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National Search Narrows to Find Executive Director for County Bar

The search to fill a key position to lead the 10,000-member San Diego County Bar Association is in full swing. The SDCBA, with the assistance of a national executive search firm, is narrowing down the list of candidates to schedule interviews for the position left vacant earlier this year due to the death of Sheree Swetin.

Swetin, who died of cancer in June at the age of 51, was an active leader who joined the local bar from the American Bar Association in 2001. She was a member of the Executives for the California Legal Association and the National Association for Bar Executives, and a consultant for the American Bar Association’s Program of Assistance and Review.

Jill Burkhardt, president and head of the executive director search committee, said the bar is not looking to replace Swetin, but to find a new leader.

“To think we are going to replace Sheree Swetin is to look at it the wrong way,” she said. “If we go into it with the expectation that we will find someone to replace her, we will be sadly disappointed. We are looking to find someone to lead the organization into the future. And that person will come with their own strengths and their own personality.”

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SDCBA President-elect Heather Rosing, an attorney with Klinedinst PC, said Swetin was a role model in the legal community and that other executives looked to her for ideas.

“She was an amazing person personally and professionally,” Rosing said. “She brought the SDCBA to a new level, and made us one of the most successful metro bars in the country.”

The SDCBA contracted Association Strategies Inc., an executive search consulting firm based in Alexandria, Va., to assist with recruiting. Association Strategies, which specializes in helping nonprofit organizations, has assisted clients such as the American Institute of Architects, National Council of Chain Restaurants and National Retail Federation with similar searches.


Plenty Of Interest

Rosing said the bar association and executive search firm are reviewing the candidate list. Interviews could commerce as early as next month and someone could be selected by year end.

“There has been tremendous interest in the position due to who we are and where we are located, and we will certainly have at least several incredible candidates to choose from,” she said.

Both Rosing and Burkhardt noted that SJ Kalian has been successful in manning the ship as acting executive director.

“With SJ as our interim executive director, we have had tremendous forward momentum. She is pushing forward every day,” said Rosing.

Burkhardt said Kalian has made the transition seamless, yet is eager to have a permanent executive director in place.

“Anytime there is an abrupt change in senior leadership there are challenges that need to be dealt with, and thank goodness we have had SJ there to help us,” said Burkhardt.


The Executive Director’s Role

The executive director is the association’s highest ranking non-volunteer official. The executive director, who reports to the president of the board of directors, manages the operations, finances and programs of the association.

In addition, the individual often serves as the voice of the organization for other bar associations, including the State Bar of California and American Bar Association, local and state government agencies, law schools, the media and members.

The SDCBA has a staff of 30 with 14 staff members managing the lawyer referral and private conflicts council programs.

The association has an overall budget of $11 million. Founded in 1899, the association is the region’s oldest and largest law-related organization, according to its Web site.

The SDCBA has one of the highest member rates with more than 50 percent of San Diego’s attorneys as members.

Its mission to support and inform the country’s lawyers and the public of legal matters will remain the same with a new leader.

It has 35 committees; produces five publications for members, including San Diego Lawyer, a bimonthly magazine, the San Diego Lawyer Directory, an annual list of more than 10,000 lawyers, and the monthly Bar Report, which keeps members up to date on SDCBA news and events; operates a mentor program; coordinates social networking opportunities; and offers a wide variety of continuing legal education programs.

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