Young Lawyers Group in Metropolitan Saint Louis Leads the Way in the “Show Me” State
Jeffrey J. White is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices law with the firm of Robinson & Cole LLP in Hartford, Connecticut.
The final stop on The Affiliate’s tour of the nation takes us to the home of the Gateway Arch, Anheuser-Busch, and the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. When the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis created its Young Lawyers Division (BAMSL YLD) in 1937, it became one of the first professional bar associations in the United States to create a body that was devoted exclusively to meeting the needs of new attorneys. Today, the BAMSL YLD consists of approximately 1,430 members, who are led by an active Executive Committee that coordinates the Division’s community service projects, trial institute, meetings, and social activities. The BAMLS YLD is currently chaired by Patrick Chavez, a civil litigation defense attorney at Williams, Venker & Sanders in St. Louis.
As with many affiliates around the country, the BAMSL YLD has tried to improve member retention by increasing the number of opportunities available to its members. Chavez recounts that the issue of retention came to the forefront around three to five years ago. “We recognized several years ago that while the overall population of young lawyers continued to grow in the St. Louis area, the total membership of the YLD was relatively static, even accounting for the fact that the first year of YLD membership was free. In other words, we weren’t converting young lawyers into dues-paying members,” he explained. “With that realization, the leadership of the YLD over the past few years, and continuing into this year, has been asking itself, ‘How do we keep BAMSL and YLD relevant?’ We decided the answer to that question required us to constantly review the ways we give value to our members.”
In an effort to improve member services, the BAMSL YLD, under the leadership of Immediate Past Chair Seth Albin, a bankruptcy lawyer at Thompson Coburn, created a Mock Trial competition that was designed to afford St. Louis young lawyers the opportunity to hone their trial skills in a real-world setting. The first Mock Trial competition was held this past February at a federal courthouse in St. Louis. The participants were evaluated by judges and senior members of the bar, and local law students served as jurors for the half-day trials. Ten two-person teams from a cross section of law firms participated in the competition, which culminated in a post-trial reception for all of those involved. In addition to gaining valuable trial experience, the participants earned CLE credit for their participation in the trial and in an earlier CLE program about the aspects of trial.
Of course, as with all programs of this kind, several challenges must be overcome before attempting to organize such a competition, including drafting a problem and recruiting judges and experienced practitioners to serve as evaluators. Even in light of these challenges, the BAMSL YLD intends to build on the success of its first Mock Trial competition and make the program one of the staples of the Division’s programming going forward.
Amazingly, the BAMSL YLD’s outreach efforts do not end there. Its renewed focus on member services has not distracted the group from its ultimate goal of serving the community. For instance, it organizes a program (with the help of an ABA YLD subgrant) called the “Teens Speak Out! Forum” (TSO Forum), which is held annually at the Washington University School of Law. Volunteer attorneys work with teams of students at area high schools to address legal issues that affect student’s lives. The students research the issues and put together a presentation for the forum. Community leaders act as panelists and also enjoy a lunch with the participants to discuss school, careers, and other topics of interest.
Tiffany Kieffer of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C., who serves as the current chair of the program, noted that the 2006 TSO Forum was the most successful yet and has big plans for 2007. The keynote speaker for the 2006 TSO Forum “Lunch with Leaders” was U.S. Congressman William Lacy Clay. Nine teams from metropolitan St. Louis area high schools participated and made presentations on such topics as the Iraq War, and sex education and bullying in schools.
In addition, the BAMSL YLD participates in the “Call-A-Lawyer” program, which is done in cooperation with a local FOX television affiliate. A small group of young lawyers dedicate four hours every third Tuesday of the month to staff the television station’s phones, which allows members of the community to get answers to their legal questions. “Call-A-Lawyer has been a tremendous success year after year,” Chavez recounted, “and it’s a program of which we are especially proud. In my experience, the young lawyers who participate in the program leave at the end of a night feeling especially gratified by the fact that they’ve been able to provide a little bit of direction and help to someone in the community who might not have otherwise had access to a lawyer or might not have known even where to begin to deal with the legal problem confronting that person.”
As reflected by its tireless dedication to the needs of its members and the community at large, the BAMSL YLD has already achieved a great deal in metropolitan St. Louis. Yet, the group does not plan on resting on its laurels. According to Chavez, the YLD is just getting started: “The last thing we want to do is rest on our laurels. We’ve got energized leadership at the YLD level and strong support from the leadership of BAMSL, especially from this year’s President, Genevieve Frank, who was a past-chair of the YLD. We intend to build on our current successes, and we will continue working toward the goal of ensuring that BAMSL young lawyers see their membership in the YLD as something of value.” Indeed, the future looks bright for the BAMSL YLD.