Using the New to Preserve the Old:  The Value of Social Media and Other Connectors to Enhance Your Inn’s Collegiality and Recruitment

November/December 2015

By Avery S. Friedman, Esquire, and Professor Michael J. Borden

Our Inn has been around for over a quarter century and, like most, was founded by legendary lawyers and judges. Our namesake was one of the community's most respected and beloved federal judges, the late William K. Thomas. But as the years slip by, we face the risk that our membership will gradually lose its appreciation of why our Inn bears his name. We see with each passing year and with each new class of Inn members a subtle erosion of the collective understanding why our Inn bears Thomas's name.

We searched for a vehicle that would foster inclusion and develop an appreciation for the unique nature of our Inn and for its namesake. The more the newest members understood our Inn's legacy, the more dynamic the Inn would remain. It's an issue, in one form or another, every Inn faces.

We solved it. First, the Inn created a Facebook page, We can do things there that we can't on the formal Inn website, particularly reporting regular updates of the activities of Inn members. We then created a documentary film, only thirteen minutes, which mixes both the sanctity and the humor of our profession. The film, It's As If You Can Hear Him Now, brings our late namesake to life through archival video of Thomas speaking about the history of his federal courtroom, which was constructed in the early 20th century. One scene, the film's emotional climax, interweaves Thomas's personal legacy with the values to which the American Inns of Court movement aspires: One of our community's most distinguished lawyers, Niki Schwartz, is overcome with emotion as he explains that, when it came to judicial temperament, Thomas was "off the charts." What a perfect emphasis for excellence!

So the importance of the Inn's objectives and the standard that our namesake embodies are reflected at the end of the film, for all to see, year after year. But even more, the film features one of the Inn's founders, Marvin Karp, a past bar president and a universally admired lawyer who authored an updated creed of professionalism. He still attends monthly meetings regularly.

Imagine the excitement law students from our two law schools must feel learning about the Inn sitting next to Inn founders at dinner. Imagine the excitement felt by the members-even the venerable ones-when the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court attends a surprise presentation on ethics. It is all captured on our Facebook page.

When an Inn member affiliates with a new firm, it is posted. When another is honored by the bar, it is featured. When a monthly presentation was especially compelling and fun, the event is captured to remind everyone what an extraordinary program they experienced. The posts also demonstrate how hard the participants worked and how hard others will have to work in the future to try and top it-not that lawyers need to be any more competitive.

For example, a program entitled "From Krypton to Cleveland," the legal history of Superman, brought out extraordinarily creative talents of some of our judges and lawyers. It is, of course, posted. Sometimes random photos of lawyers and judges together sharing stories are posted, enhancing the atmosphere of collegiality.

We have also worked to minimize one of the unfortunate (and unspoken) side effects of new membership-the awkwardness that some feel when new to the Inn. At each monthly meeting, which has averaged 70 to 80 attendees, our secretary thoughtfully arranges seating at each table, taking care to ensure a different mix of younger and older lawyers and judges, new and veteran. A transactional lawyer winds up sitting next to a state court judge, who sits next to a juvenile court lawyer, who sits next to a federal judge.

Our Facebook page has also been used for orientation, recruitment, and communicating Inn members' achievements. It has taught new members who their tablemates are. In addition, we prepare "Past President Cards," beautifully embossed tributes each month of a former president and what they have done to enhance our profession. This stimulates new members to learn who their neighbors are at dinner and to generate something to talk about with the distinguished judges and lawyers featured on the Past President Cards and on Facebook.

These are simple and easy efforts. They honor founders and connect members of the bar and bench. These undertakings dissipate the anxiety younger members might feel because they learn who their new colleagues are and generate means by which intergenerational members can communicate more easily.

The administration of the Inn encourages all of its members to share distinctions and recognitions so they can post on our Facebook page. In one case, one of our members was invited to Paris to speak on legal education to members of the Paris bar. Two Inn members were among the top ten lawyers in the state as chosen by a legal publication. Another wrote an op-ed piece on a particularly timely legal and social topic. Think what wonderful conversation these kind of posts generate during the social hour or at dinner or while working together in preparing a program. Through leadership, every new member is encouraged to post. With each year, the distinctive history of the Inn grows. When our Inn has invited other local Inns to attend as our guests, it has consistently resulted in an appreciation for our activities because they check out the latest posts.

What an easy way to achieve excellence, promote inter-Inn relations, and maintain strong membership. When it is time to recruit, how simple it is to refer a potential candidate to our Facebook page. Recounting programs and identifying members' accomplishments offer an even greater awareness when the Inn undertakes mentoring programs.

The independent use of Facebook and other simple touches are powerful ways to connect with the vibrant history of our Inn. By capturing program highlights and nurturing recognition and awareness of its members, the posts help to highlight the Inn's tradition and distinction. Capturing the highlights has also helped contribute to the success in recruiting the community's most prominent judges and lawyers.

Avery S. Friedman, Esq., is a visiting distinguished adjunct professor in constitutional law at Ursuline College. He is CNN's legal analyst on Newsday's Legal Briefs and immediate past president of the William K. Thomas AIC in Cleveland, Ohio. Michael J. Borden is an associate professor of law at Cleveland State University Cleveland Marshall College of Law where he focuses mainly on corporate and contract law and ADR. He is also a member of the Thomas Inn.

© 2015 Avery S. Friedman, Esq. and Professor Michael J. Borden. This article was originally published in the November/December 2015 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.