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Shapiro takes over as MSBA president with plans to emphasize diversity, civility

‘I think that the nature of the legal profession itself is changing,’ says MSBA President David Shapiro. (Submitted Photo)

The Maryland State Bar Association’s first in-person legal summit since 2019 ended on a familiar note last week with the swearing-in of the organization’s new president.

David Shapiro, a partner at Paley Rothman in Bethesda, took over the role from M. Natalie McSherry with a speech in Ocean City that highlighted civility in the legal profession and the MSBA’s member services.

The presidency was originally set to be filled by Erek Barron, who was previously chosen as president-elect but stepped down when he was named U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. The MSBA chose Shapiro as its new president-elect in December.

Shapiro spoke with The Daily Record about his legal career and his plans for his time as president of the MSBA. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Daily Record: Describe your legal experience and career to this point.

Shapiro: When I got out of law school, I started at a small, what I thought was a litigation boutique in D.C. doing primarily patent and technology contract defense type work. I enjoyed it a lot and we had a couple of big cases going, but when the cases stopped, the attorney that I was working for stopped off in my office one day and said, “By the way, I’m not really a trial attorney, I’m really a deal lawyer and we’re going work on this deal.”

I was maybe four, six months out of law school. It completely deflated my balloon because I had joined the practice thinking that we were gonna be doing all this great technical litigation work.

Ultimately, I actually loved it. I felt that the, the parties to the deal were very invested in the deal. … I ended up doing a lot of deals work and it was a great opportunity. Then I decided I wanted to move out to Montgomery County from D.C., and I joined up with a firm here doing more general business and transactional type work and really enjoyed the variety of that. I have been doing that ever since, although over time the nature of my work is more general business transactions work, but doing a lot of work in the areas of healthcare, startup businesses, employment work, leasing work.

TDR: What would you say are your top priorities for your time as president of the MSBA?

Shapiro: We are on a path and a focus to continue to expand diversity in the MSBA. Our goal is to improve the legal profession in Maryland — not just for members, but for all legal professionals in Maryland, and even for citizens of Maryland who would benefit from services provided by the legal profession. I think all of the leadership is a big believer that we do that better if we are more diverse, if we have more diversity in our leadership, and that’s diversity in every sense of the word: we want racial diversity, ethnic diversity, diversity in practice area, diversity in geographic location.

I’m a big believer that the more diverse our leadership is the better we serve our members, and the better we serve our members, the more members we have, which means we have more opportunities to tap into people who want to be engaged. And the more we are engaged with our members, the better we can deliver service for our members.

The second piece is continuing to expand our member benefit. We are an organization that will thrive based on how well we can provide service and content to our members. This is a voluntary membership, and one of the driving forces for us is to try to be an outstanding resource for people who want to join.

The third priority is really going to be focused around sort of reinvigorating and refocusing on civility in the legal profession. This is something that a mentor of mine has been an advocate for since I can remember, really. We are in a difficult profession sometimes because oftentimes we are hired to be the voice of people who can’t agree. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a place for civility. And I’m a big believer that when civility is a fundamental aspect of what you are doing, you represent your client better.

TDR: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing lawyers in Maryland right now, and how can the MSBA help with those challenges?

Shapiro: I think there are a number of challenges. For lawyers in Maryland, it’s really a matter of how you find engagement. There are a lot of attorneys, so how you find a place, how you find clients, how you find experience, how you find resources — these days, it’s very difficult for a large group of lawyers graduating from law school to find the types of mentorship that we all need.

Law school provides a very important, very critical aspect of your legal education, but most of us learn the real nuts and bolts of how to be a lawyer and how to practice law on the job. Most of us owe huge amounts of thanks to the folks that we started working with, who whether out of the goodness of their heart or the growth of their wallet, whatever it may have been, took time to teach us how to do what we do. So I think one challenge is making sure that as young lawyers — and that’s not age-young, but experience-young — we can help develop the profession.

I also think that it’s difficult coming out of the pandemic to get back into re-engaging, particularly for people who aren’t trial attorneys and who aren’t used to being out and about in court, in depositions and those types of professional activities.

I think that the nature of the legal profession itself is changing dramatically in terms of people working remotely, how we access the legal system. Before the pandemic, it was very unlikely that you were going to have any type of virtual experience with the court. And in some instances even with your lawyer, that’s changed a lot. So where the bar association really can help support people in the legal profession is trying to make sure that we’re making our members and their experiences available to other members so we can have a shared knowledge pool.