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NCBP News: Managing Your Message
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Managing Your Message: Making the Most of Every Day of Your Presidency

By John Thies, NCBP Executive Council Member

As you prepare for your year as a bar president, it is important that you develop a plan that identifies your areas of focus and spreads them out across the entire year -- if you are careful about this, it will make life much easier for you and for your bar staff.  You will also be less likely to be a lame duck as you approach the end of your year!

Vision, Planning & Organization
Three really important traits of great bar leaders are: vision, planning and organization.

-- You need a strong understanding of your organization, and an even stronger appreciation for the important issues of the day (you are the "visionary in chief").  This will help you identify the areas that need your focus -- and this is where you start in determining your "message."

Planning -- You need a clear understanding of the resources available to help you achieve your goals.   As president, these are numerous and include:  Bar staff, other officers, your immediate past president, institutionalized committees,  special committees, your supreme court, the main stream media, social media (including the "blogosphere"), presidential messages (in multiple platforms), press releases, letters to the editor, and working alongside other bar associations -- just to name a few.  Most of these resources are at your fingertips.  

During my year as president of the Illinois bar, I had several primary focuses, and appointed special committees for each; I also worked closely with my immediate past president - to get an early start in how things would be structured.  I used virtually every conceivable communications tool.

Organization -- It is not enough to recognize the areas that need your attention; and to have vehicles to address them.  You also need to schedule your "messages" so that these focuses don't "step on" each other.  For example, if you are going to produce a report that will garner significant main stream media attention, schedule its release so that it does not compete with an independent effort you are making to improve the image of lawyers (which also requires buy-in from the free media).

If you have five board meetings and multiple initiatives require board action -- spread them out over your entire year.  This will give your communications director a steady stream of "copy" for membership updates, the public and whomever else you are trying to reach.  As president of the ISBA, I wanted to have significant action items for each of our board meetings and for our two Assembly meetings -- and I involved a lot of people to help me do this!


You can have great vision, planning and organization, but these traits can be wasted without attention to the message you communicate to the audience you care about.  This is called "messaging", and how you do it can make a real difference in how successful you will be as a president.

What audience do you care about as a bar president?  The answer is that you have more than one -- audiences may include: your membership; the larger bar; the public; the judiciary; legal educators; elected officials -- whomever you want to inspire, motivate or challenge.

As a bar leader, you have a number of methods to reach these various audiences.  When used together or separately, these methods can be very effective. The Key here is good coordination!

Operational Plan

I urge everyone to have an Operational Plan -- I used this to map out my activities for the year, including my calendar and messaging.  In my case, this plan included an eighteen month rolling calendar (to help me avoid conflicting scheduling), and an overview of action items, themes, special projects, leadership and goals I hoped we would accomplish (and how we would accomplish them).  I also used this plan for meeting/conference planning and agendas.  I cannot overstate the value of this system of organization for me.  A template for this sort of plan can be found here.


The most successful bar presidents organize their presidential years well in advance to help them manage their activities, themes and other responsibilities so as to get the most out of their period of leadership.  Being a bar president can be one of the most professionally fulfilling experiences a lawyer or judge can have – with the right plan, you won’t waste a minute of it!