Changes Are Coming to Our Nashville Bar Foundation
October 15, 2013 - For the last year, the Trustees of the Nashville Bar Foundation have been working on a plan to recast the Foundation as a more active participant in our legal community. Let me start with where we have been, walk you through our thought process, and describe where we are headed.
What does the Foundation do?
I've heard this question many times. It sometimes comes right before a punch line. The reality is that the Foundation has done a poor job of making the community aware of who we are and what we do. As a result, the Foundation is most frequently thought of as an organization that offers lawyers the "opportunity" to donate $1,500 and put on formal attire once a year for an annual banquet. Beyond this, the Foundation currently does not enjoy much of a reputation.
This is a shame. The Foundation provides a significant benefit to our legal community. To understand that benefit requires some history. Nashville legend David Rutherford originally suggested the Foundation in the early 1980s. (I am just young enough to have never met David Rutherford; if you don't know who he is, please find a lawyer over 50 years old and ask; also track down a copy of David's book Bench and Bar II, which will give you a sense of his deep connection to our legal community.) David's original idea was to raise money to provide affordable loans to law students in need. Over time, the mission has morphed.
Understanding the Foundation’s role also requires knowing about its financial activities today. The Foundation is 501(c)(3) that can accept charitable contributions. In contrast, the Nashville Bar Association is a 501(c)(6), which I understand is essentially a non-profit trade organization and cannot accept charitable contributions. In this way, the Foundation is the arm of our bar that facilitates purely charitable activities.
About two-thirds of the money that comes into the Foundation is charitable contributions that are raised by our Young Lawyer's Division (YLD) at their events like Race Judicata and the Carbolic Smoke Ball. Nearly all of the remaining Foundation revenue comes from the contributions of new Fellows. Finally, there are occasional special projects (like a portrait for a retiring judge) where the Foundation collects contributions from interested lawyers.
For two of these three typical revenue sources, the Foundation spends 100% of the funds received for the charitable purpose while retaining nothing for the Foundation. For example, all of the money received through the YLD's efforts is given to the charities designated by the YLD. Also, for the occasional special projects, all of the donated funds are used for the specific charitable purpose. In addition to these, the Foundation has typically made an annual contribution to the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee. The Foundation sometimes has also supported Bar Association initiatives that need help getting off the ground (like when the Association needed seed money to explore the feasibility of buying or building new office space several years ago).
My bet is that most of you are largely unaware of the facts in the last four paragraphs. The Foundation Trustees have concluded that this is because of two problems – the Foundation historically has been more reactive to need in the legal community (as opposed to actively seeking out and performing a mission) and, more importantly, the Foundation has not done a good job of telling its own story.
What is the plan?
With lawyers, you can always count on a follow-up question, or two. Here, the first follow-up should be, “So, you’re going to be ‘more proactive than reactive’ with your mission; what does that mean?” Here is what we have in mind.
Once we decided to more narrowly describe the Foundation’s core mission, we readily found clues about how to do this. The first hint was in the original mission of the Foundation: to support legal education. The next clue was in YLD’s work. The reality is that the money raised by YLD is currently the majority of the Foundation’s economic activity. The charities that YLD is supporting this year are typical; they are Boys and Girls Club of Middle Tennessee, CASA Nashville, and the Nashville Children's Alliance. Whether the Foundation has said so directly or not, the evidence is that the major thrust of the Foundation’s efforts is centered on education, mentoring, children, and civics.
Admittedly, this is still is a pretty broad range, and the Foundation will likely always be a place for special projects (like facilitating a Bar Association program, or a judicial portrait). But, we at least can answer the question about the Foundation does. Primarily, the Foundation’s mission it to support and expand law-related educational and charitable programs, and also services that promote the knowledge, understanding, and respect for the law among students, the general public, and the legal community.
