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october 6, 2021 | by collen aracri

The MSBA has seized opportunities and addressed challenges since its inception, never wavering in its commitment to Maryland attorneys, firms and the profession at large.

A clearly defined vision and set of operating values are the foundation for continued success, as are the efforts of talented volunteer leaders, members and staff.

With a new volunteer President serving as the face of the organization each year, the Executive Director serves to ensure continuity across years and decades as the MSBA navigates the realities and personalities of the moment. Eight individuals have served in this capacity during the past 125 years.

While the MSBA’s leaders’ focus has always been to provide members with support and valuable resources, the means necessary to achieve those objectives have changed over time. Rapid advances in technology in recent years made it clear that the MSBA needed to modernize and mobilize its assets and services to better connect with and serve its increasingly tech-savvy membership. As such, in 2015, the MSBA retained McKinley Advisors to survey members with the goal of using the information it derived to develop strategies and objectives for increasing the value members receive by joining the MSBA.  The results of this survey provided invaluable input into the ultimate of foundational recommendations adopted in May, 2017 that sought to transform the MSBA. 

2017 was set to become the next chapter in the organization’s rich history coinciding with the arrival of Victor Velazquez. The 8th Executive Director who came to the MSBA with 20+ years experience leading within large associations with members in the US and throughout the world.  Whether as SVP of Strategy of the 400K member American Institute of CPA’s or as the Chief Operating Officer of the 110K member DC Bar, Victor came to the MSBA with a history of serving as a change agent.  And change and transformation is what the 2015 McKinley results demanded as well as an environment that had dramatically changed for voluntary Bars in the US over the preceding decade.   

During a 5-year period launching in 2017, two years of which witnessed the specter of the COVID pandemic,  the organization underwent a transformation that ultimately led to becoming a leading voluntary state Bar in terms of membership growth performance year over year in 2021.  A transformation related to brand, technology platforms, the member value proposition, the delivery of learning and services, staff capabilities and so much more.  More than a dozen attorneys brought onboard, in addition to the rest of its highly experienced professional staff, Victor remained focused on evolving the association to be the modern home of the legal profession focused on today and the future.    

In 2018, the MSBA formed a Strategic Vision Committee to develop and recommend priorities and objectives to help reposition the MSBA for the future. The Committee reviewed the McKinley survey, a 2018 Member survey, and considered feedback and data pertaining to the MSBA specifically and bar associations in general from numerous other sources to formulate its recommendations. The Committee then presented its recommendations to the MSBA Board of Governors in April 2019; the Board unanimously approved them the following month. 

Since then, the MSBA has evolved into an organization that embraces and employs technology in achieving its objectives. For example, in December 2019, the MSBA introduced MSBA Connect, a tool that allows members to network and communicate with one another on a virtual platform. The MSBA has also steadily increased its opportunities for virtual engagement and learning, covering a variety of practice areas. 

The MSBA continued to serve as the voice for the legal profession in Maryland as well. In March 2020, it opposed House Bill 1628 and the taxation of legal services.  The MSBA marshalled all of its new communication capabilities and mounted a multi-pronged effort to educate legislators and the public on the implications of the Bill.  Its efforts in defeating the proposed legislation were recognized by the American Society of Association Executives later in the year when the MSBA was selected for its The Power of A Award.

The MSBA’s evolution into a technologically savvy organization not only increased the availability of the MSBA’s resources and products and enabled greater communication between the MSBA and its members, but it also allowed the MBSA to seamlessly transition from working out of its Baltimore headquarters to a fully virtual environment when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the Spring of 2020. While many organizations struggled to adapt to using remote platforms, the MSBA was largely able to maintain its pre-pandemic level of service, presenting a virtual Legal Excellence Week in 2020 and a virtual Lobby Day and Legal Summit and Annual Meeting in 2021.  More than 40K hours of content, learning & networking occurred enabled by systems and people tied to the 2017 foundational recommendations.

The MSBA also continued to advocate for attorneys throughout the State throughout the pandemic, filing an amicus brief in Chavis v. Blibaum Associates, P.A.,  in January 2021 to protect attorney advocacy rights and, in March 2021, advocating for all attorneys to be included in Phase 1C of COVID-19 vaccine distribution per national CDC guidelines. 

Victor Velazquez has served during a period of significant transformation garnering local and national accolades for the innovative thinking, initiatives and efforts he brought to the MSBA.  Just the latest exceptional CEO in a history of talented staff leaders.

A History of Executive Directors

1985-2016: Paul Carlin worked as the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Director of Legal Services and the Director of Public Service Activities of the Washington, D.C. Bar Association before joining the MSBA in 1985. He then became the Executive Director of the Baltimore City Bar Association and the Connecticut Bar Association before beginning a 32-year tenure with the Maryland State Bar Association.  In the years that Paul held the position of Executive Direction, the MSBA experienced noteworthy changes, like the incorporation of technology into the practice of law and the relocation of the MSBA headquarters. 

1964-1985: Paul R. Schlitz was appointed as the second full-time Executive Director of the MSBA in 1964. Mr. Schlitz was a Maryland lawyer, former Chief Attorney of the Legal Aid Bureau, and later served as Clerk of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

1962 – 1963 – Alexander Gordon, III, Esquire, served as the first full-time Executive Director of the MSBA from 1962 until his untimely death on July 11,1963.

1960-1962: William P. Cunningham, Esquire, Professor of Law of the University of Maryland, took office as a part-time Executive Director and Assistant Secretary of the MSBA in July 1960. 

(add earlier names)

William P. Cunningham1961-62
Alexander Gordon, III1962-63
Paul R. Schlitz1964-67
Manley E. Davis1967-76
Arthur L. Mullen, Jr.1976-77
William J. Smith, Jr.1977-84
Paul V. Carlin1985-2016
Victor Velazquez2017-Present