Big Ideas ALA President’s Letter

Connected Through ALA

I’m just a week into my role as ALA President, and I can’t begin to tell you how much of an incredible honor it is.

Michael T. Bumgarner, CLM, CPA, CGMA

I come to you from West Virginia, and contrary to what some may think, West Virginia is its very own state — it’s not the western part of the state of Virginia. Yes, there is a Western Virginia Chapter, but there isn’t a chapter within the state of West Virginia. That means I’m an independent member — and I’m proud to say that I’m the first independent member to become ALA President.

This story might already be familiar for those of you who were able to attend the Annual Meeting on May 6, but I know many of you might not have had a chance to log on for the event. I wanted to share my story of my nontraditional ALA leadership path. I am hopeful my ALA journey may inspire you to forge your own to make the most of your ALA experience.

I have been a member of ALA for almost 19 years. My first interest in becoming a member came when I started working at my current law firm of Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC in 2002, coming from the accounting and banking industry. Within my first year, I attended the ALA Essentials of Legal Administration Conference in Washington, D.C. This gave me a terrific overview of legal administration, but it wasn’t a pivotal moment for me in my ALA journey.

After four years of keeping up with ALA’s legal publications and emails, I didn’t do much more with ALA and even contemplated dropping my membership.

It wasn’t until 2006 that I read about the Certified Legal Manager (CLM)® exam. This credential would demonstrate that I mastered the knowledge, skills and abilities to operate at a high-level of expertise in the field of legal management. Also, there was a possibility of a professional liability insurance discount for our firm. With that in mind, I received approval to attend the 2006 Annual Conference & Expo in Montreal, so I could sit for the CLM exam and obtain credits that I needed for my CPA education requirements.  

“Take it from a member from a (real) state without a chapter, who barely made it to a conference and attended a newcomers’ orientation. Let’s all continue to unite and grow the Association.”

Here’s where things get interesting. I made a rather silly mistake that ultimately changed things for me both personally and professionally.

I almost didn’t make it into Canada for Annual Conference and the CLM exam because of a long delay in a special room with customs agents. For some reason, I didn’t realize I would need my passport to fly into Canada versus driving into Canada as I had done just the summer before when I visited Ontario. So there I sat, begging for leniency. Fortunately, they had mercy on me and granted me entry to beautiful Montreal.

But this mistake meant that I ended up on a late shuttle to the hotel next to another ALA member — Josh Meeks from North Carolina. It was a long shuttle ride, and we are both chatty guys, as some may say.

Josh was a first-time attendee, too, and convinced me to meet him the next night at the newcomers’ orientation, after taking the CLM exam. Someone had encouraged him to show up to meet some people. Reluctantly, I agreed to meet him.

At the newcomers’ orientation, Josh introduced me to Kathy Scourby and David Constantine, both ALA Board members at the time, and they adopted both Josh and me for that week. The fellow members and friends I met encouraged me to put my name in for volunteer roles shortly after that conference. The rest, as they say, is history.

Josh, Kathy and David are my closest friends to this day, and their connection at a newcomers’ orientation 15 years ago changed how I looked at ALA as more than education, but also personal connections.

All of this has led to an interest in giving back to ALA by volunteering for the Certification Committee, then as Regional Representative and ultimately Director. Each year, my favorite event is the newcomers’ orientation, and I enjoy trying to pay it forward when meeting new members at any event. 

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For each person in the Association who I have had the opportunity to spend time with and work with on a committee or as a fellow volunteer, I cannot tell you how much each of you have contributed to who I am since my ALA journey started. I am extremely grateful to those of you who have encouraged me to continue volunteering. I don’t think I can ever repay how you all have supported me, what I have learned, continue to learn and how much I’ve grown and continue to grow because of my experiences within ALA and my friendships with ALA members and business partners. 

In closing, those of you who volunteer in our Association know the feeling. I encourage all members to take an active role in ALA, show kindness and be welcoming to others, seek connections and create positive experiences, and encourage others in your firm to join and be actively involved. It will be a tremendous gift to yourself, both professionally and personally. I am an example that sometimes the best gift you can give to others is to welcome and include them. If someone had not done that for me, I would not be here today. Take it from a member from a (real) state without a chapter, who barely made it to a conference and attended a newcomers’ orientation. Let’s all continue to unite and grow the Association.

I look forward to being the 47th president of ALA and celebrating its 50th year with you all, and I look forward to meeting you!

Were you unable to attend the Annual Meeting live? We’ve got you covered. Head over to to watch the recording.