From One WSBA Governor to the Next: A Conversation with Outgoing Gov. Alec Stephens

Alec Stephens

Washington Bar Association’s At-Large Governor Alec Stephens Jr. will finish his term this year, and the search is on for the next WSBA member to fill his seat. The three at-large positions are intended to help increase the diversity of the board by including people who have been historically underrepresented.

First elected to the Board of Governors in 2017, Stephens also served two terms as chair of the WSBA Civil Rights Law Section, and was the Solo and Small Firm section representative on the Board of Governors Sections Policy Work Group. He has been a civil rights lawyer since his admission to the bar in 1981, and was national co-director of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, and national co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Affirmative Action/Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The three at-large positions are intended to help increase the diversity of the board by including people who have been historically underrepresented.

Now as he nears the end of his term as at-large governor, Stephens took some time to talk about his experience in the position, what he’s learned, and his hopes for the future.

What’s different about the position of an at-large governor compared to others on the Board?

The first thing is you don’t represent any particular district, but your natural constituency are especially the minority bar associations … . I also have seen my role—both when I was the [Board of Governors] co-chair of the WSBA Diversity Committee for two years and then as the senior at-large governor—actually being at the table when the minority bar associations come together for their own meetings where they are jointly meeting to discuss the issues that are in front of them, so I give a report to that entire group. In a way the same duties [as other governors], but in a way there are special duties and a special audience that the at-large governor has—and that’s the diversity stakeholders.

What have you most enjoyed? What are the biggest challenges that someone should know about prior to applying?

One of the things the Board of Governors does every year is when it meets in Olympia it then has a social time with the Supreme Court and then we have a formal meeting at the Supreme Court with all of the justices and all of the Board of Governors. I still remember the very first time I did that and I was walking into the Temple of Justice and I looked across the plaza at the legislative building—and the Legislature was at least one of the areas in which I had had an interest and realized I had put that aside—and then I thought this is really interesting, I’ve always, always wanted to be over there and now I’m coming in here and this is a big thing.

Regardless of the discussion, just the honor of being able to sit with the Supreme Court justices and have a conversation is to me the pinnacle of a career.

On the other side, there has been, in fact, this power struggle that’s gone on … . My bigger concern is that we don’t engage in a total power shift between the officers and the executive director and the Board of Governors. That we develop a better approach that involves and engages everyone that is not only democratic in terms of the relationship between the Board of Governors and, quote, leadership and the executive director and staff. But that we all understand that it’s a shared relationship. That power is to be shared; that democracy is to not only include democracy by the board but democracy in engaging and making sure that the various members are consulted when we are talking about policies and procedures.

What are the qualities, both personal and professional, you think make for a good board member?

I think, especially, a strong desire to serve and be in service, and along with that a curiosity about how everything works and how things fit together. That people are flexible or at least willing to listen to other points of view and to consider what’s best for the whole while making sure—as much as possible—people aren’t left behind simply because they were on the losing end of a vote or things didn’t move forward as they’d like.

It has certainly been one of the honors of my life to have done this and I would have never thought about that before. So I would ask people who are on the fence to go for it. Whether they become a member of the Board of Governors or not, I think it in a way encourages people to become more engaged in other ways in their bar association.

What hopes would you have for the next at-large governor? What would you hope to see the Board tackle in the future?

I’m concerned about—especially last year—the lack of candidates for the other at-large position.

Every place I can go I encourage people to step forward. But I also want my colleagues to recognize … if we’re not getting people coming forward as we have in the past; that is an indicator that we have to do a better job and that is an indicator that in some ways we have to temper our fights so that the fight doesn’t overshadow the value of the organization.

I think it’s a big opportunity … because of the struggle that we’ve had over the last year, one of the paths that went by the wayside was the development of a strategic plan for the organization. And so I’m hoping that next year the time will be right for the Board of Governors, with the involvement of the active membership and checking in with the inactive membership, develop a strategic plan on where do we go as a bar association in support of our members?