Governance Read More

The Pennsylvania Bar Association’s current operational structure began to take shape about 60 years ago. PBA predecessors took steps to ensure that lawyers from each corner of the commonwealth and every region in between have a say in the association’s function and the stated beliefs.

 In 1959, the PBA’s leadership set out to create a structure that would be representative of its growing statewide membership. It formed a Board of Governors, which includes representatives from a dozen geographical zones. Zone boundaries are set by county lines and most zones, with the exception of Allegheny and Philadelphia counties, are made up of multiple counties. See the zone map

 To create even more direct member representation, the House of Delegates took form in 1966. The House is largely made up of delegates from the geographical zones. Each zone gets one delegate for every 100 PBA members within its boundaries.  

 The basic framework has been changed periodically to round out the representation of our membership. Examples of the representation evolution include the 1992 addition of a designated minority governor, the 1993 addition of a designated woman governor and the 2011 addition of a second designated minority governor on the Board. In 1997, the House amended its bylaws to give every county – even those with less than 100 PBA members – at least one voting member. In 2003, a unit county governor, who is selected from among the local bar associations that require their local members to also be PBA members, was added to the Board.

 Who Does What

 In simplest terms, the House of Delegates sets the policies and oversees the business affairs of the PBA. All voting rights of PBA members are exercised in the House. The House has authority to change the association’s policies, bylaws, articles of incorporation and cost of membership dues.  

 The Board of Governors is the PBA’s central management group. It’s made up of many of the most visible and active leaders of the association, including the president, president-elect and vice president. The Board sets the operational direction of the association though the following actions:

  • developing the plans to make the PBA useful to its members by routinely reviewing current programs, evaluating fresh proposals and acting as the engine of new projects
  • working with the executive director and other members of the association staff to set direction for activities and use of resources
  • supervising the work of the association’s committees and sections
  • approving the budget
  • authorizing officers and other agents it selects to enter the association into binding contracts
  • presenting an annual report to members about the association’s finances and number of members

 Members of the Board of Governors are also members of the House of Delegates.

 The House is required to meet at least twice a year. It convenes during the PBA Annual Meeting in late spring and again in the fall. Special meetings of the House are possible but rare; they must be called by the Board with written request of 10 percent of the voting delegates of the House.

 The Board of Governors meets more often, usually five times each year. Because it meets frequently, the Board periodically performs some of the functions of the House. However, as a matter of practice, the Board leaves actions on issues of greatest importance and sensitivity for House discussion and action.

 How ideas become formal positions and policies of the association

 While the Board and the House have considerable responsibilities and powers, many of the policies and positions of the PBA are the direct result of actions initiated by the association’s sections, committees and task forces.

 These groups meet throughout the year to discuss significant issues and problems. At least two Committee/Section Days are scheduled throughout the year for groups to meet, but groups may schedule meetings for dates and locations that are most convenient for their members and most efficient to accomplish their tasks.

 After identifying a critical issue and considering methods to address it, a committee, section and task force may decide to develop a written recommendation to be put before the Board of Governors and the House of Delegates. Recommendations often call for changes in state laws and for other actions that are viewed as beneficial to the legal system, the courts and the public.

 If adopted, the recommendation becomes a formal position of the PBA.

To begin the process, a recommendation drafted by a committee, section or task force is submitted to the Board. The Board’s stance – pro and con – on the recommendation is usually moved to the House, which has final authority to vote for the approval or rejection of the recommendation.

 To ease the process, each committee and section is assigned a board liaison, a person on the Board of Governors who can help guide in the creation and submission of a recommendation. Each committee and section also has a staff liaison to help in the process. In addition, members of PBA’s Governance Department are also available to answer questions about writing a recommendation and getting documents into the right hands.

 Proposed recommendations, usually only a page or two in length and scrubbed of legal jargon, are ideally submitted three weeks prior to a Board meeting. A report offering greater explanation of the need for the recommendation is often attached.

A simple, one-page checklist is to be completed and included with the recommendation. The checklist specifically asks if the proposed resolution has been shared with other committees and sections. It also asks if there are conflicts with other committees and sections and, if so, whether those conflicts have been resolved.

When possible and practical, a recommendation should have support of other committees and sections. This demonstrates that the committee and section submitting the recommendation is not working in isolation, and it also shows that the recommendation addresses issues that have implications for many lawyers and their clients.

