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VOLUME 15 | NUMBER 6 | JUNE 2020

 

A Special Message from Outgoing Chair, Eric Altoon

 
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Each year near the time we install new officers for the Real Property Section of the LA County Bar Association, the Outgoing Chair is given the opportunity to deliver a written message reflecting on what has transpired or been accomplished during the past 12 months in order to recall and acknowledge the same so as not to take them for granted. The reality is whatever did get accomplished over the past 12 months was the result of teamwork, and there is no “I” in “team” (…although, as Kobe Bryant once said, there is an “m..e”, but let’s put that aside for the moment).

Before I started my term as Chair, I thought the past 12 months would be among the more challenging years in my life because of the time I expected to devote to being the Chair. Little did I know that being the Chair would be the easiest part of the past 12 months for many reasons, some of which came as a pleasant surprise in part due to the amazing teamwork of the LA County Bar and the Executive Committee, and others of which are tragic and disheartening.

At the start of 2019, we encountered the pandemic of COVID-19, and it impacted all of us and our clients on a personal and professional level that neither I nor my parents’ generation had ever witnessed before. It impacted the LA County Bar and our Section as it resulted in the postponement of many of the CLE programs our Subsection Chairs worked tirelessly for months to prepare.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, over the past several weeks, we’ve also witnessed several acts of racism and police brutality towards George Floyd and many others, and ensuing peaceful protesting, but also rioting and looting, that make you question how this could continue to be possible in the year 2020. And while part of the reason I’ve always been a member of the LA County Bar and the Real Property Section is its inclusive, embracing nature of people of all backgrounds, I do know there is always more that can and should be done to promote diversity from within and on our panel of speakers and that has been and will continue to be one of our more important missions.

Notwithstanding these tragic and disheartening events, it is equally important to reflect on the good that also transpired over the past 12 months, and there are many people to be recognized and thanked for their hard work and dedication to our Section.

When I first became the Chair, to be honest, I was very nervous. I can’t count on one hand the number of times I was asked or given the opportunity to lead a group of attorneys, let alone an organization with close to 750 attorneys as members. I’m a solo practitioner working out of a home office in Porter Ranch. It’s been over 10 years since I worked in downtown L.A. at a large firm and yet somehow I was nominated and trusted in the role of Chair, and for that I am forever grateful as it has been an experience of a lifetime that I will always cherish and never forget. Having said that, I did have my doubts in the beginning and I foolishly thought I was in this leadership position on my own but then a couple things happened that quickly proved me wrong.

First, as the Chair, I became privy to information I wasn’t privy to before – information about the LA County Bar, how it functions and interacts with the Sections. And what I came to realize is that, before I was the Chair, my definition of the word “team” meant the Real Property Section. I thought what’s good for the Section is good for me. After all, our Section has provided me with quality education, friendships and a great source of business referrals. But after I became the Chair, my definition for the word “team” expanded to mean the LA County Bar. I had always heard that the Sections are the “lifeblood” of the Bar. We put on programs that bring in substantial revenue and we try to bring in new members, but none of that is possible without substantial support from everyone on the LA County Bar staff. That includes the President, the Board of Trustees, the IT staff, and especially our Section Administrator, Fatima Jones. And as I have told Fatima before, I think the LA County Bar staff are overworked, understaffed and taken for granted, but I’ve seen first-hand how they made my job as Chair much easier than it could have been, so I thank them and I hope you thank them too.

Next, I need to thank everyone on the Executive Committee who provided me with overwhelming support and involvement and with whom working was such a pleasure. This includes many of our Section’s past chairs who have remained involved well after they already paid their dues (including Ira Waldman, Brant Dveirin, Norm Chernin, Caroline Dreyfus and Don Nanney, all of whom I have had many years to observe and borrow great ideas from), Larry Hummer and Rachel Sanders, both of whom are probably the best Treasurer and Secretary,

 

respectively, that our Section has ever known, the vice chairs, subsection chairs, liaisons and Linda Spiegel. Each of you treated me like I was one of your biggest clients, and I will always treasure that.

