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Highlights from the 2015 PDC Summer Conference

July 22, 2015

I’m back in my office after an amazing PDC Summer Conference feeling energized, creative, and connected.  The 2015 Summer Conference in San Francisco was my fourth PDC conference, and an amazing way to celebrate our organization’s 25th Anniversary – our first sold out conference! The event was jam-packed with interesting and innovative sessions. As a conference planning committee member, I know how hard we tried to develop different ways for people to connect with one another, to meet and welcome new members, and to share ideas in a safe and caring environment, and I think we exceeded our own high expectations. In the PDC, we all want each other to succeed, and it is evident with how willing our community is to give to one another.

The conference kicked off with the annual PDC Walk led by Burt Lipshie. I thought San Francisco’s hills were way too intimidating for me to have participated in this, but after his amazing PDC Talk, “How I Learned Not to Sweat the Small Stuff,” I have a greater belief in myself and my ability to tackle those hills and any other challenges that come my way. Burt, you inspire me in so many ways, so I’m grateful you shared your story with us. KEEP WALKING.

I was able to take in some of San Francisco’s well-known sites during our Group Speed Dating event – at least in spirit anyways! We divided up at tables marked by AT&T Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Lombardi Street. We practiced our “elevator pitches” on one another and started to build relationships with new people. The room was buzzing with excitement and then disappointment when time was called!

The conference’s keynote presentation by Robin Feldman provided insight into the work being done at the law school level to help prepare lawyers for the future – a subject very important to me, as I had the opportunity to share during my own PDC Talk, “Law Schools and Law Firms: Partnering to Build Lawyers.” I am grateful that the PDC gave me this opportunity to share my story, and I hope I inspired a few to find ways to collaborate with our law school colleagues.

I attended five concurrent sessions: (1) Recharging Mentoring with Mentoring Moments, (2) Much-Maligned Millennials, (3) Using Talent Alignment as a Key to Lawyer Collaboration, (4) Building a Business of Law Academy, and (5) The War for Talent: How a Coaching Program Can Help. Each session provided me with practical new lessons. I’m focused now more on how to deliver “feed forward” instead of feedback (Mentoring Moments); how to combat some of the unfair assumptions made about Millennials (Much-Maligned Millennials); how to build competencies by focusing on the behaviors that make up the skills we want to see in our lawyers (Talent Alignment); how to build support for an innovative program that taps Millennials’ strengths (Law Academy); and for me, most challenging of all, how to listen empathically (Coaching Program). Jim Lovelace, former Board Chair of the PDC, addressed this skill as well in his PDC Talk, “Learning to Listen,” which primed me for the Coaching Program session by discussing how important it is to be tuned into the different levels of listening. Practicing listening empathically was a true stretch and eye-opening experience for me. I’m now much more aware of how I’m listening to others and am trying to push myself to be in that empathic level as much as possible.

Ritu Bhasin’s plenary presentation discussed that the general law firm definition of leadership and success has one singular (white, straight, male, able-bodied American) definition. She presented a model to us for how can help younger lawyers attain success within that model while remaining authentic. For our next conference, I hope we might further discuss how we can more concretely attack the definitions and understandings in the first place so fewer people even have to walk this narrow, confusing, and constricting path.

Twelve roundtable sessions allowed attendees to learn from PDC members and Trusted Advisors in short, collaborative sessions. This event in particular allowed PDC’ers to do what we do best – GIVE AND TAKE. Each session was offered twice and then table leaders reported to the entire group a key take-away. We had such interest in the roundtables, we even had an ‘overflow” table where a hodge podge of professional development topics were discussed.

A new experience at this year’s conference was the PDC Fair. The good news is I did not have flashbacks to 5th grade science fairs, but rather received a quick introduction to several different programs of interest to our group from mindfulness, to writing trainings, to apprentice programs, and more. We then voted and learned more about four of the programs in short presentations the following day.

The video tributes throughout the conference and the 25th Anniversary Tribute Lunch with Jim Lovelace, Burt Lipshie, Steve Armstrong, Amy Hancock, and Jane Eiselein, may have been the highlights for me. Hearing how far the organization has come, the commitment of those who started it all, and the energy with which we are moving into our next 25 years was inspiring. Additionally, being with our sponsors who are committed to supporting our work, our Trusted Advisors who we have so much to learn from, our alumni and our members was the real “San Francisco Treat.” Thank you to our conference co-chairs, Larry Brown and Ori Portnoy, and our fantastic PDC Staff. This was truly a conference to remember. 


Debbie Atlas
Director, Career Services Office, Adjunct Faculty
Indiana University Maurer School of Law