The incoming Chair of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) is Michael Bergmann, the Executive Director of the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) in Chicago, Illinois. Michael served as PILI’s Pro Bono Initiatives Director and Director of Programs before being named Executive Director in December 2010, and before joining PILI in 2006, he worked for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services as the Guardian Ad Litem Program Director.
Michael has been active not only in the ABA, but also with his local Affiliate, the Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, where he served as Vice-Chair. He is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), where he serves in the Assembly and on the Young Lawyers Division Council. Michael is the Immediate Past Chair of the ISBA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services.
Michael will assume the role of Chair of the ABA YLD at the ABA Annual Meeting, which will take place from August 4–6, 2011, in Toronto, Canada. He brings to the position years of experience and leadership within the ABA YLD and, as a public interest lawyer, a strong commitment to community service. The Affiliate recently had the opportunity to speak with Michael about his involvement with the ABA and what he has planned for the upcoming year as Chair of the Division.
The Affiliate: What has your involvement been with the ABA YLD?
Michael Bergmann: My first involvement with the ABA YLD was as a committee chair and liaison. In the 2005–2006 bar year, I was Liaison to the Standing Committee on Public Education and Chair of the ABA YLD Public Education Committee. I continued on in those positions the following year and also served on the Member Services Team. The next year I was Vice-Coordinator of the National Conferences Team. Then I was Public Service Co-Coordinator when we did the “Voices Against Violence” project. From there, I became Secretary-Treasurer.
The Affiliate: What can a young lawyer get out of the ABA YLD?
Bergmann: My hope, goal, and belief is that we can meet the needs of all young lawyers, from all practice settings and from all the different Affiliates across the country. Young lawyers in government jobs, in-house counsel, small firms, and large firms can all find value in our programming and resources. These resources will help young lawyers to develop and enhance their careers, as well as gain knowledge in their respective practice areas.
The ABA YLD can also provide young lawyers with amazing networking opportunities, not only to build their professional network but also to develop great friendships. The ABA YLD Fellows, the Division’s “alumni,” all forged lifelong friendships during their years in the Division.
The ABA YLD also allows young lawyers to learn more about the profession as a whole. Our public service opportunities give us the ability to really affect lives and shine a positive light on the profession.
The Affiliate: What would you like to accomplish during your term as ABA YLD Chair?
Bergmann: I want this to be a Division for all members, from a wide range of practice areas and points of professional development within the ABA YLD. We have traditionally served younger lawyers really well, but did not offer as much programming for the older members of the Division. When current ABA YLD Chair David Wolfe launched the New Partner & In-house Counsel Conference this year, it was really a great undertaking.
I had the opportunity to attend the conference and, not only was it a successful program, it made people excited about the Division. People who were not ABA YLD members decided to join the Division after their attendance at the conference. Other attendees, who were ABA YLD members, were energized by the conference, wanting to take a more active role in the Division because of the value they found in the program. I plan to continue this very successful program next year.
I also plan to continue the Division’s great public service tradition. We will be launching a new program, “Project SALUTE: Young Lawyers Serving Veterans,” in which young lawyers will provide legal assistance to veterans. The program is designed to help raise veterans’ awareness and understanding of the federal benefits to which they are entitled and help them to navigate the system with the assistance of young lawyer volunteers.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Our country has had ongoing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. So many returning veterans need help making sense of the benefits available to them. The program is a small way to support, thank, and honor these heroes. The official launch of “Project Salute” will be at our Fall Conference in Seattle.
In addition, I am excited to continue the “Law Day Video Contest” next year. I just got back from celebrating Law Day in Washington, D.C., where the winners were chosen. The quality of the videos submitted this year was excellent. The finalists were excited to be in D.C. They received a private tour of the Supreme Court and even got to play basketball in the Supreme Court gym. I hope that next year we will have greater participation from Affiliates, particularly those who are hosting their own contests, to submit candidates from their areas.
We also will continue our disaster legal services initiatives. Disaster legal services are critical work. With disasters becoming more frequent and more severe recently, we need to help people to know about these services and work with groups around the country to provide disaster legal services.
One of our member service projects, in addition to continuing “Touch 10,000” and “Section Connect,” will be the “ABA YLD Career Development Initiative.” Each month will focus on a different part of a young lawyer’s career path. The transition from law student to lawyer, the path to the bench, and starting your own law practice are several examples of these themes. We will look to other ABA committees and sections to co-sponsor this initiative. We will look to generate new content, as well as harness existing content from within the ABA. At the end of the year, we will have a robust virtual career database for our members.
The Affiliate:What challenges do you expect to face?
Bergmann: The continued problems with the economy and the effect of the downturn have put a large strain on the whole profession. Young lawyers have borne the brunt of this and many young lawyers are either unemployed or underemployed. Unfortunately, there is no short-term fix for this problem.
We, as a profession, need to look inward, at how law firms, particularly larger firms, are structured. We need to take a closer look at legal education. I believe that the Truth in Law School resolution is a critical piece in that.
As a Division, we need to continue to reach out to members and Affiliates to make sure that we are providing meaningful, helpful content. We need to give our members true value and opportunity for engagement.
The Affiliate: What was the best advice you received when you knew you would become Chair?
Bergmann: Enjoy it. Don’t be in a rush to become Chair. Take good time in planning. Be thoughtful and learn what is important to Affiliates to ensure the best value to our members.
The Affiliate: What did your predecessor leave you with that you are grateful for?
Bergmann: I have enjoyed working with David this year. It has been a true partnership. He has involved and engaged me so much in his year. This has been helpful for me, so that I could have a really solid foundation going into my year as Chair, and that will also be a benefit to the Division. I plan to engage my successor, Chris Rogers, in the same way so we can have that great working synergy together, and he will gain the same solid foundation.
David started some great projects that I am really looking forward to continuing. The buzz generated by the New Partner & In-House Counsel Conference was really inspiring. It made people want to become involved in the ABA or become more active members of the ABA YLD. The Law Day Video Contest was also a great project and a way to get younger students engaged.
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Michael’s aspirations for the year include maintaining and growing membership and showing value to all members and Affiliates from diverse backgrounds. He also wants to continue the tradition of serving those in need with public service projects. The veterans project is really important to him and he hopes that the ABA YLD’s members will embrace and support the project. Finally, he hopes to develop and engage leaders for the future of the Division.