President’s Message: Strategic Planning

By Laird B. Stone, Idaho State Bar President

The incoming President of the Idaho State Bar.  Wow, an impressive title to some but in reality it gives no more “power” or “importance” than already exists as part of the five-member Board of Commissioners that oversees the workings of the Idaho State Bar.

I recently learned from both written and oral comments given by various Bar members attending the Road Show meetings, some questions exist as to what the Idaho State Bar and Board of Commissioners do.

The easiest answer is to direct you to the Bar’s mission statement:

The mission of the Idaho State Bar is to administer granting the privilege to practice law in Idaho; to control and regulate the legal profession; to protect the public from the unauthorized practice of law and from the unprofessional conduct by members of the Bar; to promote high standards of professional conduct; and to aid in the advancement of the administration of justice.

Knowing the mission, however, is only part of the answer – to carry it out and improve upon it is a duty of the Bar.  To do so, a board needs a plan with checkpoints and a method to review and quantify results to determine whether the mission is being fulfilled.  The board had not done an in-depth strategic planning session for a number of years.  In September of 2022, the commission under the leadership of Kristin Bjorkman had a strategic planning retreat.  Out of that meeting came the following:

Strategic Goal #1 – Advance Bar Member Engagement, Interaction, and the Bar’s Understanding of Bar Members
  • Advance Member Engagement
    • Benchmark Current Member Participation Levels; Expand
    • Identify one targeted constituency group per year for enhanced engagement focus and attention
  • Advance Bar Interaction with Members
    • Take bar events to members; engage in “listening” events
    • Enhance Commissioner Engagements with Bar Districts
    • Facilitate Partnership Opportunities with Local and Specialty Bars
  • Better Understand Bar Member Needs
    • Conduct biennial bar member survey
    • Focus on Rural Lawyer Support and Advancement
Strategic Goal #2 – Advance Initiatives Designed to Build a Better Profession
  • Support Well-Being Initiatives to Enhance the Professional Satisfaction of Legal Professionals
    • Expand Education on Well-Being Topics
    • Launch a Well-Being Committee
    • Include Wellness Questions on Bar Survey
  • Advance the Inclusivity, Diversity and Sense of Belonging within the Legal Community
    • Continue to Gather and Publish Demographic Data
    • Enhance Pathways for Underrepresented Groups to Serve and Engage in Bar Activities
  • Continue to Educate the Bar and Public on the Bar’s Impact
    • Member Benefit Promotion
    • Regulatory Impact/Value
    • Bar Leadership in Public-Facing Programs

At the time that I write this, the Board has not yet met for our January meeting during which we will finalize these goals.  After our January meeting, our next step will be the implementation of achieving these goals.  To help with that implementation, the following checklist[i] compiled by the Association of Community College Trustees may act as a framework from which to base our focus:

  • Represent the Community (Bar Members)
    • Know community needs and trends
    • Link with the community
    • Seek out and integrate multiple perspectives when making policy decisions
    • Debate and discuss issues in public (Road Show)
    • Serve the public good
  • Act as a Unit
    • Integrate multiple perspectives into board decision-making
    • Speak with one voice; support the decision of the board once it is made
    • Recognize that power rests with the board, not individual commissioners
  • Set the Policy Direction
    • Be proactive, visionary, and future-oriented
    • Focus on community needs and trends
    • Establish the vision, mission, and broad institutional goals as policy
  • Board-CEO Relations
    • Select and retain the best CEO possible
    • Define clear parameters and expectations for performance
    • Conduct periodic evaluations; provide honest and constructive feedback
    • Support the CEO
  • Define Standards for Bar Operations
    • Set policy standards for high quality programs
    • Adopt policies that ensure high expectations
    • Adopt fiscal policies that require wise and prudent use of funds
    • Adopt personnel policies that attract and retain high quality personnel and that ensure fair treatment
  • Monitor Instructional Performance
    • Monitor progress toward goals
    • Monitor adherence to operation policies
    • Use pre-established criteria for monitoring
    • Have a timetable for reports
  • Create a Positive Climate
    • Model a commitment to the Bar
    • Focus on outcomes
    • Support risk-taking and professional growth
    • Seek consultation in developing of policy
    • Be ethical; act with integrity
  • Support and Be Advocates for the Institution
    • Promote the Bar in the community
    • Advocate the needs of the Bar with government officials
    • Support the foundation and fundraising efforts
  • Lead as an Educated Team
    • Engage in ongoing learning about board roles and responsibilities
    • Be curious and inclusive
    • Be positive, supportive, and respectful

This is a dynamic plan, and it needs to be reviewed and revised as the Bar’s needs and board members change.

The constants are the mission statement and the staff’s excellent work in carrying that forward through the plan.

The results must be measured both subjectively and objectively.  The surveys, both formal and informal, used by the Bar are some of the tools to be used to measure the progress towards the goals.

The Board’s role as seen from the checklist is to develop policy and practices that assist the staff in the implementation of the strategic plan.  The staff has the responsibility of the daily grind.  The Board has the responsibility to ensure the staff has the tools and the backing of the Board to do their work.  The Board also has the responsibility to oversee that the work is being done in a fiscally responsible manner.

To succeed, a Board must have a strategic plan and set goals to meet the elements of the plan.  The obvious purpose to be to carry out the mission of the organization.  This is not a static objective but one a Board adjusts over time as the goals are achieved or the implementation of the plan needs to be modified to reach the enumerated goals.

An excellent resource in fulfilling a mission and achieving a goal is a book entitled “The Four Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covoy, Jim Huling (2012).  As discussed in this book, the “readers’” Board’s responsibility is to develop the strategy and help with the ability to execute.  The actual work falls to the staff.  We as the board need to ensure there is clarity in the plans and a policy in place that allows the execution thereof, and then get out of the way.

Because the Board bears the ultimate responsibility, it is not a mere rubber stamp, but our active group of five, very professional, moral individuals who care deeply for the integrity of our profession.  This includes speaking up when our stated mission is questioned and/or attacked.  Being willing to listen to all sides and making decision that carry out this mission so that as a Board we can accomplish our goals and make the Bar a dynamic, growing, professional organization.

As for implementation, well it has been going on for years under the capable direction of our director and staff.

A list of the action groups and committees that the Board and Bar office have created over the years and the history of the State Bar run several pages and is available by request from the Bar office.

The best reason for strategic planning and implementation is, as one of the great philosophers said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you do not know where you are going, because you might not get there.”[ii]

This is a brief explanation of what the commissioners are working on and hopefully has not only answered some of the questions that we got from the Road Show but caused some interest to arise in participating in Bar activities.

See you in Boise at the Annual Meeting this July.

After 44 years of practice, when not found at the office, Laird B. Stone will be seen with his wife, Vickie, playing with their five-year-old granddaughter, or on the course.

[i]. “Trusteeship in Community Colleges.” by Cindra J. Smith, (Association of Community College Trustees).

[ii]. Yogi Berra.