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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Bar’s education czar prepares for her final Annual Meeting

Pam Wilson

Editor’s note: Senior Director of Education Pam Wilson talked with the Bar Journal about her 36 years at the State Bar and about the upcoming Annual Meeting, which will be her last. She’s leaving the State Bar at the end of the year. This is an edited version of the conversation.

How many State Bar Annual Meetings have you attended and what role have you played?

I’ve played several different roles. My first Annual Meeting was in 1980 and this one will be my 37th Annual Meeting. I’ve done everything from working in the Annual Meeting Office as an administrative assistant, to being the associate director of the office with various responsibilities, to being the director and basically running the Annual Meeting since 1985.

What’s on tap for this year’s Annual Meeting in San Diego, Sept. 29-Oct. 2?

This year’s Annual Meeting looks like it’s going to be a great one. It’s in San Diego and San Diego is always one of our favorite destinations to go. We have two general sessions this year. Both of those classes come highly recommended, and I think they’ll be very well attended. The opening general session on elimination of bias is “Fail Better: Continuing Efforts to Eliminate Bias in the Practice of Law.” And our closing general session is “Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Vulnerability in the Legal Professions: Facing the Facts.” We also have an excellent luncheon speaker on Friday, Christopher Darden, who is going to be doing a program on high-profile cases.

He’s the Christopher Darden of O.J. Simpson trial fame?

Exactly. That’s one of his prominent trials. And then our Morrison lecture on Saturday will be given by California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu. We’ve got lots of education programs. A hundred and eleven CLE programs that the volunteers of the State Bar provide. High quality education. It should be a good program.

What are you most looking forward to?

Well I probably shouldn’t say for it to be over (laughs). What I’m looking forward to is a successful Annual Meeting. I want this to be one of the best. I hope we get good attendance.

Is it true that attendance is an issue with groups all over the country?

Yes, attendance at big in-person events across the states is generally down. But they’re not going away. There’s still a lot of value in these meetings. One of the things we did starting in 2012 was offer a two-day pass. Giving people an opportunity if they couldn’t attend the whole meeting to attend two days at a reduced registration fee. And that has helped us a lot.

Tell us about a favorite memory you have from something that happened at the Annual Meeting.

I’ve got lots and lots of memories, and usually they revolve around a traumatic event. Because when you’re running the Annual Meeting you’re putting out as many fires as possible and making sure that the attendees don’t see anything that may be happening so it’s a smooth event. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite one, but it was one that happened early on, so it made a very, very big impression. We had a very big keynote luncheon. We had about 500 people sitting there ready to go, and just before our speaker walked up to go into the room and sit at the head table we received an urgent call that she needed to call home immediately because her sister had died. We decided, of course, we had to tell her. So while she was making the call and learning this news, I spoke to the State Bar president to tell him what was going on and said, “I don’t know what she’s going to do. She may or may not do the speech. Can you be prepared?” He said, “Yes, I will deal with this.” So she got off the phone. She thanked me profusely for giving her the message. I walked her in, introduced her to the members of the table. She sat down, ate lunch, she gave a wonderful speech, and then she cried all the way to the airport.

Who was that?

It was Sarah Weddington. She was the lawyer in the abortion case, Roe v. Wade. Very professional. A lot of the things that I remember are little drama events. The drama and the emotions behind what’s going on and trying to keep everybody even-keeled and going forth.

What do you enjoy most about it?

I enjoy the teamwork with the staff. They are so professional. My team is wonderful. They really, really want to do a good job, and they just go 110 percent. It’s like a well-oiled cog. We really have it down. And I enjoy the professionalism of the volunteers. It’s just a wonderful, long meeting where everyone comes together to really do well and present a great, great presence for the State Bar. It’s one of the things I tell the staff, that we are the face of the State Bar so we need to make sure at all times that we are professional and doing what we need to do to get everything done properly.

So you’ve been here 36 years. What was your first job?

I actually started as a temp for the 1980 Annual Meeting. I knew the meeting planner for the State Bar at the time, and I asked if they needed assistance. I wanted to get into the professional planning end of things. I started as a temp and worked on the State Bar Art Show and in the Annual Meeting Office, at that time with Mary Wells. Mary Wells was the secretary of the bar, worked with the Board of Governors at the time. She was a very interesting person. I made good friends with Mary and throughout my career while she was here we remained close. So that was very nice.

And then pretty quickly, you became a director.

Right. The director left, and at that time our office was called Public Meetings and Programs. At that point there were just five of us.

How many people are in the Office of Education now?

Now there are 20 in the office. We do the Annual Meeting, the California Solo and Small Firm Summit. We do all the education the State Bar Sections provide. So we’ve got many, many meetings and webinars and online education that we do throughout the year to support the 65,000 members of the Sections.

When you started your career in the Office of the Annual Meeting, did you imagine you would be here 36 years?

No, I didn’t. When I started as a temp, I remember leaving the 1980 Annual Meeting thinking, “Well, that was fun. Now I’ve got to do something else.” But a month later I got a call to come back. There was an opening, and they wanted to see me apply. I thought OK I’ll do this until I find something else. But I enjoyed it. I enjoy the people, working with the lawyers. It clicked with me. And then being able to grow and expand the office. I've done so much more at the Bar than just the Annual Meeting. Clearly, that is the most visible and has always been one of my major professional responsibilities. However, I'm most proud of my work with the State Bar Sections. Understanding the bottom line, growing and sustaining a fully self-supporting Section operation, while at the same time successfully operating within a quasi-governmental bureaucracy has definitely been a challenge. Working with the dedicated and hard working group of section volunteers has been extremely rewarding. They have made all of the challenges worthwhile.

Some parting thoughts?

I want to stay connected with the profession. I’m definitely going to do that. I’m going to be a State Bar volunteer for the Week in Legal London program in May. I’m definitely looking forward to that. There’s no such thing as a flawless meeting, but everyone thinks there is. And that’s the goal.