American Bar Association - Division for Bar Services

Mecklenburg County Bar - Operational Review

December 5, 2008 - Download the full report here (pdf)



A.  Statistics

B.  Governance

C.  Policies

D.  Financial Management

E.  Staff Management and Administration

F.  Program Administration and Development

G.  Communications and Membership Outreach




There is no substitute for good governance. It is the foundation of a healthy organization and, if absent, can cause everything else to break down. Good governance assures organizational integrity and provides the framework for serving members, the profession, and the public. Beyond adherence to policy, good governance requires the board to be attentive to the organization's future. It should not only define the future but also chart the course and ensure that adequate resources exist for getting there. The MCB's board has generally not concerned itself with "administrivia." Its focus is on providing services to members that enrich their professional development and strengthen their competence. There also is considerable attention by the board to the role of the bar in the community both in law-related and non-related areas.


What the board has not focused on is creating a holistic vision of the MCB that knits its various programs together into a cohesive whole. The current long range plan lacks connective tissue between the goals and the designated tasks. There isn't a clear sense of what will be accomplished and how success will be measured. Longer term strategies are also hindered by a sense that priorities shift from year-to-year not based on a shared vision of the board but, rather, on priorities of individual leaders.


There also is a sense that the MCB is hampered by its own thinking about its status as a unified bar. Rather than identifying what it wants to be and figuring out how to do it as a unified bar, the MCB seems to say, "We are a unified bar, there are only certain things that we can do." This appears to have stifled the bar's creativity in defining ways to be relevant.


The questions of relevance and mission of the bar and the foundation have some urgency as they look at relocating the bar center. Projecting five-ten years out, the space will need to accommodate the programmatic and technology needs that each organization identifies. Cautionary tales abound of bar associations and bar foundations getting too far afield of their core purposes by getting into the real estate business, or more problematically, the restaurant business.


The board has excellent processes in place and it is efficiently and competently administered.


Exemplary Practices

  • Committed leadership.
  • The board's time is well-spent on issues that matter. Little time is spent on insignificant matters.
  • The board reviews the executive director on a regular basis and sets appropriate performance goals.
  • The board works well with the staff and is cognizant of the importance of the board-staff partnership.
  • The board is attentive to its own work.
  • There are multiple pathways to leadership: sections, committees, state bar, executive committee, and the BLI.
  • The board has created performance expectations for sections and enforced them.
  • The executive director's report that is included in the board books is a model for others to emulate.

Recommended Areas of Attention

  • Consider establishing a board self-evaluation program to further build the board's capacity and develop shared expectations among board members both of their individual contributions to the board and the board's role.
  • Consider engaging in strategic planning process about the future of the association. Coordinate the work of various committees looking at the profession, the bar and the practice -bar 2010, strategic planning, and future of the MCB-MBF center. The goals should explicate a vision for the bar that is concrete and defines impact. The current plan has a laundry list of activities rather than clearly defined goals and strategies. The strategies should be about focus, not about tasks. Tasks are more appropriate to the internal operations plan of the executive director.
  • Consider adding space on the board agenda for discussion that is not related to decision-making but to discussing emerging trends and issues that will impact the bar, the profession, and the community. This will help the board to identify both challenges and opportunities.
  • Consider adding board planning to the annual orientation. There should be a work plan for the board that includes shared vision of accomplishment and identifies how the board will work together with the officers.
  • Consider further aligning the roles and mission of the bar vis-a-vis the foundation. Each organization has a public role and a community presence. Each provides services to the general public as well as serves members. To what extent can the foundation be expected to support the philanthropic activities of the bar? To what extent can the bar be expected to subsidize the administration and staffing of the foundation?
  • Consider establishing mechanisms to regularly review programs and activities for relevance by creating expectations for performance and impact. This will help to ensure that resources are not spread too thin and that activities are meeting an identifiable need. It also will reduce duplicative efforts.
  • Consider creating term limits for committee chairs, along with committee chair job descriptions and performance expectations.
  • Consider further developing relationships and opportunities for partnering with affinity bars and the Charlotte School of Law. This will strengthen the bar both programmatically and politically. These also are key stakeholders for creating a strategic plan.
  • Consider assigning board liaisons to sections and bringing section leaders together more frequently to foster collaboration.

Next Section: C.  Policies


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