Posted by: Sherie Edwards on Jul 1, 2021

Journal Issue Date: July/August 2021

Journal Name: Vol. 57 No. 4

It is an understatement to say that this past year has been one of challenge, stress and upheaval. The pandemic forced most of us to transition to work from home, to learn technologies that we may not have considered necessary in the office setting, and to deal with the stress of isolation (or, alternatively, the stress of having everyone at home and balancing work with family obligations). Our country was forced to reckon with racial inequality and begin the difficult conversations surrounding how we view diversity. But here we are, emerging like a butterfly from a chrysalis, with new skills, new thoughts on how we relate to each other, and a new sense of how work fits into the life/work balance equation. Through it all, the TBA has been here for our members, providing up-to-the-
minute information about changes in how we practice law, support for the wellness of our members, and the CLE and communications that you have told us are so important in supporting your practice. More importantly, you have been here for the TBA. Your association saw very little change in membership numbers, you provided us with great feedback in the membership survey, and you supported our CLE programs. You, the members, are the TBA; leadership is here to serve you and to make sure we are meeting your needs. Thank you for your continued membership and support and know that you are appreciated more than words can adequately express.

Edwards is given the oath of office by Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, during the TBA’s annual convention in Memphis.

You may be familiar with Simon Sinek, a popular speaker on leadership, and his concept of “Start with Why” (if you haven’t seen the video, it’s easy to find with a search on YouTube). Your “why” is your purpose, your reason for beginning a project, stepping into a new role or giving your time and money to an organization. The ‘why’ behind my decision to run for president is simple: to use this role to promote attorney wellness initiatives and to bring business education (in addition to our subject matter CLEs) to our members. When the Long-Range Planning Committee met in 2019 to decide the “why” for the TBA and set the strategic goals for the following three years, one goal (and my theme for the year) was “to help members be the best that they can be in their practices and in their lives.” This goal includes education, attorney wellness and diversity. The Membership Survey last year revealed “why” our members belong to the TBA. You place a great deal of importance on education that focuses on practice management. You also asked for more resources for attorney wellness, including mental health support. About 50% of our members asked for increased efforts around diversity. To paraphrase Hannibal Smith from The A-Team, “I love it when our ‘Whys’ come together.”

Using the survey and long-range plan as guides, the TBA will focus on the following initiatives this year:

Business Education: I hope you are aware of our Practice Management Center, located on the TBA website. Read about it on page 22 of this issue. This member benefit provides resources for all phases of your practice, from opening a firm to winding it down. This year, I am pleased to announce the launch of two new programs, Work Smarter, Not Harder and Scaling Small Law. Work Smarter, Not Harder is a series of webcasts covering topics such as making meetings meaningful, managing your email workload, tracking financials, and task/time management. These webcasts are available to all members and will benefit everyone no matter what type of law you practice (even in-house, public service and government attorneys will benefit from these webcasts). Scaling Small Law is a new program, developed by the amazing team of Mindy Thomas, Jennifer Vossler and Chelsea Bennett of our TBA staff. This four-month program, limited to a cohort of 35 people, will delve into topics such as technology, strategic planning, business plan development, and other areas that will help solo and small law practitioners grow their practices. The application for this program is open until Aug. 2. Learn more on page 38 of this issue. We will also have resources on the TBA website listing books, podcasts and videos that you may find helpful to the business side of your practice.

Attorney Wellness: Prior to the pandemic, lawyers already faced a higher rate of stress, anxiety and depression than most other professions. This past year has added more pressure to our lives in the form of isolation from our families, friends and colleagues; dealing with new technology, unstable internet and changing court rules; and for many, caring for children and guiding their education while trying to work from home. During the upcoming year, in addition to our wellness podcasts, I have asked our sections to include a wellness component to each CLE. This may be 10 minutes of chair yoga, healthy snacks or tips for stress management. In early 2022, we will roll out a fitness challenge to support you in your New Year’s fitness goals.

Most importantly, we will have honest discussions about mental health. Whether it is our family, our friends, our colleagues or ourselves, we all have people in our lives who deal daily with mental health challenges. That challenge is made more difficult with the stigma society places on asking for help. Just like diabetes, heart disease or cancer, depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disease are physical ailments — why, then, are they stigmatized? This year, we will have conversations around all facets of attorney wellness, including and most especially destigmatizing asking for assistance with mental health challenges.

Diversity: This past year, your Board of Governors voted to update the definition of non-discrimination as stated in our Bylaws. This detailed statement is part of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the TBA. I recognize that the topic of diversity is considered by many to be a controversial political stance. However, I think it’s important to separate the discussion of diversity from a discussion of politics. Diversity includes not just diversity of race, but as stated in our Bylaws “color, marital or family status and responsibilities, age, national origin, disability, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, genetic information, and veteran or active military status.” Although not listed in our Bylaws, we are also diverse in where and what we practice. We are all diverse in some way, and that diversity brings a richness and depth to our practice and to our association.

I have asked that Sections and Committees include diverse voices in their leadership and on their CLE faculties, so that we can learn from each other and truly build a community that respects and includes everyone. The TBA will also move forward to put into place the recommendations of the Diversity Task Force, guided by our Chief Diversity Officer Mary Beard. Finally, a new group will be formed to address issues unique to women in the profession; this group will, among other tasks, revisit the Glass Ceiling Initiative report that was issued 10 years ago during Danny Van Horn’s year as president.

As an association, we will continue to support Access to Justice and encourage pro bono service, advocate for you at the General Assembly (including working hard to eliminate the Professional Privilege Tax), produce first-class subject matter CLEs, and offer more and better member benefits. Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your 141st TBA president. I am humbled by your trust and promise to make you proud to be a member of the TBA. 

SHERIE EDWARDS is the vice president of corporate and legal for SVMIC in Brentwood,
Tennessee. She can be contacted at sheriee@svmic.com.