Young Lawyers Leading in the House of Delegates
Scott D. Laufenberg is editor-in-chief of The Affiliate and practices with the firm of Kerrick, Stivers, Coyle & Van Zant, P.L.C. in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
At the 2005 ABA Annual Meeting, the ABA House of Delegates amended Article 6, Section 6.4, of the ABA Constitution in an effort to increase the involvement of young lawyers in the House. As a result of the amendment, any state delegation having at least four delegates must have at least one young lawyer in its ranks.
The Affiliate interviewed four young lawyers serving in the House of Delegates to learn about how they became a young lawyer delegate in their respective state delegations and what advice they have for other young lawyers who are interested in serving in the House or other positions of leadership within the ABA.
Jose Diaz, Miami, Florida
Jose Diaz practices with the firm of Akerman Senterfitt in Miami, Florida. Although only several years out of law school, Diaz is not a stranger to the ABA because of his past involvement in the organization as a law student. “I was elected the Secretary/Treasurer of the ABA’s Law Student Division. During my term, I was able to travel around the country and get to really know the ABA and its leadership,” he said. During his second year of law school, Diaz was appointed by then-ABA President Dennis Archer to serve as the law student liaison to the ABA Governance Commission for a two-year term. The commission’s responsibilities included analyzing the structure of the ABA and considering ways to improve it. “As a student representative, my biggest concern was to get more students involved in the ABA,” he noted.
Since graduating from law school and being admitted to the bar, Diaz’s involvement has not waned. He has continued his involvement in the Cuban-American Bar Association and was recently appointed to serve on its Legislative Committee. He has become involved in The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and attends its board meetings as its ABA liaison. Locally, he is involved in the Dade County Bar Association.
Rather than a detriment, Diaz believes that being new to the practice of law is a true benefit to his involvement in the House. “Having only graduated from law school two years ago, I think that I bring a fresh perspective to the House of Delegates. I am not that far removed from the law student experience, and I think that the only common denominator in our Association is the fact that we were all law students at one point,” he explained. He cites technology issues and the impact of student-loan debt as topics in which he can meaningfully contribute to Florida’s delegation.
He also emphasized the importance of diversity and value of different perspectives. “[A]s a young, Cuban-American lawyer, I reflect the diversity of the new crop of lawyers who are graduating from today’s law schools. Young lawyers can be assets to the Association, and I am proud to represent similar folks with similar opinions for the betterment of our profession,” he added.
Jessica King, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Jessica King is an attorney with the firm of Steinhilber, Swanson, Mares, Marone & McDermott in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. King has a record of active involvement in her local and state bar associations in addition to the ABA. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin State Bar Young Lawyers Division for the past three years and serves on the Wisconsin State Bar Convention Committee. King has also been active in the Winnebago County Bar Association and has served on the Board of Directors for Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc. She was elected to the Oshkosh City Council in April 2007.
In Wisconsin, the young lawyer delegate is nominated by the WSB YLD Board of Directors. That nomination is forwarded to the WSB Board of Governors, which elects the young lawyer delegate to serve a two-year term.
King believes that she brings a diverse perspective to her state’s delegation in addressing the issues debated in the House. “I represent the concerns of newly practicing attorneys and the concerns of small firms. I think it is valuable to consider the challenges and opportunities that face each generation of lawyers,” she noted. “I believe the ABA and the Wisconsin State Bar benefit from the inter-generational exchange. Both organizations are better equipped to adapt to changes in the profession.”
Jennifer Moore, Louisville, Kentucky
Jennifer Moore is a partner with the firm of Grossman & Moore, PLLC in Louisville, Kentucky. Before being selected as the Kentucky Bar Association’s (KBA) young lawyer delegate to serve in the House of Delegates, Moore served as a district representative on the executive committee of the Kentucky Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (KBA YLS) for numerous years.
Moore believes that she brings diversity to the state’s delegation. She noted: “As one of only two female members of the state’s delegation and the youngest member, I bring a different perspective to the delegation by offering insight into the unique issues that female attorneys face and the challenges that young lawyers face early in their professional careers.”
When the KBA added a young lawyer to its delegation several years ago, it solicited the input of the KBA YLS. Following her selection, Moore has had the privilege of representing Kentucky and its young lawyers in the House.
Besides offering a unique perspective on issues, she also perceives the involvement of young lawyers as being about developing the future leaders of the House of Delegates. “It is also important for young lawyers to become more involved in the ABA, such as serving on House committees, so someday they can become the leaders in the House,” she stated.
Jonathan Wolfe, Livingston, New Jersey
Jonathan Wolfe, who practices with the firm of Skoloff & Wolfe, P.C. in Livingston, New Jersey, has a strong track record of active involvement in the ABA. Beginning in 1988, he served as the New York University Law School delegate to the ABA Law Student Division. Since that time, he has held various leadership positions within the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) and the ABA. In the NJSBA, he presently serves as co-chair of the Membership Committee, a member of the NBJSBA YLD Executive Committee, and will become treasurer of the YLD next year.
He is also active in the ABA YLD as its director of membership and holds appointed positions in the ABA Family Law Section and the ABA General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division. For his service, Wolfe was elected to the Fellows of the American Bar Association, which limits its membership to one-third of one percent of lawyers licensed to practice in each jurisdiction and who are selected based upon their professional and public service.
In New Jersey, the young lawyer delegate is appointed by the NJSBA. Young lawyers submit applications outlining their prior involvement with the NJSBA and the ABA before being interviewed by the NJSBA Nominating Committee. “Although there were many qualified applicants for the position, I believe that I was able to obtain the appointment in large part due to my prior experience with the ABA,” he stated.
Wolfe takes seriously the responsibilities placed upon him as a delegate. “I believe that by including a young lawyer, our delegation is more representative of the lawyers of our state. Additionally, as young lawyer, I am able to bring a different perspective to many of the issues confronted by our delegation,” he explained. “Finally, and most importantly, the YLD Delegate has the unique opportunity to develop and foster long-term relationships that will serve to greatly benefit the Delegation in the future.”
Despite their diversity of backgrounds and experience, all four of the interviewees shared common advice about what a young lawyer should do if he or she is interested in serving as a young lawyer state delegate. These include
• reaching out to the current members of your state delegation,
• becoming active in your local and state bar associations and the ABA, and
• attending an ABA or YLD meeting.
Wolfe also pointed out the importance of finding ways to distinguish yourself among the applicants. “For example, I would recommend attending an ABA YLD meeting and/or seeking an appointed position with the ABA YLD. By doing so, you will be able to distinguish yourself from many of the applicants seeking the position,” Wolfe explained. “If you can show your commitment by volunteering with your state bar and the ABA, the state bar would look to you as a natural choice,” Moore added.
Besides the important role that the interviewees play in representing the views of their states and young lawyers, there are personal and professional benefits too. Perhaps Diaz summed it up best in reflecting on the impact of serving as a delegate: “It really is a worthwhile endeavor and something that will help your career tremendously.”