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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in State and National Process Serving Associations

I am encouraged by the number of new state process serving associations that have been established recently. Congratulations on having the courage and fortitude to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work necessary to create meaningful results for your industry. From where I sit it appears that Alabama, Illinois and Colorado to name a few are off to great start. Keep up the good work.

These developments are exciting and fun to watch. As I observe the successes of these associations it got me thinking about what works and what doesn’t when one is trying to work for the good of the association. I have the benefit of experiencing both the good and the bad firsthand - having literally grown up in the process serving industry/profession - so I thought I would share my experiences, thoughts, and concerns in the hopes that the new and established associations might benefit from them.

Learning the ropes as a CAPPS member

I will never forget my first annual meeting as an adult. Yes, I attended one or two as a minor over 30 years ago thanks to mom and dad dragging us kids along. My first annual conference as an adult was a CAPPS (now CALSPro) conference in 1984 or 1985. I have a very clear recollection of the business meeting and how impressed I was with the leaders of the association and how they gave their time and energy for the good of the industry. I came away from that meeting thinking that anyone who does not get involved and take an active role in helping to shape the future of the industry was foolish; that only good could come from such a collaborative effort. I was proud to call myself a CAPPS member and I wanted to know where to sign up to do whatever I could to help make a difference.

I did sign up and started attending board meetings, I agreed to be an area governor, and I joined a committee or two. A few years later I was elected to the board. At first I was very quiet, I saw my job as the “newbie” to listen and absorb as much information as possible. I hoped to contribute in my small way to create value for the members. Things were good.

It did not take long before I was exposed to the bad. I do not remember if it was my second or third year on the board but there was an issue that became very divisive within the organization. So much so that several members started a recall petition of certain board members. The issue had to do with the courts adopting Fax Filing in CA. Many members apparently felt that because there were several board members who were all active with the formation of a new company (Fax Court Filing not to be confused with Fax & File), that posed a potential conflict and they sought to recall all of those board members. Long story short, I was one of the individuals targeted for recall. I quickly became disenchanted with the notion that we were all working for the common good of the industry and that this nonsense was not what I signed up for. So I resigned in principle rather than take sides and fight with my fellow members. A few years later I got involved again after tempers settled.

Over the years CAPPS accomplished a lot and became an important and meaningful force in the process serving profession. To this day I am so honored and proud to have been a small part of CAPPS’s (now CALSPro) successes. One of things that made CAPPS successful was its willingness to nurture and encourage the younger generation to get involved and take an active role. It was as if the founders of CAPPS knew that they needed a succession plan in order to preserve and grow the association.

One of the most important things in my opinion that CAPPS did several years ago was to acknowledge that it needed to question what it stood for and what its goals and objectives were both long and short term. Doing things the way they had always been done was no longer going to win the day. The association needed a goal and more importantly a plan for executing on that goal. So it gathered the leaders of the association, committee chairs and other interested parties for a strategic retreat. A two-day meeting with a goal to re-cast the goals and objectives of the association was held. The time and money spent to undertake this endeavor was money well spent and among other things the California Association of Legal Support Professionals (CALSPro) was born. To this day CALSPro continues to thrive because its leaders past and present understood what it would take to ensure the association and industry in CA would have a meaningful purpose and future.

I credit vision, courage and the leadership of the founders with helping create the environment where the association could evolve and prosper.

Getting involved on a national level with NAPPS

Leading up to the CALSPro evolution I decided to get active with NAPPS, figuring that what worked for CAPPS would work for NAPPS. It took time to get accepted but I persevered, having learned from my early years in CAPPS that things are not always going to go your way and that you need to hang in there.

Despite several challenges, I found my niche as the technology chair. I also found out the hard way that NAPPS and CAPPS, though similar in many ways, operated very differently. There was not the same willingness to nurture or even accept that others might have ideas worth considering. Rather, you learned that if you were going to be active in NAPPS there were two paths to follow. The path of least resistance was to accept your role and in time you would raise through the ranks and perhaps you would chair an important committee.

The other path was less traveled for good reason. It was fraught with potholes and roadblocks.

I found myself torn as I tried to be accepted and as I tried to create change. Both were difficult. As a result I found myself on and off the NAPPS board a few times.

When I decided I wanted to be president, I knew I would have to play nicer. At some level I decided it was more important to play long if I wanted to make a difference. I rationalized that the only way I was going to be able to make a meaningful difference was to do so from within the organization and that meant toning down my approach. Once president I was naïve because I actually thought that I had earned the respect of some of my fellow board members. I thought that I could help shape the future of the organization as president. Instead I found myself constantly on an island isolated aside from one or two supporters on the board. Because there were no clearly defined goals and objectives for the association each board member had their own view of what was important. As a result we were all pulling in different directions.

Those two years as president were not fun. I did manage to make a few changes and hope that I influenced a few people.

Now, for the first time in decades, you have a crop of new leaders coming through the ranks and the old guard is finally getting the message that they need to loosen their grip and let the association and industry evolve. If I played even a small role in helping to create the environment for this evolution to be possible then I am proud of my contributions.

Lessons to help all associations evolve and prosper

It is not always going to be easy and more than likely there will be significant challenges. Whether a new association or old, I think either can benefit from the experiences of those that came before.

My hope is that NAPPS and the new associations will take my observations in the manner they are intended - constructive - and apply the lessons learned.

Not that anyone asked but I am going to offer my specific advice anyway.

1.Clearly define the association’s goals and objectives both short and long term.

2.Clearly articulate those goals and objectives to the membership so as to ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.

3.Create a plan for executing the stated goals and objectives.

4.Constantly take stock of your progress and be willing to take corrective steps when necessary to get things back on track.

5.Periodically reconvene the leaders of the association to re-examine the goals and objectives so as to ensure they are still relevant. It is important that you guard against group-think and include non-board members when you define the association and what it hopes to accomplish.

6.Celebrate successes and learn from your failures. Don’t give up.

7.Constantly nurture and encourage the future leaders of your organization.

8.Challenge yourself and the organization to question the status quo.

9.Be open to and embrace change. Not for change’s sake, but as a way of encouraging the growth and evolution of the organization.

10.Recognize when it is time to get out of the way and let others lead. Have a succession plan.