Clearly stating the Foundation’s purpose – its reason to exist – is an important first step toward being better able to satisfy that mission. In truth, our Fellows and our YLD colleagues largely have been motivated by this mission already. By identifying it, and pursuing it purposefully, we believe the Foundation will grow stronger and be more effective.
In September 2014, the Foundation is going to launch a lawyer leadership program that will provide Nashville attorneys with innovative opportunities to learn, collaborate, network, and serve the community. The target audience will be lawyers with 3-8 years of experience. The program is expected to include an initial day-long retreat coinciding with the annual NBA member picnic, and a final program concluding with the NBA Law Day event the following April or May. Class members will be matched with mentors, and we anticipate that Foundation Fellows will be the mentors.
There are many more details to be decided. We are just forming the program’s steering committee now. Please look for more information in the coming months.
More active ties with YLD
The leaders of the Foundation and YLD have determined to coordinate more intentionally. For many years, the YLD has raised money, and the Foundation has written checks to deliver that money to charities. But the two groups have had little interaction beyond that. This is changing. For the new lawyer leadership program, YLD representatives will be actively involved on the steering committee. For the Foundation’s annual banquet, we will invite YLD’s leadership team and also representatives of the charities that receive gifts through the course of the year. The Foundation and YLD are also working together to improve how the two organizations use the Bar Association’s website.
Taken together, these steps will allow the Foundation and YLD to have a working relationship that properly represents their existing level of financial interactions. We hope that the tighter relationship will provide additional informal mentoring relationships between the leadership of the two groups.
The Foundation has developed an app called GavelNotes for the iPad and iPhone. An Android version is expected to be released in the next month. Using the app, you can access the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, and Evidence, as well as the analogous state rules. The text of all rules is fully searchable. You can tag favorites and bookmarks, and create your own personal annotations for any rule. In addition, the app allows you to conduct your own legal document search using Google Scholar and save the results of your search, all within the app itself.
There was an article about the app in the September 2013 issue of the Nashville Bar Journal: http://www.nashvillebar.org/NBF/GavelNotesApp.html. More information is available at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/gavelnotes/id667399603?mt=8. Or you can just download the app from iTunes. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the app are retained by the Foundation to be used for our charitable purposes.
We are going to move the annual NBF banquet from early November to late February or early March. While we recognize that there is no perfect weekend for any event, the Foundation believes that late winter would be better for us. We will be able to celebrate the organizations that received gifts from the Foundation in the previous year. We also will be able to celebrate the lawyers who led the fundraising efforts. We hope to turn the banquet into a celebration of the purposes of the Foundation, in addition to a welcome for our new Fellows.
Involvement from more Fellows
The Foundation has 604 Fellows. Thirteen of them are the Trustees. We plan to materially increase the number of Fellows that are involved in the Foundation. This year, we have had a group of five non-Trustees participate in a committee that generated the ideas that led to our current initiatives. We also had approximately 60 Fellows attend the several lunch meetings we held last May to discuss the future of the Foundation.
Going forward, we will need help from many more Fellows to build the lawyer leadership program. The Foundation also is proposing that its corporate member (the Bar Association) revise the Foundation’s bylaws to include Foundation Trustee term limits and officer succession planning. That will allow the Foundation to regularly pull in new ideas and talent from our 604 Fellows.
What are the next steps?
Our Nashville Bar Foundation always has been about more than just handing over $1,500 to be a Fellow. But the story of what the Foundation is, and what it stands for, has not been apparent. The Foundation, through its Trustees and its Fellows, must guide the Foundation to a more purposeful mission. Once that happens, I believe our Fellows and the broader legal community will respond strongly.
If you would like to help with any of this, please let me know.
Robert J. Mendes, President
Gail Vaughn Ashworth
Hon. Joe P. Binkley, Jr.
Matt C. Painter
Mary A. Parker
William T. Ramsey
William H. Tate
R. Eddie Wayland
James L. Weatherly Jr.
Sheree C. Wright