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Tips From The Top: One On One With Kip Bollin, President of the Federal Bar Association

I spoke to Kip Bollin, President of the Federal Bar Association, about his mission and his best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Kip: I’m on a team of 40 to 50 year-old soccer players that, every week, loses to a team of much younger players. It keeps me humble.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Kip: I hate being told that I can’t do something. Whenever I’ve encountered this, I have always doubled-down. In seventh grade, my band teacher ranked the trumpet section. He sat me 17th out of 18 players. You could “challenge” for a higher chair every few weeks, so I practiced and every week I moved up. By the end of the year I was sitting first chair. I was told I couldn’t do something and I responded by working harder.

When I approached impediments to my career, my instinct is to work harder and step up my game.

Adam: You were highly involved in the Federal Bar Association’s recent Capitol Hill Day. What is the significance of that event from a layman’s perspective?

Kip: An independent judiciary is the North Star of our democracy. The Constitution created three branches of government that have the power to check and balance one another. The power granted to the judiciary is to rule on the constitutionality and legality of the actions of the President and acts of Congress, and to interpret the laws they create. The judiciary must be independent of the other two branches, hence life tenure for federal judges. But independence cannot be maintained if the judiciary can’t do its work due to lack of funding, or if judicial vacancies are not filled. FBA leaders go to Capitol Hill every year and meet with our elected representatives and remind them of their duty to fully fund the third branch, and to fill judicial vacancies so that we can maintain a judicial system that serves as the gold standard for the world.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Kip:

1. Get involved in something bigger than yourself. You’ll help yourself by helping others. My FBA career started with organizing book drives. The looks on the students’ faces alone, made the effort worthwhile. Along the way I also made great friends with lawyers and judges and you can’t put a price on that.

2. Make sure that your employees find meaning in their work. Engaged employees stick around and give more effort. The FBA has a national civics program to teach high school students about our courts, and we set up a Wills for Veterans program where we provide real benefits to our nations’ veterans free of charge. An hour spent on one of these programs can make your whole day seem worthwhile.

3. Be professional and work with professionals. You should work with people who take pride in whatever they’re doing, who own a problem when it arises, who think about things from the customer or client’s perspective. When you surround yourself with professionals, you’ll be more successful.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Kip: An effective leader must do their homework and develop a shared vision for the organization that has been vetted and molded by others who hold the organization dear, and then articulate it clearly. A leader should identify other leaders who have the skill set and the passion to get things done. I’ve been privileged as FBA President to have a great team of leaders who share a common vision and who, together, have accomplished so much. I learned that an effective leader invests in others, giving them an opportunity to lead.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Kip: Be humble and kind to everyone you encounter.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Kip: Find yourself a protégé / mentee. If you’ve had success, you can attribute at least some of it to a mentor. It’s tough being a younger lawyer, so at the FBA we’re working hard to create a support structure for those entering the profession. Part of that is a national mentoring program where we connect students with practicing lawyers in the geographic and/or substantive field of law in which they want to practice.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Kip: I’m a runner. I was a captain of my college track team and I still have a drive to be competitive. I had never really thought about the connection between running track and practicing law until a specific event in my fourth year of practice. I was waiting for my first jury to walk into the courtroom and I had this nervous energy. It was a familiar feeling and I recognized it as the same feeling I had before running a race. I drew such confidence from that realization. I knew how to channel the nerves and use them. To this day, I welcome that nervous energy before I address a court.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Kip: Thanks, Adam. I appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts. Hopefully, there’s a useful nugget or two in there somewhere.

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