John Tredennick's Earthquake
By Monica Bay
JOHN TREDENNICK has yet to take office as chair of the American Bar Associ-ation's 18,093-member Law Practice Management section (that happens in August), but he's already shaking up the place.
Tredennick, a partner at Holland & Hart L.L.P., and C.E.O. of its tech spin-off, Case-share Systems Inc., (and a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board), recently sent a missive to the section's active members that measured 8.0 on the ABA's Richter Scale.
Tredennick says he wants to re-focus the section back to the core themes of technology, marketing, management and finance. And he warned "actives" (the 180+ members who actively participate in section matters, including 22 Council members) that they may no longer be eligible for their cherished reimbursements for airfare and hotel costs to attend section meetings.
Tredennick says he won't take reimbursements next year for the four major meetings, and urges his colleagues to follow suit and look to their employers to support their ABA activities. During his regime, Tredennick said, reimbursements will be prioritized toward those who work hard and produce direct benefits and revenue to the section. (The incoming chair prepares the budget with the finance committee and in consultation with leaders, the Council approves it.)
Tredennick says he has no choice. The section, he says, is just about flat broke. LPM's annual budget is approximately $3 million, and expected revenues from dues and its annual ABA Techshow are about equal to the fixed costs to run the section, he said. Section dues are $40, plus ABA dues, typically $295.
Trim and Cut
LPM, which traditionally has been heavily focused on legal technology, holds four major meetings each year; one at the ABA Annual, for which no one is reimbursed; one at ABA midyear; and two Council meetings.
Stanley Wasylyk and Sally Gonzalez, both of Hildebrandt TechGroup, tied the knot April 6 in Baltimore. Among revelers were tech denizens Ian Levit, Kevin O'Connor, Stephanie Buck O'Connor, Kathleen Astroth and Phillip Throne. Yvonne Dornic's minister-dad officiated, and the reception was held at Ze Mean Bean Cafe (Yvonne's restaurant where she can be found when she's not at her tech company, eSentio Technologies). Congratulations!
Typically, actives are reimbursed for supersaver airfare, $100 per day for hotel and meals, and $40 for ground transportation. At the 2002 mid-year meeting, 115 actives were authorized for reimbursement, most for three days, according to ABA documents.
Tredennick charged section leaders to trim budgets, raise funds, and cut reimbursements, and to rethink the need quarterly meetings.
"For the past 10 years, [reimbursement] has been the sine qua non of active membership," he observed, noting that staff has advised him point blank that actives would only attend meetings if reimbursed.
"We won't survive as a section on that path," Tredennick warns. "Our members (mostly non-active) provide most of the operating funds. They expect us to use those funds carefully and wisely," he said. "The members don't expect me to spend their dues on vacations for our inactive actives."
Frank Branson, Stephen Malouf
Few actives will talk on-the-record about the memo, but private e-mails have been flying. There appear to be three main issues: the LPM budget, the impact on small firm practitioners, and LPM's reputation.
The section, while receiving accolades for its tech activities and publications, for years has been chided by ABA critics as a "political playpen" that caters to a small group of in-fighting actives. There's also a fair amount of resentment about the paid-for travel to spectacular venues.
The section regularly meets at "destination" spots, such as Florida beaches, the Oregon coast, and Asheville, N.C. (home of the Vanderbilt estate). But when the section's general membership picks up the tab, it's easy to see why "taxpayer" critics get grumpy.
Some actives say the resort issue is a red herring. Resorts are usually cheaper than major metropolitan areas, they argue. In fact, Tredennick had suggested Bermuda for a Council meeting, but ruled it out in favor of San Juan after initial investigations determined that airfare and hotels would be too costly. The Puerto Rico location, while a beach, offers airfare and hotel rates much less expensive than many other U.S. destinations, he said.
Kent Hughes, Joe Calve
But now, in light of the request for employers to pick up tabs, the "free vacation" perception issue is even more touchy. Some actives expressed hesitation to push their bosses to pay for a trip to a beach. So Tredennick's now exploring other venues.
Much to Gain
The section has much to gain if employers start picking up the tab for actives' participation, proponents argue. Not only would it significantly help the LPM budget, but it would go a long way to refute critics, and help attract new members and new actives, they say.
But some say privately that they worry that the change in policy could impact small firm attorneys or actives who work for non-profits or schools. Some suggest that meetings be routinely held in Chicago, the ABA's headquartered (which would cut staff expenses), or near major airports, in order to minimize the inconvenience and expense to participants.
Among those praising Tredennick is Phil Shuey, an active who serves on several committees. "I would far rather support the expenses of a member who is contributing to the botttom line more than their costs, than others who are not contributing to that revenue stream!"
In fact, some actives argue that existing reimbursements are too frugal, and are driving away potential leaders who don't want to, or can't, absorb the costs.
Loren Jones, a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board, is a new solo (formerly with West Group) who has not been reimbursed. "Like most volunteer organizations, 1 percent do the work the other 99 percent take for granted," he observes. "Every meeting entails giving up billable time, so adding travel expenses on top of lost billable time seems to me to be asking a lot of the volunteers."
But just about everybody was sympathetic to the dilemma. "I would hope folks understand that John is trying to address the financial reality of the section," said active Jeff Flax.
San Antonio's Westin La Cantera was the site of the first Litigation Summit and Exposition, sponsored by our sibling publication, The National Law Journal. It was an intense two days of sessions and exhibits.
Howard Nations' keynote address offered an overview of trial technology, showing how attorneys can use even simple PowerPoint tools to create effective presentations. When discussing document management, Nations got in the best line of the meeting:"If you have 3.5 million pages, settle the damned thing."
Stephen Malouf and Frank Branson focused on the creation of "virtual" exhibits; then Kent Hughes, of TrialSmith.com, and NLJ's Joe Calve explained how jury verdict services, expert witness directories, brief banks and other Web-based tools can assist litigators. (NLJ offers a jury verdict service at www.verdictsearch.com).