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MCBA president’s message: The evaluatory process

I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you the process the MCBA is undertaking to recruit and evaluate candidates for our next executive director.

Over my career I have read thousands of resumes and led hundreds of individual and team interviews.  Over time, they became quite routinized, and it has been years since I thought about the steps it took to develop a process. Coincidentally, this semester I am teaching a section of human resource management, and as we have begun our search for an executive director, I have been conscious of the finer details in establishing a concise but fair and comprehensive process.

We started by identifying a committee chair. It was important to find someone with a history of leadership both in the legal community and within the MCBA; experience directing a search committee; a reputation of being fair and impartial; and an individual who could make a significant block of her time available. Past-President Connie Walker graciously agreed to accept that role.

Next, we began identifying potential committee members. Our goal was to cap the number of members at seven, both to facilitate communication and to smooth the coordination of schedules for the many meetings anticipated.

Criteria considered in selecting members of the search committee started with MCBA and foundation leadership, which included past presidents, former officers and trustees, and section chairs. It was also important to include members with management and budgeting backgrounds and for the committee to reflect our relationships with other organizations in the legal community, such as GRAWA, RBBA, and our Telesca Center Partners. As with all MCBA endeavors, it was also essential to represent large, mid-sized and small firms, solo practitioners, public interest and government attorneys, while including individuals empathetic to diversity, including age, gender, and ethnicity. In the end, we found that we could not address all these factors with just seven, and the final tally was a 10-member committee.

After individuals confirmed their interest in serving on the search committee, the slate of members was presented to, and approved by the board of trustees. We were then two weeks into the process.

The search committee met to develop a search process and to divide the workload. Including several individuals on the committee with hiring experience was crucial, as each shared his or her knowledge. A compilation of best practices was agreed upon. A primary task was for the committee members to familiarize themselves with the specifics of the duties and responsibilities of the previous executive director. One subcommittee was assigned to develop the job description, while another was asked to generate a recruiting plan. With the intervening holiday season, the subcommittees relied on electronic communications to complete their tasks. When the committee met again to finalize both the job description and recruiting plan, we were six weeks into the process.

The position was posted for 30 days, and during that period the search committee continued its work and met twice more to refine its interview process.

The search committee is now 12 labor-intensive weeks into the process and has yet to conduct its first interview. Although some might question the value of the extensive preparation and attention to procedure, it is, in fact, the most essential part of the process.

At its core, selecting candidates for an executive director is an evaluatory process, and among experts in the field of evaluations, three essentials have been recognized – standardization, objectivity, and norm.  Of these three, objectivity tends to be the most subject to criticism, yet the most elusive for attorneys.

From the vantage point of social scientists, objectivity is reflected by the ability of the evaluators to independently reach the same conclusions. Although attorneys are trained to be objective, and are confident in our ability to impartially listen to two sides of an issue, the social scientists have something that can be measured and thus proven.

Experts have developed a vast library of checklists, rating scales and questions designed and proven to facilitate objectivity in the evaluatory process. Yet, it required a commitment by the search committee to affirmatively incorporate these principles into a fair and effective interview process.

By the time I next write this column the search will be in week 16. I expect that the committee will be well along in the interview process and perhaps have narrowed down the list of candidates. Yet, even if the search committee is still plugging along, the membership of the MCBA can take both great pride and solace in knowing that the committee is taking the necessary time to get it right.

Neil J. Rowe is president of the Monroe County Bar Association, adjunct instructor of management at Keuka College, and principal of NJ Rowe Consulting Services. He can be reached at njr@rochester.rr.com.