Big Ideas ALA President’s Letter

A Leadership Journey

“Life’s a journey, not a destination, and we just can’t tell what tomorrow brings.” Thank you very much, Steven Tyler, for those lyrics way back in 1993 in the song “Amazing.” That verse seems to pretty well sum up the world today as a result of COVID-19. 

James L. Cornell III

However, as I’ve reflected on this, I’m convinced that not knowing what tomorrow brings has been our reality all along, whether we knew it or not. We simply lived our lives with a greater sense of predictability and certainly a much stronger feeling of security about our jobs, our health and, yes, even the availability of toilet paper.

These are uncertain times, and I’m sure none of us thought we’d be dealing with a global pandemic when 2020 kicked off. Yet, when we take a moment to observe objectively how we’ve been able to adjust, it’s impressive and incredibly resilient. And more than anything it’s hopeful. I encourage each and every one of you to appreciate the role you have played in bringing normalcy and the ability to do simple things like work to the people you lead and manage — that’s nothing short of amazing in itself!

Being selected to serve as ALA’s 45th President has been an enormous honor, and something that still catches me by surprise on occasion. I joined our Board of Directors in 2015, and since that time I have thought a lot about what I could contribute to ALA and how I could positively impact the Association through my service. The reality of becoming President of the Association didn’t really hit me until I stepped on stage last year at our Annual Conference and accepted the gavel from April Campbell. What an emotional moment that was for me to share with my family, friends, colleagues and fellow members. I realized the opportunity I’d only previously imagined had now arrived — I’d be contributing to ALA in all the ways I had been thinking about over the years.

But my leadership journey involves so much more than me. Our Association moves forward based on what we as members need, where the industry is going and what best serves the legal organizations that we work for. The duty of the Board and the President is to guide the Association along, occasionally course-correcting or adjusting to new conditions. There’s not a lot of room in that for pet presidential projects; however, there is plenty of room for leadership growth, culture-building, professional development and performance improvement.

I encourage each and every one of you to appreciate the role you have played in bringing normalcy and the ability to do simple things like work to the people you lead and manage — that’s nothing short of amazing in itself!

There was also room for a bylaws amendment that equalized membership and gave voting rights to all our members. It expanded membership opportunities to a broader group of legal industry professionals. We worked through the implementation of the Organizational Pricing Model pilot program and the formation of a search committee charged with identifying and hiring ALA’s next Executive Director, who will lead us into our 50th year as an Association. And now we’ll work to create new and meaningful ways for our members to network, learn and connect to the resources we all rely on while not having an Annual Conference to attend until 2021 in Chicago. 

These were definitely not the things I envisioned last year. However, each one has been an unexpected opportunity for me to grow as a leader and as a person. The biggest blessing of all has been working shoulder to shoulder with members of the Board of Directors and ALA HQ staff. I respect, admire, love and am grateful for each and every one of them, and I hope they know the positive impact they have made in my life.

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and wife of Franklin Roosevelt, believed that “the purpose of life after all, is to live it, to taste the experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for new, richer experiences.” Serving as ALA President this past year has been a rich experience beyond measure.

In looking ahead at our collective journey, I’m excited for ALA as Debbie Elsbury, CLM, prepares to take the gavel and become the Association’s 46th President. Debbie brings a wealth of talent, leadership, understanding and humor with her, and she is the perfect leader to guide us during these uncertain times. She’s also a thoughtful planner. While no one can know what the future holds, I am certain that if the path zigs where we think it should zag, she’ll deftly keep us moving forward toward our destination of being the premier professional association connecting leaders and managers within the legal industry.

Last and certainly not least, I would like to thank my employer, Shook Hardy & Bacon, LLP, for their support, understanding, encouragement and flexibility. My journey over the last year has at times been challenging, yet they have been with me every step of the way.

Until I see you all again, be safe, stay healthy, care for your loved ones, remember the wonderful discoveries you have made as a result of this abrupt change in our lives, and keep your hope strong as this portion of our journey too will soon pass.

With heartfelt gratitude,