three virtual meetings with our Board of Governors to conduct strategic planning sessions on the future of the ISBA. These sessions were led by Molly Flood of the American Bar Association and helped to identify long-term goals for our association.

I spent most of my year working with the Supreme Court COVID-19 Task Force, which made many recommendations to the Illinois Supreme Court on rule changes designed to address the unique circumstances involving the courts and practicing attorneys during the pandemic.

While the pandemic caused my president’s trip to be delayed until 2022, I hope many of you will relieve your pent-up demand for travel by joining Cathy and me on our president’s trip scheduled for April 13-21, 2022. This seven-day “Venetian Vignettes” cruise on Oceania Cruises will depart from Venice with stops in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Messina, Sorrento/Capri, and Rome. Please join us on this unique travel opportunity by calling Michelle Mayclin with GoNextTravel Agency at (800) 842-9023.

While some days early in my presidency I felt like I was communicating with the membership from my “bunker in Granite City,” I managed to place calls or texts to members regularly just to see how they were doing. While it was not the year that I had expected, we accomplished much more than I could have imagined this time last year. My thanks to the ISBA staff for all they do to make our association the well-respected organization it is around the country. My thanks to the members who count on the ISBA for its many benefits and for sticking with us by renewing your memberships during these difficult times. We will continue to provide you with quality services for your membership dues and are working on ways to reward you for your membership loyalty.

Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to serve as the 144th president of the ISBA and to be the first president elected from Madison County. As former British Prime Minister David Cameron said in his final speech to the British House of Commons in July 2016, as I leave this place, “I will be willing you on. Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, I was the future once.”

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