Well, he’s only been here a month, but our new CEO, Shawn Mitchell, has been working tirelessly to acclimatize and immerse himself in the TLABC issues, culture and team.
A bonus to having new eyes in the boardroom is, of course, fresh perspective.
TLABC, as an association, is proud to be founded on principle, and in many ways -tradition. Tradition is a wonderful thing, but it’s always good to take a step back and see what’s working and what might benefit from a little restructuring.
Shawn comes to us with a wealth of leadership experience that will no doubt be indispensable as we move forward and it has been a real pleasure getting to know him.
In this spirit, Shawn attended one of our favourite events last week, along with incoming President Sonny Parhar and Director of Communications Bentley Doyle – The National Association of Trial Lawyers Executives (NATLE) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) – this year held in Louisville, Kentucky.
Here’s what he had to say…
I’ve just gotten back from the National Association of Trial Lawyers Executives (NATLE) Governmental Affairs Conference. What members of the association lovingly refer to as the GAC (say: gack). The location of the conference changes every year — this year’s was held in Louisville, Kentucky.
Attended by 100 TLA CEOs, their presidents and government affairs-aligned senior staff, the GAC was a great opportunity to network, learn how other TLAs go about their business, and attend a range of sessions focused on the challenge of lobbying government (both state and federal).
There were a total of 22 presentations and round tables, covering a range of topics and issues, during the three-day event. A sampling:
- Learning the language of the conservative culture (presented by Judge Kenneth Starr — yes, THAT Kenneth Starr)
- Effective polling
- Creative ways to build relationships with lawmakers
- Engaging leaders and members in the legislative process — making it meaningful and creating evangelists
- Workers’ compensation trends to watch
- Self-driving vehicles
- Subrogation for dummies
- Managing member expectations in the legislative arena
Taken from these and other sessions in which I participated, a few thoughts …
Almost without exception, American TLAs spent the last eight years doubling down on their relationships with Democrats and largely turning their backs on Republicans. After the election results in 2016, most woke up terrified and unsure of what the future held for them when it came to advancing a legislative agenda on behalf of their members. Much of the conference was about sharing best practices on how to “speak Republican.”
Born to lobby
I was also struck by the very different posture or business orientation of the American TLAs, compared to (what I am coming to understand about) Canadian TLAs. Even small associations are heavily invested in ongoing lobbying on a range of issues. The eye opener here for me was both the difference and the potential for us to explore being more invested in this activity beyond ad hoc campaigns.
Everything is poll-itical
Given the extent to which TLAs are involved in lobbying, it follows that they are also becoming increasingly invested in polling and “testing the message.” There were a number of sessions on this topic, linking polling research to focus groups and the importance of not saying anything publicly on an issue until you’d tested your ideas and language in the field. Here again, at TLABC we have not had a history of behaving this way, but certainly we have seen the benefit of it most recently in the guidance we gained while positioning ourselves regarding no-fault and fixing the financial imbalance at ICBC.
No such thing as being too social
Our neighbours to the south are also heavily invested in social media, using Facebook and Twitter to cultivate audiences in support of different positions they are lobbying for at the state or federal levels of government. The insight here is that we at TLABC need to keep doing what we are doing — social media is a powerful, cost-effective engagement tool.
(Think James Carville, here) It’s about the membership, stupid!
One area where I believe we at TLABC still have lots of room to grow is on member engagement. American TLAs work very hard to be highly responsive to their members’ concerns and to engage them in the association’s work — beyond just the board and executive. They also have communication strategies that are focused on demonstrating the value that members receive from their TLA. This is something that TLABC does not do enough of.
Finally, there were some specific legal issues that were discussed where there is some real concern amongst our American colleagues… the emergence of “robot cars” and the implications this might have on liability and personal injury, and the continuing saga that is ABS (Alternative Business Structures). While we are currently focused, rightly, on fixing ICBC, additional time and energy on moving our way through these issue areas may also have merit.
Overall, it was an excellent way for me to continue my orientation and onboarding at TLABC. And, as always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts on this post or anything else you might like to fire my way.
To reach CEO Shawn Mitchell, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org