Arundel bar president's main goal is inclusion

She hopes to get judges, diverse group of lawyers involved with association

July 26, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Bar Association's new president -- its youngest ever -- is determined to attract younger, more ethnically diverse members and to get judges to mix more with the people who try cases before them.

"It's a matter of trying to reach out," said Deborah L. Potter, 34, who took office earlier this month. "I'd like to show them that membership in the bar is beneficial both professionally and socially."

A die-hard University of Maryland sports fan, she sits on the board of directors of the Terrapin Club, the university's athletic fund-raising group, as well as on the boards of several community organizations.

In her office -- two blocks from the Anne Arundel County Courthouse -- the shelves are a mix of books, family photographs and Terrapin memorabilia. She has arranged for Gary Williams, head coach of the Maryland men's basketball team, to speak at this year's fall dinner meeting in hopes of attracting a younger crowd.

Most Anne Arundel bar members are suburban lawyers who either work in small firms or practice alone. Several said that may make them reluctant to commit themselves to efforts that generate neither clients nor money.

Many are likely to attend the summer crab feast and the annual dinner, and about 100 play on the 10 bar association baseball teams. But they tend to forgo routine meetings and nuts-and-bolts committees.

"Spare time is a luxury," said Joseph H. LaMore Jr., 31, who recently joined a small Glen Burnie firm. "Time is a big constraint. It's 7 o'clock at night when you go home. And there's your family. And you're tired."

He said Potter, known for her organizing skills and her work as past president of the bar association's charitable foundation, has a take-charge determination that will serve the association well.

At 850 members, the organization is small enough so that most recognize one another in passing. But it has grown so rapidly that many members meet for the first time when they face each other in court.

The association's membership has doubled in the past 10 years and 84 lawyers joined in the past year.

"The organization wants to continue to grow and attract younger and more members, as opposed to being a country club for old white males who want to become judges," said William D. Roessler, its last president.

This year, a black female lawyer became the first minority named as a trustee.

"I would like to see the involvement in the bar association reflect how diverse the bar membership has become. There are very few minorities actively involved in our bar association," Potter said.

She said she wants to jump-start the speakers' bureau, which has barely been active in recent years, sending lawyers to talk to community groups.

She also hopes to start offering continuing education seminars so that attorneys can keep abreast of developments in their fields.

Potter said one of her goals is to have judges attend more bar association functions and hold more informal sessions. The new circuit courthouse has given judges private corridors and their own elevators, fostering complaints that judges are increasingly inaccessible.

"The courthouse creates an environment of exclusivity, which prohibits informal communications," she said. "I don't want judges to ever forget where they came from and what the demands are on practitioners."

Last year, the association started monthly brown-bag lunches, mostly with judges, providing an informal way for lawyers to pick up advice, meet one another and chat with judges outside the courtroom.

Potter said that when she joins an organization, she likes to take a leadership role.

"In sixth grade, I was voted the most outstanding safety patrol in Montgomery County. That stuck with me. Once I get involved, I can't leave it alone. I am always reaching for the next step," she said.

Potter attended the University of Maryland, College Park and received her law degree in 1990 from the University of Maryland School of Law. While in law school, she was an intern at Shapiro & Robinson, a Baltimore sports management firm, because she was interested in a career as a sports agent. But after spending much of her time making dental appointments and shopping for clothes for sports-figure clients, she felt more like a valet.

Invited to clerk for then-Arundel Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr., she jumped at the chance. After that, she spent five years with the Annapolis firm of Snider, Buck and Migdal before opening a private practice focusing on personal injury and insurance cases.

Pub Date: 7/26/99

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