I have to specifically thank Teresa Hillery, our Vice Chair of Communications, who, when we had an opportunity to bring back the Crocker Symposium which had been dormant for several years, she single-handedly took on the role of marketing the Croker under its new format and based on her efforts we doubled the number of attendees we expected and went from a budgeted loss to a profit, so thanks are due to Teresa for helping to bring back the Crocker.

I also need to thank Dan Liffmann, our Vice Chair of Membership, who was monumental in his outreach to prospective members. Membership had been on a steady decline for 10 years in a row, well before COVID-19 hit, and yet we somehow managed to go from about 600 members at the end of 2019 to close to 750 members as of today. Our Subsection Chairs, Trudi Lesser, Herman Enayati, John Hanover, Jane Hinton, Gretta Moy, Julie Hamill, Bill Bernfeld, Stacey Villagomez, Jim Treadwell and Elmira Howard not only planned our CLE programs, but also assisted Dan Liffmann in his efforts to increase membership. They did a bulk of the due diligence on law firms and prospective members. And when COVID-19 hit, our Subsection Chairs didn’t cower. Rather, they adapted to the times, embraced technology, scrambled last minute to put on programs tied to how COVID-19 has impacted various real estate relationships, invited non-members to our Zoom webinars to show them what we had to offer and why membership in the LA County Bar has been so meaningful to us, and in the process, they helped our Section not only survive but thrive at levels I had not seen in years. This took an incredible amount of time and effort from all on the Executive Committee, who were already full-time busy with law firm work (some of them billing over 2,400 hours a year), family life and planning other CLE programs. It reminds me of a line from the 1961 French film “Lola.” In the film, the protagonist tells his boss “there is no dignity, nor real life in a person who works 12 hours a day and yet knows not for what that person works.” And what I can tell you is that based on the time my team took towards these efforts, it’s proof they recognize that the greatest leaders are here to serve, not to be served, and I am so grateful for their service.

Finally, I need to thank Kelsey Thayer, our Vice Chair of Programming and our incoming Chair. Kelsey’s oversight of our Section’s programs far exceeded my expectations. Kelsey was firm with what she expected our Subsection Chairs to accomplish and followed up with them several times a month to make sure they were staying on task and because of that, we were able to offer some of the best programs we have ever had. Kelsey demonstrated to all of us that she not only has the knowledge of what it takes to put on a successful program (which she mastered in a very short period of time), but she also has the ability to communicate to and inspire our Subsection Chairs at a very high level. And when Kelsey was asked to succeed me as the new Chair of our Section, Kelsey took some time to thoughtfully consider the request, and in less than a few hours, responded in the affirmative. It made me immediately think of a line from Stephen King’s novel “The Stand” (which seems an appropriate reference considering the COVID-19 pandemic). To paraphrase from the novel, “[People] who find themselves late are never sure. They are all the things the civics books tell us the good citizen should be: partisans but never zealots, respecters of the facts which attend each situation but never benders of those facts, uncomfortable in positions of leadership but rarely unable to turn down a responsibility once it has been offered . . . or thrust upon them. They make the best leaders in a democracy because they are unlikely to fall in love with power.” Based on Kelsey’s performance as Vice Chair of Programming alone, I have no doubt Kelsey will be one of the best Chairs we have ever had. I am excited for the future of our Section under Kelsey’s leadership and it is my honor and privilege to be able to welcome Kelsey as the new Chair of our Section.

To conclude, it has been a long 23-year journey to becoming Chair of the Real Property Section, but I’m not sad because it’s not over. Our Section has been a part of my life for almost half of it. One year as the Chair is not sufficient for me to give back to our Section what it has given to me. I plan to remain involved for as long as possible, just as many other past Chairs of our Section have done and continue to do. And I hope that any of you who are reading this message that aren’t members of our Section or are but have not volunteered with our Executive Committee are inspired to do so based on the reflections and experiences noted above. Until then, I wish you safety and health during these uniquely challenging times, which we all hope will change for the better with your help. Thank you.

Eric Altoon
Chair, Real Property Section

 

             

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