Baltimore County Circuit Judge Keith R. Truffer joined the Maryland State Bar Association at the encouragement of one of his first bosses out of law school, Judge John E. Raine Jr. More than three decades later, Truffer occupies the very chambers he used to clerk in and is the incoming president of the association.
“The thing that I fell in love with right away were the people you meet, people I would never have met at all,” Truffer said. “Some of the best friends in my life I never would have met but for the Maryland State Bar Association. All of those things got me involved and kept me involved and then the opportunity as well to serve my profession, to give back, to try and help the professional that’s helped me so much.”
Truffer worked as a trial lawyer for more than 30 years across the street from the Towson courthouse before being elevated to the bench in February 2016.
“A lot of people say, ‘You really haven’t gone very far in your career,’” he said.
His experience in front of judges has helped him on the bench and he also expects it to inform his tenure as MSBA president, which begins Saturday at the association’s Legal Summit & Annual Meeting.
“I was a lawyer for 33 years and I’ve only been a judge for about two-and-a-half, so there’s still a lot of lawyer in me and I understand the challenges, the demands, that are incumbent upon the practicing lawyer and I try never to forget that in what I do as a judge,” he said.
Truffer recently sat down with The Daily Record to discuss changes coming to the MSBA, the changing perceptions of the organization and his plans to grow membership. His responses have been edited for clarity and length.
What are your visions or goals for your time as president?
Well, we accomplished a great deal this year under President (Sara) Arthur but I am looking to accelerate that to kind of get into another gear as we go forward to provide greater benefits to our members, to upgrade our communications ability, to make ourselves more open, accessible and technologically up to date for all of the members.
There’s probably two things that may be unique to my year. One is… the creation of a policy review committee. Many of the policies that we have within the MSBA have been in existence for a long, long time, and given all of the other changes that we’re undergoing as a profession and as an association, I considered it important to be able to take an overall look at those, a comprehensive look, and I intend to appoint a committee to do that, to look at everything we do to see if there’s a way to do it better to set up a structure that will serve us better many years into the future.
(Second,) our Lawyer Assistance Program is extraordinary. Although we have these resources available here, I don’t think enough of our members who need it, and lawyers who are not our members, who need these services… understand that it’s there and feel comfortable enough reaching out to use it. It would gratify me very much, if at the end of this year, we can achieve some great strides along that way.
We have a plan in place in order to broaden the representatives of the Lawyer Assistance Program into every community in the state, every legal community within the state, to make it local, to make it accessible, to all of our members and people who are not members.
What efforts will carry over from Arthur’s time as president?
Well, for example, technologically we have begun a ton of work within the bar headquarters in order to upgrade those facilities. We have just posted our website that is not something that is a final product, if it ever is, but there are things to work out to make it more user-friendly, to have more content in it. We intend to, in terms of communications, create section portals that are essentially access points for each of our sections where they can go and have their own content, their own communications, separate and apart for each section.
Last year at the annual meeting, President Arthur mentioned the MSBA app which was then in its nascent stages and with everything else that we were doing, that was one of the great things we never quite got to this year. I would like to see that come up and I believe it will by the end of the year. It will be available to our members where they can access, from their personal communication devices.
Do you think removing barriers, i.e. improving technology, will drive up membership?
We hope so. This is a challenging time for our profession at every single level. Every bar association across the country sees the same problems. The idea that our membership is getting somewhat older, that there are fewer lawyers entering the profession, and it’s a challenge from the ABA to every local and specialty bar.
Are there any particular groups you hope to target?
Honestly, without limitation we want to be the bar association for every lawyer in the state of every stripe, of every interest, of every denomination.
What do you see as the biggest challenges?
It is a matter of changing perceptions and for many, many years – for 100-plus years – we were a certain kind of bar association. That bar association has changed, and the ability to change people’s perception of what a bar association can do for every member is the entryway and to get people into the entryway and to see everything that we have is the challenge but once we get them in the door, I believe that they’re going to be delighted by what the MSBA has to offer. That’s why we have a new logo, a new brand.
How is the marketing and rebranding effort?
It’s going very, very well. At first, there are many people who are used to seeing the old scales of justice and said, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t have any scales of justice on it, how can it be a bar association?” And that’s why we want to change the image, that we are different. We are no longer a 1965 bar association.
Do you have any plans to raise dues?
As part of what we’ve done, which has been an exceptionally important structural change, we have begun a five-year plan because we invested considerable amount of money of our reserves in order to make all these things happen in order to be able to change our technology, to change everything and to invest in our branding and everything else, and we will need to recapture those reserves over a period of time. We have established that over a five-year period are going to be initiating a dues increase.
We (have) the third-lowest voluntary bar dues in the country and have been that way for a long, long time but we need to be able to persuade our members that for whatever increase there is, you’re getting more than that back in value, so the idea is to improve the product at the same time we can improve our finances by getting back more.
Are there plans to move the MSBA headquarters outside of Baltimore?
We have plans. We have not hired a real estate agent yet but we have interviewed some and we will be making that decision and moving things around, again with the idea of making the bar association more accessible to our members, so that wherever a lawyer is, that’s where the MSBA is.