One reading of the Alabama State Bar Leadership Forum’s nomination for the 2013 E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award was all it took to realize that this was a formidable candidate for our highest national professionalism award. The award was established by E. Smythe Gambrell, name partner of the Atlanta law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell who founded the Atlanta Legal Aid Society in 1924 and served as its president for almost two decades.
Many decades after Mr. Gambrell’s passing, his spirit of professionalism lives on each year through the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Professionalism. The Standing Committee, of which I am a member, applies rigorous criteria in choosing recipients of the award for the best professionalism programs of law-related organizations.
This year, the Alabama State Bar Leadership Forum was one of three professionalism programs across the country that received the award. (Last year, I am proud to remind our readers, the 17th Judicial Circuit of Illinois received the award.) Recognized at a special luncheon during the ABA Annual Meeting on August 9, 2013, the Alabama State Bar received a $3,500.00 stipend for its innovative and outstanding Leadership Forum, a project that has flourished since its inception nine years ago. The Leadership Forum is among the first generation of state bar-sponsored leadership groups with a core purpose to develop a group of servant-minded leaders who will effectuate positive change as the practice of law and the world around us evolve.
Following a highly competitive selection process, the Forum brings together classes of approximately 30 diverse attorneys in all practice areas from the four corners of the state. They must have practiced law from 5 to 15 years and be willing to dedicate themselves to the Forum well beyond the five month training period.
The curriculum is built around two major premises: exposing participants to wisdom amassed by proven leaders, and having them participate in hands-on problem solving. In over 60 training sessions, the group is exposed to a wide array of top notch speakers who are passionate about their careers and in their desire to help the class consider forward-looking ideas and challenging questions. Participants have the opportunity to cultivate skills such as listening, communicating, conflict-solving, and becoming agents of change as well as dealing with authority figures. A key to the Forum’s success is to present not only stories of success but also those of failure, where the greater lessons have been learned from defeat and the ability to contemplate, learn and improve.
Alumni of the Forum stay involved in future classes, providing feedback for program improvement and support for others’ professional development. Poignant words from a 2007 graduate sum up the inspiring world view: “Lawyers have a very unique opportunity to impact humanity in meaningful and significant ways. In order for that impact to have the greatest value, we must collectively rise above our individual limitations. The sum of the whole must exceed the sum of the parts.”
Reacting to the receipt of the award, Assistant Executive Director of the Alabama State Bar, Edward M. Patterson’s pride in the Program was evident. “The Leadership Forum is thrilled to receive the 2013 Gambrell Award. This award validates our Forum as a national example of cutting edge professionalism programs worthy of emulation by other groups,” Ed said by phone. “Our Forum has broadened the concept of professionalism beyond interactions between lawyers. We see professionalism in a more global sense of our impact as lawyers on the community as a whole. Receipt of this award has intensified our passion to continue to help develop talented, mid-level attorneys into leaders with a generous heart to serve their profession, their clients, and their communities.”
Forum graduates have gone forward and been elected to numerous leadership positions around the state, including the President-elect of the Alabama State Bar. It is evident that the Alabama Bar, through the creation of its Forum, has made an invaluable investment in the future of not only its legal community, but the community and state as a whole.
We at the Commission look forward to seeing other states replicate the Forum’s success. We encourage you to reach out to the Alabama State Bar to learn how to structure a similar program in your states. Congratulations to the Alabama Leadership Forum for an award so richly deserved.