Like many others, Zoe Linza saw her plans for 2020 thrown off track by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the beginning of February, the longtime executive director of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis resigned from her post, although she planned to stay until the end of June as the organization sought to find her successor. Linza is retiring after 14 years with the organization.
“That was the plan, and then COVID hit,” she said. The search committee put its work on hold.
On July 1, however, BAMSL formally announced that it is seeking applicants for Linza’s successor. Linza said the search committee will begin reviewing resumes in the coming weeks and plans to interview candidates in August. It plans to extend an offer by October.
Whether her tenure will overlap much with that of the next executive director’s will be up to the candidate selected for the job, she said.
“I happen to be a person who believes you need to set your own stage,” she said, noting she anticipates maybe a day or two at most.
Linza said the ideal candidate for the role is someone with leadership and administrative skills. Her successor will take the helm of an organization that boasts a membership of more than 6,700 lawyers and an annual budget of $1.8 million.
She said some of her best preparation for the job came from her high school days.
“I always say my best training was being a high school cheerleader, because you need somebody that’s upbeat and positive and keeps things moving,” she said.
The ability to work with a wide variety of people is also important, she said, because BAMSL serves lawyers from multiple different practice areas and locations.
Linza has held the role since late 2006. She came to the job from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where she was assistant circuit executive. She also previously served as executive director for the Missouri Optometric Association.
When she took the job, she said, it represented a coming together of two worlds in which she’d previously been involved: the law and associations. It was the perfect fit for her, she said.
“I love to be busy, and I love to constantly start new projects,” she said.
Under her leadership, BAMSL downsized from its previous 33,000-square-foot space, which had a Lawyers’ Club and conference center, to an 8,000-square foot one.
“People loved the Lawyers’ Club and had great times there, but lawyers weren’t doing lunches and cutting deals at lunch anymore, so it really wasn’t busy,” she said.
Linza said that shift in space coincided with a shift in BAMSL’s community involvement. The organization has expanded its pro bono work and charitable efforts during her tenure.
“That has been a highlight of my time here, that lawyers have become really involved in supporting the community and doing things for the community,” she said.
One highlight, she said, was quickly responding to the loss of a major partner for BAMSL’s annual Motion for Kids holiday party when the St. Louis Rams left town. The party is held for children who have been affected by the criminal justice system.
With quick thinking, she was able to help secure new partnerships with Saint Louis University, the St. Louis Blues, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Isaac Bruce Foundation.
Linza said she also has enjoyed participating in the organization’s events, including its annual Law Day, which has attracted notable figures ranging from U.S. Supreme Court justices to novelist John Grisham.
Sara G. Neill of Capes Sokol, BAMSL’s immediate past president, called Linza “one of the hardest-working, most positive and energetic professionals I have had the opportunity to work with in my career.”
“She has the uncommon ability to make everyone who walks into the room immediately feel welcome, usually has a creative solution to every problem and is always looking for opportunities to show our community how great lawyers are,” Neill said.
Linza’s efforts have helped to grow BAMSL’s memberships in a time in which many bar associations across the country have struggled to retain and recruit members, Neill said. Linza also encouraged BAMSL leaders to start the St. Louis Attorneys Against Hunger program, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local hunger-related charities, she said.
Additionally, Linza has shined while leading the organization through the pandemic.
“I can’t tell you the number of hours/days we spent on the phone in March and April focusing on what we needed to be doing for the community, and our members, to get through this,” Neill said. “She could have just thrown up her hands and walked out the door, but she didn’t.”
Annette Heller, a member-at-large on BAMSL’s board, agreed with Neill that the organization has large shoes to fill.
“We’re going to miss her,” she said, adding that she believed Linza was the organization’s third-longest serving executive director, which has lent consistency and stability to the organization.
After wrapping up her time with BAMSL, Linza plans to continue consulting with bar associations and associations in general. She said she hopes to maintain a much lighter work load in retirement, working a few days a month versus her typical 60-hour work weeks.
She also hopes to spend more time with her grandchildren, who live in Arkansas.
“I’m looking for a little less responsibility and hours,” she said. “ . . . It’s been wonderful, but it’s time to slow down a little bit.”