Big Ideas ALA President’s Letter

Don’t Look Back — You Aren’t Going That Way

You know that old saying, “don’t look back, you’re not going that way”? It’s taken from an anonymous poem. If I had a dollar for every time I have read it, heard it or said it, I would no longer be in legal management. If you Google the quote you will find over 3 billion (yes, that is a B) results. You can find this message on everything from keychains to pillows to book titles to Bob Dylan documentaries. It’s a mantra — a message, a forecast.

Debra L. Elsbury, CLM

That’s not to say we don’t look back. We revisit and question and wonder if we have done, said or provided the “right” things. It is a habit that we have developed over the years — it is so easy to look back and judge. And looking back isn’t always a terrible thing. (You would be a terrible driver without a rearview mirror, after all.) If we don’t look back and reflect, we would be unable to gauge how much we’ve grown.

The experiences of the past year with a pandemic and social injustice made us participants in this thing called life, allowing us take the time to reflect. It is a great time for exponential personal and professional growth — if we are not stuck looking backward. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink and reframe, but I’d like for us all to pause and ask ourselves: Are we answering the call?

Would you have believed a year ago that you could have managed your legal organization through a pandemic that made the world stand still? I am guessing the answer is a hard no. But look at what our members and profession have stepped up and done. We have learned that we can move through obstacles and challenges with grace and wisdom. We learned just how much we can rely on one another to assist us in being our best.

“But look at what our members and profession have stepped up and done. We have learned that we can move through obstacles and challenges with grace and wisdom.” 

As I come to the end of my presidential year, I fight the urge to armchair quarterback. I feel the need to redo, reorder and reprioritize. But as is the case with each of us, we make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. However, I am reminded that we can change through our choices going forward, or we can rinse and repeat. We can judge and rank our actions in the past, or we can choose to reflect and improve.

It has been my pleasure to serve as your President this past year. I have missed seeing your faces outside of my 2-by-2 square on my computer monitor, but I am still grateful for the ability to “see” so many of you. I managed to work my day job in Indianapolis and attend a conference in California all in the same day. I was able to attend educational opportunities in my leggings with messy hair. I attended a holiday play in Jacksonville at lunch and went to my husband’s local basketball game that evening. I had dinner with my family and attended a wine tasting in Chicago all within an hour. I talked in Boise during the day and still drove home in the evening. I dropped in on so many chapters and connected with members I might not have had the opportunity to meet. So many more opportunities were afforded me because of the pandemic — or maybe in spite of it!

I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best people in this Association. I am in awe of our Board of Directors, with their great minds and servant leadership attitudes. I have been amazed by our staff and their ability to pivot when plans did not go our way. I am thrilled with the business partners who have stood by us in a less than optimal year.

As the Association is headed into a new strategic plan and new leadership is at the ready, I am excited about the future — the future of this Association, the future of the legal profession and the future of each of you.

So don’t look back: reflect. You aren’t going that way — you are going forward! While rearview mirrors do serve an important purpose, and you should always drive forward with them in mind.