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MSBA expands programming, venues for annual meeting

‘This is a summit of our profession, we want to draw lawyers from around the state, not just as an adjunct to a vacation, which is still there, and the beach is nice, but on a substantive level,’ incoming MSBA President Keith R. Truffer says of the changes to the organization’s Legal Summit & Annual Meeting. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

‘This is a summit of our profession, we want to draw lawyers from around the state, not just as an adjunct to a vacation, which is still there, and the beach is nice, but on a substantive level,’ incoming MSBA President Keith R. Truffer says of the changes to the organization’s Legal Summit & Annual Meeting. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Attorneys attending the Maryland State Bar Association’s Legal Summity & Annual Meeting this week in Ocean City can expect some changes, from an earlier, official kickoff to a second venue for educational sessions.

Executive Director Victor Velazquez attended his first MSBA meeting last year and said he was constantly hearing suggestions for changes. The MSBA is a strong brand and the meeting has loyal attendees Velazquez wants to keep engaged, but he hopes to draw in new members who haven’t traditionally attended.

“What I hoped we could do is we could begin to evolve our annual meeting as the marquee event for the profession and start to attract individuals who haven’t participated in the past and keep the people who have been participating to come,” he said.

More than 600 people were registered as of Tuesday afternoon and more are expected to register on-site, according to the MSBA.

One of the biggest changes is the “Opening General Session” on Wednesday afternoon, traditionally a time when attendees are still winding things up at their offices and starting to head to the beach. Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara will give a keynote address, “The Journey of Two Lawyers.” They will be preceded by several pre-conference workshops.

“If I can get some engagement in our conference Wednesday and make it a true three-day conference, that’s success,” Velazquez said.

Incoming MSBA President Keith R. Truffer acknowledged some members will grumble at beginning conference events earlier than they’re used to, but said that happens with anything new.

“We have the happy problem of having too much valuable content for the roughly two days we had previously planned so now we’re trying to expand that a little bit and, like anything, you try something and we’ll see how it works,” said Truffer, a Baltimore County judge who will be installed as president on Saturday. “If it’s successful, we’ll continue it, if it isn’t, we’ll try something else. And the idea is if you try enough things, you’re going to find what works and be able to maintain and again add value back for our membership.”

Velazquez agreed, saying he expects some lawyers to balk at a new way of doing things no matter how small the change.

“There has not been a single thing, small or major, that the bar has sought to evolve that individuals have not said, ‘Why is this changing?'” he said.

The conference also will have programming at two locations: the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel, its traditional headquarters, and the nearby Carousel Hotel. The sessions at Carousel will include the new “Thought Leader” series, featuring experts in niche legal areas.

Velazquez said the Clarion has a contract with MSBA but when planning the meeting, organizers determined they needed a second space.

“The reality is that we probably years ago outgrew the Clarion but remained loyal to that site,” he said.

Some traditional events remain in place, including the welcome reception at the Clarion on Wednesday night, followed by the crab feast at Hooper’s Crab House; the Maryland Bar Foundation’s annual meeting and President’s Reception on Thursday; and the Friday morning Young Lawyers Section Sun Run, sponsored by The Daily Record.

The meeting’s education sessions also reflect local and national trends and what lawyers are talking about, including “Immigration Law Tsunami,” “#MeToo Movement and the New Era of Sexual Harassment Claims” and “Executive Power: Emoluments, Pardons, Special Counsel and Tweets.”

Truffer said the goal is to make the event bigger than it has been.

“This is a summit of our profession, we want to draw lawyers from around the state, not just as an adjunct to a vacation, which is still there, and the beach is nice, but on a substantive level,” he said. “This is where lawyers come to discuss the profession, to understand the profession, to learn about the profession, to change the profession.”

Success won’t be measured by having simply more attendees, Velazquez added, but rather a broader cross-section of the state’s legal community attending.

“The engagement of our membership in the annual meeting is going to be a story told over the course of several years, not just one year,” he said. “It’s not a light switch.”


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