Programming for Affiliate Memberships: New Twists on Old Ideas

Volume 37, Number 1


Kara Johnson is the Associate Editor of The Affiliate and an Associate with the Bismarck, North Dakota, firm of Zuger Kirmis & Smith.

Affiliates, are you sick of the same old programming ideas for your membership? Do you keep doing all the same things from previous years? Sometimes all it takes is a slightly new twist to revamp old ideas.

Networking Events

The Minnesota State Bar Association 11th District Bar Association Young Lawyer’s Section in Duluth, Minnesota, took a new look at networking ideas. Duluth is small metropolitan area in northern Minnesota on Lake Superior with a population of approximately 86,000 people. There is no law school in Duluth, so new lawyers are not always familiar with the firms and older lawyers unless they grew up in the area.

The 11th District Young Lawyers borrowed the idea of a pub crawl to set up an “office crawl.” The event took place this summer. The office crawl allowed young lawyers the opportunity to become familiar with the firms in town and their locations. It also gave young lawyers a chance to meet and network with older attorneys while enjoying some refreshments.

Getting Involved with the Larger Bar
The Washington Young Lawyers Section hosted an “Open Section Night” in Seattle for the first time. The night took place this past November and was attended by approximately 150–200 people. It was scheduled at a time in the bar year right before licensures were up for renewal and right after the new lawyers found out they had passed the bar.

In the larger Washington Bar Association, there are 27 practice area sections. Young lawyers are often hesitant to get involved in big bar sections because they think the purpose of the sections is just to put on CLEs. At this event, the young lawyers were able to express concerns to section leaders and get more information on what the sections do throughout the bar year.

The Open Section Night was held like a career fair and was attended by most of the 27 practice area sections. The event allowed young lawyers the opportunity to network with older attorneys from their practice areas and ask section leaders how they could get actively involved. Young lawyers also had the opportunity to sign-up for sections and pay dues on the spot.

The Washington Young Lawyers Section wanted to use the Open Section Night as a springboard for young lawyers to get involved in the sections and, as a consequence, the larger state bar association. After the night, the Young Lawyers Section planned networking events that were co-hosted by a particular practice area section. These ongoing networking events allowed the young lawyers to build on what they had learned during the event.

The Open Section Night was a successful event. The Washington Young Lawyers Section is looking to host similar events in other areas of the state and hopes to make these events an annual tradition.

Interactions with the Bench

The South Carolina Bar Young Lawyers Division has an interactive program with the bench called “Courthouse Keys.” According to Rebecca Roser, the SC Bar YLD president, “It is one of the most valuable programs we offer.” At each session of the program, a limited group of between 8-to-12 young lawyers gets together with a judge in an informal setting. The group might meet for coffee, lunch, or drinks after work. During the meeting, the judge gives the young attorneys a little advice and fields questions on all sorts of topics. These events allow the bench and young bar an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level. “The members love it. They absolutely love it,” said Rebecca Roser.

The South Carolina Bar is divided into 16 circuits and the YLD has a representative from each of those circuits on their board. The Courthouse Keys chair coordinates with each of the circuit representatives to ensure that at least one Courthouse Keys event is scheduled per year in each of the circuits. In some of the more populous circuits, the events are happening on a much more frequent basis with four-to-five events happening per year.

On top of the circuit events, there are four “specialty events” at which higher court judges and justices are the members of the bench. As an example, on May 5, all five justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court attended a Courthouse Keys event with approximately 45 young lawyers.

To inform the members of these upcoming events, the circuit representative sends out an e-mail to his or her circuit listserv and spots are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. The events are open to members from all circuits, but preference is given to the local circuit’s attorneys.

Professional Development
In addition to hosting the typical CLEs for the professional development of its members, the California Young Lawyers Association has re-teamed with Law Practice Management & Technology and the Solo & Small Firm Sections of the State Bar of California to write its second book in a three-book series. In 2008, the State Bar of California published a book titled The California Guide to Opening and Managing a Law Office. The second book, with the working title of The California Guide to Growing and Managing a Law Office, will focus on the topic of law firm growth by considering the various dimensions of growth desired by law firms, such as growth in revenue and profit, geographic scope, number and types of clients, practice areas and services, and number of lawyers, professionals, and staff. It is anticipated that the book will be ready for publication next summer.

With many young attorneys striking out with their own solo practices, CYLA’s involvement in the book’s development will promote a balanced perspective in the book. The editorial board consists of six attorneys, with CYLA Board members representing two of the six attorneys. CYLA’s editorial representatives are charged to source and select young lawyer authors. Their articles will likely focus on areas in which young lawyers have a heightened level of knowledge, such as effective use of technology, networking, and social media.

Gauging Member’s Interests

Pretty much all professional organizations struggle to determine the wants of their memberships. The Wisconsin State Bar Young Lawyers Division put together a survey and asked. A committee of the Wisconsin YLD developed questions and presented its members with an e-mail survey using SurveyMonkey, a free online survey program. The group used a combination of multiple-choice and open-ended questions that were then compiled into a report.

The Wisconsin YLS plans to use the information it gained through the survey to develop programming in upcoming years. It also has found the data from the survey to be beneficial because the Young Lawyers now have concrete figures to rely on when discussing program funding with the larger bar association.

Contact Information

For more information on new programming ideas for your Affiliate, contact the Affiliate Assistance Team Director Sarah Theophilus at



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