Leaders Wanted: Become One

Each section, committee and task force has a chair or co-chairs and a vice chair or co-vice chairs. Most chairs and vice chairs serve in their roles for two to three years – a one-year initial term, followed by up to two one-year reappointments. Terms for chairs and vice chairs begin following the Annual Meeting and the official start of a new PBA president’s term. It is the incoming president who has the authority to make appointments and reappointments.

Those testing the PBA’s leadership waters frequently become members in committees, sections and task forces of most interest to them such as the PBA Family Law Section or the PBA Commission on Women in the Profession Committee. Leaders also often emerge from the membership of the PBA Young Lawyers’ Division and from the House delegation.

Members then boost their responsibility and visibility within the association by serving as vice chairs and then chairs of these groups.

PBA members wanting to join committees and sections just need to express their interest. There is a brief form on the association’s Web site that can be completed and e-mailed in a matter of a few minutes. It’s really that easy.”

Most chairs, co-chairs, vice chairs and co-vice chairs are selected from the existing membership of those groups. From their membership experiences with the committees or task forces, they’ve learned how meetings are traditionally structured and how projects are planned and implemented.

So What’s Next? – Grow Higher

The association’s management group, the Board of Governors, most often includes members who have taken on committee and section assignments or who have been active in the House of Delegates for a number of years. Most Board members have invested significant time and effort to benefit the PBA.  

Board members literally “rise through the ranks” to become the association’s president. A president must first serve as vice president for one year and as president-elect for one year before taking the highest office.

It is the PBA Nominating Committee that puts the process into motion by selecting the nominee for vice president. The nominee must be approved by a majority vote of the voting House delegates during their Annual Meeting.

The Nominating Committee, which also selects the treasurer, secretary and House of Delegates chair, is chaired by the living immediate past president and includes zone governors, the unit county governor, the minority governor, the woman governor, five living immediate past presidents, the living immediate past chair of the Young Lawyers’ Division and eight other representatives from PBA committees and sections and local bar associations.

Additional nominations (requiring a petition signed by 100 members with no more than 50 from the same zone) are possible but rare.

 The Board members are often the most familiar faces of the association. So, when planning for future board membership, the current board members routinely look to fill the key slots with people they already know through their work with committees, sections, task forces and the House.

At a Glance: Leaders and Voters

 PBA Board of Governors, an active and visible group, is comprised of the following 25 members:

  • general officers, including the president, president-elect, vice president, chair of the House of Delegates, secretary and treasurer
  • the immediate past president
  • three PBA Young Lawyers’ Division representatives, including the chair, the chair-elect and the most recent living immediate past chair
  • one zone governor for each zone
  • two minority governors
  • one woman governor
  • one unit county governor

 PBA House of Delegates has more than 375 members with voting rights, including these members:

  • general officers of the association
  • other members of the Board of Governors
  • the president of each local bar association or nominee
  • one member from each of the 12 zones for every 100 active PBA members in that particular zone, including at least one voting member per county
  • an additional member for each zone in which every county bar association has adopted the unit plan of membership (in these associations, one set fee covers membership in the local organization and the PBA).
  • the living former presidents and the five living former chairs of the House of Delegates who have most recently held office as chair
  • the living former PBA secretary and former PBA treasurer who have most recently held those offices
  • one additional member from each zone appointed as a Young Lawyer Zone Delegate
  • each former president of the American Bar Association
  • one section delegate for each section
  • former Board members (immediate past Board members)

The House also has non-voting members. These include section delegates, the current and former deans of Pennsylvania law schools and a current student member from each of the schools, the Pennsylvania attorney general and court administrator of Pennsylvania, among others.

At a Glance: Groups Creating the PBA Agenda

 The PBA largely depends upon efforts of organized groups of members to identify and address issues important to the practice of law. Groups are organized as follows:

Sections are longstanding groups, often with hundreds to thousands of members, representing legal specialties – business law, criminal law, elder law, municipal law and solo and small firm practice among them. Some sections have educational conferences and publish newsletters for their members. Sections charge their members annual fees, usually ranging from $10 to $50.

Committees often have 10 to 100 members – some are larger – and tend to be longstanding groups. They too represent legal specialties such as animal law, health law and in-house counsel. They also focus on topics of interest to the profession and to the PBA. Several committees focus specially on the practical functions of the association. Examples include the Editorial Committee, which oversees the association’s publications, and the Membership Development Committee, which works to add new members and retain current ones. There are currently more than 40 PBA committees.

Task forces tend to have a dozen or so members and many exist for a limited number of years. Task forces are most often developed by the PBA president with a specific mission. Periodically, implementation committees are established to act on task force findings.



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