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Discovery deadlines. Paralegal and supervising partner gone for trial. Appellate oral argument around the corner. It was a not the best time for me to attend the ABA Midyear Meeting in Boston. Once I got there, I was glad I went.
In addition to seeing old friends and making new ones—when I wasn’t busy taking care of work back home—I had the chance to attend one of the best and most helpful presentations I’ve attended as a lawyer. The session was entitled “Elevating Your Advocacy: Understanding the Differences Litigating in Trial and Appellate Courts.” The Hon. Judith A. Cowin of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and the Hon. Sandra L. Lynch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit generously gave advice on the appellate process and how it differs from trial advocacy. Two practitioners, A. Vincent Buzard and Rory Fitzpatrick also participated. With the stress and work of preparing for my first appellate argument, this session could not have come at a better time.
The judges and practitioners made several key points: (1) Think beyond the specific case. At the appellate level, judges are not only interested in your case but also in the law overall and how it will affect future cases. Make a strong case for how your interpretation of the law is correct today and in the future. (2) Good briefs are . . . brief. Appellate judges read hundreds, sometimes thousands, of briefs. The more succinct, the better. Avoid repetition, unnecessary facts, and legal points that may muddy your overall argument. Make the brief an outline of the opinion you want the court to deliver. (3) Answer the questions in oral argument. Don’t engage in emotional manipulation—the judges are not a jury panel. Have an outline of the points you want to make but know that questions may temporarily take you away from your plan—so be flexible. All of these tips are no doubt what we all learned in law school, but to hear the judges speak from their own experience was tremendously helpful in seeing the process from a judge’s perspective.
As with the previous ABA YLD meeting I’d attended, I had the chance to make new friends from around the country. I also got to further develop relationships with members of the bar in my home state. On one of the nights, the Missouri Bar had a reception for Missouri lawyers. Since Missouri is a big state—at least geographically—I usually only interact with lawyers in the Kansas City area. This reception allowed me to meet a solo practitioner in a small southern Missouri town I’d never heard of, a senior litigation associate in St. Louis, and a young law professor getting ready to make a move to Missouri. As with all ABA YLD meetings, come loaded with business cards. It’s easy to form new relationships, but the greater challenge is maintaining them.
Now . . . back to preparing for oral argument. See you in New Orleans!
Becoming a scholar with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) has allowed me to explore opportunities, both professional and personal, that will have a tremendous effect on my legal career and perspective on life. As a scholar on the Minorities in the Profession Committee, I have the opportunity to attend three ABA YLD meetings throughout the year. Recently, I attended the ABA YLD Midyear Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, February 12–14, 2009.
I was inspired by several elements of the meeting, including the focus on leadership, mentoring, and diversity. I attended the seminar “Climbing the Ladder: How to Obtain a Leadership Position in the ABA YLD and the ABA,” which was instrumental in explaining the benefits of becoming involved in the organization as well as the qualities needed to be an effective leader. I desire to become more active in the ABA YLD and the ABA to gain further knowledge of my craft as an attorney and to network and learn from others on how to be a better advocate and leader. This seminar gave me a better understanding of the structure of the ABA YLD and the ABA. It also allowed me to assess how my skills and talents will best serve the organization. The panel consisted of current and past council members and a representative from the ABA. Their commitment to the organization and the desire to serve the communities they represent were infectious. I left the seminar informed of the tasks and responsibilities needed from me for leadership positions as well as inspired to passionately serve my local community.
I also attended the “Speed Mentoring” seminar. This unique experience allowed law students, young lawyers, and seasoned attorneys to converse, mentor, and inspire each other within three minute intervals. Although I walked in believing I was the one to be mentored, I quickly learned at the first seating that I would be the mentor to a 2L law student. As a young lawyer I was empowered by this event. The art of maneuvering between inspiring someone only a few years behind you, to receiving pearls of wisdom and insight from those who are well rooted in their careers, was invaluable. Once you get going and provide your “elevator speech,” you realize that there is not much time to make a lasting impression. It was fun, informative, and an activity that I believe every young lawyer would benefit from.
My advice for preparing to attend an ABA YLD meeting is to be open-minded, professional, and personable. By attending a meeting at which you will meet lawyers from all over the country, in diverse practice areas and from diverse cultures, the best way to experience it is to be open to the possibilities. The ABA YLD created an organized environment in which I was informed of every event available to me. As a scholar you are warmly received by the organization and encouraged to become more active. As members of the bar, being professional is a characteristic practiced daily, but in a setting in which your reputation does not necessarily precede you, your actions and inactions are carefully observed. Lastly, personality is the core of your character. A friendly smile, greeting, and participation in various activities make a lasting impression. I am naturally an outgoing person who thrives on fellowship with people of diverse cultures. For those who are less likely to strike up a conversation, however, plenty of people in the ABA YLD will reach out to you first. Pretension and feigned personas are not welcome in this organization.
Since my tenure as a scholar began on August 1, 2008, I have attended two ABA YLD meetings. My first adventure was in San Diego, California, and the most recent was in Boston, Massachusetts. With anticipation and excitement I embarked on a journey seeking professional growth, leadership opportunities, and networking resources. I have gained far more than I expected. The resources I have gained will likely catapult my career to the next level. The interesting people I have met keep me encouraged as we build lasting friendships. The perks of attending an ABA YLD meeting include traveling to wonderful cities, lounging in superb accommodations, and delighting yourself in enjoyable social events. The benefits you will gain from these meetings, however, are the inspiration to be greater professionally and personally and the confidence that it can be achieved. I have a voice in this world and I deserve to be heard! With solid confidence, strength in character, and creativity, you will be heard in the ABA YLD!
The Boston Midyear Meeting was my first-ever ABA YLD meeting as a scholar. I was unable to attend the San Diego meeting and admittedly I was a little worried that I would spend so much time playing “catch-up” that I would miss out on being able to attend meetings and network. Plus, I was eagerly looking forward to finally meeting people whom I’ve e-mailed a gazillion times without knowing what they looked like. (Those professional photographs we all use can be misleading after all!)
I began with a red-eye to Boston that landed at 5:30 in the morning. Managers at the Westin Copley Place were kind enough to let me check in super early. (I think they took one look at me and decided they didn’t want me loitering in their lobby.) Before getting too much shut eye, I started getting phone calls and text messages from fellow scholars and attorneys who were attending the meeting. Needless to say, I relinquished a few hours of sleep and instead got a chance to have one-on-one meetings with attorneys from across the nation.
Although I’ve attended ABA conferences before as a delegate, being a scholar does convey a certain sense of belonging that is almost instantaneous. Attendees are always gracious to the young lawyers who participate, but when they find out that you are a current or past scholar, it’s like being welcomed into a very large and enthusiastic extended family.
What I appreciated most was the ability to reconnect with people I’d seen before at prior meetings and to reconnect with people in my home state that I rarely have a chance to see. What I took away from this conference (in addition to CLE credits, swag bags, and great food) is that attending an ABA event is energizing. Those who participate in these conferences as delegates, section leaders, and participants share a common vision—they believe in the practice of law and believe in the importance of service to the bar and to their communities.
As a young lawyer, there are moments when I feel burnt out. On top of the pressures of billing, honing my craft, and trying to maintain some semblance of self, it can feel overwhelming to be involved in simultaneous boards and civil activities. Being in Boston with all of the members of the ABA, specifically the ABA YLD, humbled and energized me to stay active and continue to involve others.
The value in attending the Boston meeting was in making new friendships, renewing past relationships, and recognizing that what each one of us does for the bar does matter and does add up to positive changes in the perception of the American lawyer.