A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CONFERENCE OF COUNTY BAR LEADERS
The Pennsylvania Bar Association we know today took form in the mid-1960s. During that time span, the Pennsylvania Bar Institute was formed to provide CLE programs; an executive director was hired to replace an executive secretary; and the modern bylaws and governance through the House of Delegates and Board of Governors were established.
The late 1960s also saw the PBA contribute to the development and the functioning of the organized bar, not only in Pennsylvania but in the United States, through the creation of a group that meets annually to educate and otherwise assist county bar leaders. On March 18, 1967, a seminar of county bar officers was held at the Penn Harris Hotel in Harrisburg. That "coffee conclave" was organized by then-PBA President Gilbert Nurick and PBA's first executive director, Fred Bolton. It was a meeting intended to orient bar association leaders to the many changes that had taken place in PBA.
That one-day coffee conclave grew to become today's Conference of County Bar Leaders (CCBL). It is extremely gratifying that in 1978, the American Bar Association modeled its Bar Leadership Institute on our CCBL. In that sense, the nation's lawyers owe a special debt of gratitude to the PBA.
In its second year, the Conference of County Bar Presidents, as CCBL was called then, presented another seminar orienting county bar officers and committee chairs to the PBA and its structure. That second seminar was the first meeting held at the then brand-new Hershey Motor Lodge, now the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, one of the most popular conference facilities in the Commonwealth.
The focus of the annual seminar shifted in its third year to matters affecting the county bar associations. County bar officers were invited to discuss the proposed Code of Professional Responsibility, judiciary committees and problems of judicial selection and tenure, and merit selection.
Because the conference came to be focused on all county bar officers, not just presidents, the name of the conference changed in 1971, to the Conference of County Bar Officers. In 1983, the name of the conference was changed to the Conference of County Bar Leaders. This name change occurred primarily in recognition of the significant contribution that bar executives make to effective functioning of bar associations.
The CCBL functions as an independent adjunct of the PBA. It has its own bylaws administered by an elected executive committee composed of eight lawyers who progress through the leadership chairs to become president of the conference. The executive committee also includes the PBA Young Lawyers Division Chair-elect (who becomes Chair during the year) and the President of the Pennsylvania Association of Bar Executives.
The CCBL presents two individual awards annually, the Gilbert Nurick Award, given to a lawyer, and the Arthur J. Birdsall Award, given to a bar executive, in recognition of the honoree’s contributions to the organized bar. It also presents county bar recognition awards for outstanding projects and activities by county bar associations that contribute to the improvement of the legal profession, the justice system or the community.
Traditionally, the annual seminar starts on Friday, usually in the morning, and continues through a getaway luncheon on Saturday, with business and socialization intertwined for an intense 24-28 hour period. A popular feature of the CCBL meetings is a reception on Friday evening, with the opening of a hospitality suite following that reception, in order to encourage social interaction on the part of the attendees. This provides one of the greatest advantages of the CCBL annual seminar, the opportunity for bar leaders to meet each other in a relatively small, manageable, professional, but also social, setting.
CCBL seminars focus on bar association operations and administration, as well as the business of lawyering. The seminar format is designed to orient county bar leaders to their duties and responsibilities and to the resources available through the PBA.
The annual seminar also is intended to provide exposure to current issues facing lawyers and to provoke thought about professional relationships with bar association projects and activities. Over the years, the seminar topics have dealt with preparing for the bar presidency, lawyer discipline, law office technology, attorney ethics, specialization, malpractice avoidance and professional responsibility generally, unauthorized practice, merit selection of judges, conduct of judicial polls, prepaid legal services, delivery of legal services to the poor, IOLTA, bench-bar relations, media relations, non-dues income and many more similarly relevant topics.
The seminar provides lawyers with an opportunity to become familiar with PBA leaders and staff, by having personal contact and through distribution of the publication “Familiar Faces at PBA.” In recognition of this fact, the CCBL has broadened the base of attendees over the years. In 1972, the Young Lawyers Division of PBA began holding an executive committee meeting concurrently with the CCBL meeting and attending the seminar. Since then, the YLD has been well represented every year at the annual seminar, an appropriate development given that the young lawyers are the county and state bar leaders of tomorrow. Also, in 1998 CCBL first welcomed to the annual seminar those young lawyers who are a part of the PBA Leadership Institute. The CCBL annual seminar is one of the activities that the Institute recommends that its participants attend because of the seminar’s value to future leaders within the profession. In 2000, the YLD began holding its New Admittee Conference in conjunction with the annual seminar, also with great success.
Consistent with its purpose for the conference, CCBL also encourages ABA involvement in the annual seminar, and for many years the director of the ABA Bar Services Division or a designee has attended and participated in the seminar.
Finally, the seminar provides the opportunity for contact with and input from the judiciary. In four of the last ten years the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania was the featured speaker at the Friday lunch, which is the first major event of the seminar and the event at which the CCBL presents its Nurick and Birdsall awards. In 2000 the Chief Justice was kind enough to indicate his feeling that if the PBA is the organization most representative of the lawyers in the Commonwealth a large factor in that is the network that exists between the PBA and local associations through the CCBL. It is anticipated that the Chief Justice will continue to be a featured speaker during the seminar in future years.
After its beginnings in Harrisburg, the conference held the annual seminar at the Hershey Motor Lodge until 1980, when it ventured to Valley Forge. It returned to Valley Forge in 1982 and 1985. The first Pittsburgh seminar was held in 1983, the year the name of the conference was changed. Except for 1987, when the conference was held in Scranton, and 1990 when it visited Reading, the seminar basically rotated on a cycle that took it from Philadelphia to Harrisburg to Pittsburgh to Harrisburg to Philadelphia again, until 1996. In 1997 the seminar was held in Lancaster and from 1998 until 2000, the CCBL held the seminar at the Nittany Lion Inn, located in State College, because of its central location in the Commonwealth.
The CCBL has evolved to foster fresh and innovative local bar initiatives and spread those initiatives throughout the Commonwealth. It has helped to develop mutually beneficial relationships among bar leaders and to improve the status of the legal profession generally in Pennsylvania by providing education and training to bar leaders and will continue to do so.
The foregoing is based on a history of the CCBL prepared by Robert D. Beck, Esq., of Washington County, President of the CCBL in 1990-1991, for the July/August 1995 Special Centennial Edition of The Pennsylvania Lawyer. It was rewritten by Samuel D. Miller, III, Esq., and edited and supplemented by the CCBL executive committee in July 2000.