Monte L. Neilan
“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”― Oscar Wilde
My service as President of our association is drawing to an end. As I prepare this—my last
President’s Message—I am also preparing to travel from my home in Scotts Bluff County
[whether you enjoy Sarah Palin jokes, or not, I can see Wyoming from my window] to Omaha
for a NATA Board Meeting, the NATA Membership Celebration, and the NATA 2017 Annual
Meeting and Fall Seminar.
At the Board Meeting, our directors will be considering changes to NATA’s bylaws as
recommended by the committee on strategic/ long range planning. That committee has been
deftly chaired by North Platte’s Jim Paloucek. At the Membership Celebration, Herb Friedman,
of Lincoln, will be honored with NATA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. And, at the Annual
Meeting, the membership will vote on a proposed slate of NATA officers to lead us in 2018, to
wit: President Britany Shotkoski of Omaha; President Elect Dan Thayer of Grand Island;
Secretary Jason Ausman of Omaha; and, Treasurer Andy Sibbernsen of Omaha. They will serve
NATA, and all Nebraskans, well.
As times change, and despite our bright future, NATA will inevitably face challenges. In my
view, none of those challenges is likely to be more important than growing our membership.
Few entities remain static. An association that is not moving forward is probably moving
backwards. Thankfully, in recent years, NATA’s membership has remained relatively constant
despite a nationwide trend toward civic disengagement with a resultant decline in association
memberships. This trend is not new.
In 1995, Professor Robert D. Putnam published “Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social
Capital” Journal of Democracy 6:1, Jan 1995, 65-78. Professor Putnam outlines the problem as
follows. First, he observes that civic participation has been viewed as a hallmark of
Americanism. Indeed, no less an authority than Alexis de Tocqueville observed that:
Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of disposition . . . are forever
forming associations. There are not only commercial and industrial associations in which
all take part, but others of a thousand different types--religious, moral, serious, futile,
very general and very limited, immensely large and very minute. . . . Nothing, in my
view, deserves more attention than the intellectual and moral associations in America.
Id. at 65-66 quoting Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.
Further, according to Professor Putnam, the “Greatest Generation,” defined by Tom Brokaw’s
book, “viewed helping others as downright American . . .” Sander and Putnam, “Still Bowling
Alone? The Post-9/11 Split” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 21, No. 1, Jan. 2010. But, somehow,
that generation, “never managed to pass their civic traits on to their “Baby Boomer” children
(born between 1946 and 1964) or their “Generation X” grandchildren (born during the late
1960s and the 1970s).” Id. As a result, associations of the sort identified by Tocqueville, such
as the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys, have tended to see declining memberships,
especially since “Generation X” has come of age.
But, again, NATA’s future is bright! Not only is our association’s leadership talented and
dedicated, but the trend toward civic disengagement seems to be reversing itself. “In the
United States, the share of those aged 18 to 29 who avowed complete agreement with the
claim that “it’s my duty as a citizen to always vote” rose by almost 50 percent between 1999
and 2009. During the same years, the comparable rate among those older than 30 stayed flat.”
Id. The “Post-9/11 Generation” appears to be even more inclined to contribute to the social
capital of American. Id. But, we should not just sit back and wait for another generation to do
the hard work that is necessary. Part of our obligation as NATA members, to the Nebraskans
who we represent and serve, is to prepare a place for the next generation who will be helping
and serving other Nebraskans. There are many ways for us, as NATA members, to contribute to
the social capital of Nebraska. We should be helping our younger members get trial
experience. We should be encouraging our more established members to serve on NATA’s
board of directors. We should be facilitating continuing legal education presentations by our
ablest members. We should be promoting the sort of in-person dialogue and professionalism
that goes beyond the limits of Facebook, Twitter, and the Listserv.
Now, in closing, it seems appropriate to reflect on the past year. Certainly, there were highs
and lows, wonderful progress and missed opportunities. But, when I reflect on the past year,
one word describes how I feel. Grateful. You see, I received much more as your President than
I was able to give. So, I am grateful to the good Nebraskans who allowed me the honor of
representing them. I am grateful to the NATA members who called me with ideas, questions,
and suggestions, who served on committees, and who organized and presented at continuing
legal education seminars. I am grateful to NATA’s brilliant and cheerful Executive Director,
Stella Huggins, who assisted and encouraged my efforts each week. And, I am grateful to the
chair of NATA PAC, Matt Lathrop, to Immediate Past President Kathleen Neary, to the proposed
slate of 2018 NATA officers, and to the board of directors for their hard work, wise counsel, and
In keeping with Oscar Wilde’s thought, this last message may cause happiness for some. But I
shall remain grateful for the experience of serving you. Thank you, all!