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Board Structure: Present, Past, and Future, Part 1

This article is part 1 of a 3-part series from CWBA President-Elect Emma Garrison about the CWBA's board structure.

Since my last article about the CWBA's strategic planning initiative, Reimagining the CWBA’s Leadership Structure: A Look at the Strategic Planning Workgroup, the CWBA Board has provided feedback on proposed changes to the board structure, we hosted two listening sessions with past CWBA presidents, and I attended the American Bar Association’s Bar Leadership Institute in my capacity as President-Elect.

The best way I’ve been able to organize my (many, many) thoughts on the CWBA Board Restructure project is by thinking in terms of the Present, Past, and Future. Today, we are talking about the Present, i.e., the feedback received from the current Board.

Note: the 2023-24 board slate has already been selected and follows the current structure. The earliest changes to the board structure would go into effect would be the 2024-25 board year.

The Present

The current CWBA Board has 50 members: a 7-person executive committee, 24 committee co-chairs, and 19 representatives of other organizations. As noted in my last post, governance and quick decision-making is difficult in such a large group. We want the CWBA to be a deeper and more meaningful experience for its leaders. The goal is to have clearly defined roles and expectations for all board members, streamlining the governing and decision-making processes, ensuring that we are utilizing the unique skills and knowledge each person brings to the board, and truly engaging and valuing every board member.

The first restructure proposal created a board that looked similar to the current executive committee but added a few amorphous liaison positions to serve as conduit between the board and the committees, chapters, diversity bars, and other organizations. While the current

board's general consensus was that the bard should be smaller, board members raised a few concerns. Committee chairs shared a willingness to let go of some of the governance responsibilities and the monthly board meeting requirement, but noted the importance of maintaining the “Board Member” title, as it reflects the many hours they dedicate each month to the CWBA. More than just a line on their résumé, current board members want to feel like they are a part of something bigger when holding a role that is not on the Executive Committee. Board members also had many questions about creating new liaison positions. What would they do exactly? Would they have to attend multiple committee meetings a month? Would this increase written reporting requirements?

How do we make a smaller Board without eliminating Board positions? Ay, there’s the rub…

Following initial feedback from the current board, the Strategic Planning Workgroup reconvened to create a revised proposal that was well-received. The new proposed board structure is roughly the same size divided into four “councils” which include:

  1. an Executive Council that would meet monthly, have governance responsibilities, and focus on big picture strategy;

  2. a Committee Council would meet a few times a year as needed to promote collaboration and share ideas about events and volunteer engagement;

  3. a Chapter Council would meet a few times a year as needed and would share best practices and ideas for the CWBA Chapters;

  4. a Legal Community Partnerships Council, which includes the diversity bar representatives, would meet a few times a year and focus on intersectional program ideas and meaningful partnerships with other organizations.

The full Board would meet 2-3 times a year instead of monthly.

The updated structure proposed three to seven vice presidents to sit on the Executive Council who would each have a substantive area of focus. Some ideas included Vice President—Events, Vice President—Finance, Vice President—Leadership Development, Vice President—Advocacy, and Vice President—Communications. In addition to being a go-to support person on certain issues faced by the committees and representatives, the vice presidents would also facilitate the meetings of the Committee, Chapter, and Legal Community Partnerships Councils—a great leadership development opportunity. This would also avoid the vice presidents becoming quasi-co-chairs if specifically assigned to coordinate with one or more committees.

Concerns about the proposal were lingering doubts about the vice president roles. Would this end up creating more inefficiencies—a middleman structure? How much could be delegated to the vice presidents without the input or oversight of the president and executive director?

At this juncture, we felt ready to get input from our esteemed past presidents whose feedback will be addressed in an upcoming blog post.

Do you have any feedback about the CWBA’s Board restructure proposal? Feel free to drop a comment below or email Emma Garrison –


Emma Garrison is an Assistant Attorney General in the Tax Unit of the Colorado Department of Law. Emma joined the CWBA in 2014, and has previously served as Co-Chair of the Convention, Membership, and Judicial Committees, and as the CWBA Secretary. She has also held many leadership positions in the Colorado legal community over the years, including Chair of the Colorado Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and Senior Vice-President of the Colorado Bar Association. Emma is the current host of On What Grounds?, CWBA’s virtual leadership café.

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