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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

CEO Cheryl Dalby talks about leading in a time of change

‘Our members will begin to notice subtle improvements’

B&B: You’re taking the helm during a time of change at the MSBA and Minnesota’s two biggest county bars. Will members see any differences in the services they receive from a combined bar staff in the near term? 

Cheryl Dalby: In the short term, members should see very little change. Most staff will continue to provide the same services they always have. Over the next few months, our members will begin to notice subtle improvements in the way we deliver our services and programs. They will see increased efficiency, less duplication, and more consistent communications. Members will be able to contact a staff person and feel confident that person will either know the answer to a question or know who will have that information. Members will also notice improvements in our communications. A combined staff will help everyone on staff to concentrate more on the areas in which they excel. This will be a benefit in all areas, but especially for our communications team, where each person will be able to focus on the areas they know best. We’re hopeful that members will fairly quickly see that information and programs are more accessible than they have been before. 

B&B: What are your longer-term goals in implementing this staff restructuring?

Dalby: Longer term, we will begin looking at whether there are any programs that would benefit from consolidation or more collaboration between bars. Maintaining the separate identities and cultures of the three organizations will always be a top priority for us. But there are some programs and services that could be improved by consolidating them. For example, we will be looking fairly soon at consolidating our databases, so that members will have an easier, more streamlined experience registering for events and updating their professional information at any of the three associations. This will allow all of our members to access information and participate in bar events more easily. 

We will also consider whether it makes sense to consolidate our lawyer referral services. We want to make sure we are connecting lawyers to potential clients in the manner that is most helpful to both our members and the public. These kinds of changes will directly benefit members and allow staff to be more efficient at the same time.

With a combined staff, we’ll also be able to work more collaboratively toward goals that all three organizations share, such as increasing diversity and inclusion within the bars, promoting lawyer wellness, and increasing access to justice. We’ll be more easily able to share information and work toward these goals together with our new, unified staff. 

As we work through this transition, we’ll be constantly looking for more ways we can improve our service to our members.

B&B: You served as executive director of the Ramsey County Bar Association for 18 years before taking this position. What are the challenges in transitioning to a role in which you’ll be overseeing the work of the MSBA and the Hennepin County Bar Association as well? 

Dalby: The RCBA, MSBA and HCBA all have distinct identities and cultures. We want to make sure we’re maintaining the unique personalities of the organizations. Maintaining those distinct personalities while also getting the organizations to work toward bigger goals collaboratively will take some time.
We have great volunteer leaders and staff to make that happen. 

B&B: Change is a central theme in the legal profession now—changing legal business models, changing technology tools, changing employment options for people with JDs. What’s the role of bar associations in helping members to negotiate so much flux in the profession?

Dalby: This is absolutely a time of great change throughout the profession. Lawyers are finding it necessary to adapt to changing economics and new technology. And I think this is an area where the bars can really make a difference for our members. We can help our members not only survive these challenges, but even benefit from them. We can be the resource our members need to remain relevant in the changing economy. And we can offer help adapting to new technology.

I think it’s really important to encourage and support new ideas. We have so many talented volunteers and staff working for the bar associations. They are crucial to helping us find creative new solutions to the issues that will face lawyers and bar associations as the practice of law continues to change. And with this bigger, combined staff, we will have so many more opportunities for creativity and efficiency.

These are exciting times for the profession, and especially for our bar associations. No other bar association in the country has made this kind of a change. As we move through this transition, I expect we will see benefits we haven’t even imagined yet.

B&B: What’s the best—or most memorable—advice you ever got?

Dalby: The best advice I have ever received is to prioritize value over volume. Just creating a to-do list isn’t enough for me. I need to identify the tasks that will create the most value for the organizations and focus on those. It’s easy to spend too much time on easier tasks that don’t have as big an impact on the organization. But when I focus on the work that is actually most important, I know I’ve moved the organization forward, at least in some small way. And those tasks that don’t make the high-value list go on a “do later” list. Things that don’t move from that list to the high priority list usually end up being things that would be better done by someone else or don’t need to be done at all. 

The other great piece of advice I’ve always held onto is that almost every conversation is easier with a cup of coffee, and maybe a donut.

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