Postcard From ALA: An Keynote To Inspire Lawyers And Nonlawyers Alike

May 27, 2014

Westlaw JournalsLast week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Association of Legal Administrators’ annual meeting in Toronto.  This is the 14th year that this organization has invited its members for a three-day event filled with workshops, idea exchanges, and networking.  Each of the over 1100 attendees seemed engaged and appreciative of the opportunities presented throughout the conference.

However, amid all of the sessions, the clear standout for me was the keynote speech, which Thomson Reuters had the honor of sponsoring this year.  In my experience attending conferences of many types in the past; keynotes usually fall into one of two categories.  The first is informative in nature and the content is applicable but sometimes dry and therefore short on inspiration.  The second is a snazzy speaker with great stage presence who offers motivation but doesn’t add the context needed to tie his or her thoughts to the listeners, or conference purpose.  The keynote at this year’s ALA conference defied these typical descriptors and managed to be both incredibly inspiring as well as applicable, not only to the legal profession but to any industry.

Captain Mark Kelly, a former astronaut,  intricately wove a tale that included stories from his past and current challenges he and his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, face every day as a result of her being shot in the head by a gunman in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011.  Each of his stories delicately and effectively tied back to thoughts that are universal to every business.

There were two themes in particular that resonated with me

  • The importance of clear and consistent communication.  Kelly illustrated this point through telling the story of his first combat flight for the Navy in which he almost died due to a lack of clear communication.
  • Initial aptitude is not the sole predictor of success—hard work and tenacity both play an integral role.  Mark highlighted that he is not an overachiever, but that whatever he lacks in upfront ability, he makes up for in sheer drive.

To top off his keynote he introduced his self described inspiration—his wife.  Her simple statement—Be active, be passionate, stand for something, never give up — drove the audience to its feet.

What an excellent way to start the annual ALA meeting!