One of the biggest challenges all affiliate leaders face is how to best serve the needs of their members. Figuring out what drew someone to your organization in the first place, and what will make them stay within the organization’s membership, may be difficult to ascertain. Your members’ interests are likely to be as varied as the membership’s composition so it is important to remember when creating programming for such a diverse group that one size does not fit all.
From Happy Hours to Family Friendly Events
As a new bar admittee, I was bombarded by invitations from various groups asking me to join their ranks. Every letter included an invitation to the group’s next event, which was almost universally held on a Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at a local bar. At that stage of my life, I was unmarried and without children—so I had no problem checking out these groups at their Thursday night happy hours. It did not present logistical problems for me to attend Tuesday night meetings for their executive committees.
Once I got married and had a child, however, the events that I once so freely frequented presented a wide variety of problems that I never had to consider before. My husband worked an hour north of day care, so if I was going to attend a bar function, I had to carefully weigh whether my desire to go drinking with my friends outweighed his need stay at work past 4:30 that day. It became far more difficult for me to be involved in the bar association because, let’s face it, if there was a choice between my family and happy hour, alcohol was not going to win out.
Fortunately, however, that changed when I started working with the then-chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (NJSBA YLD), Christina Vassiliou Harvey. She notes, “When I was Chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, the Division focused on three types of programming: educational, mentoring, and networking. Before I took over, the networking activities were limited to happy hour or wine tasting events that members attended without their families. I learned, however, that the Division was not fulfilling the needs of young mothers and fathers who had the desire to network, but familial obligations kept them away from our evening programming. As a result, I instituted family-friendly programming, such as an apple-picking outing, a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure, and a New Jersey Devils hockey game. These programs were terrific because spouses and children were included and members could still take advantage of networking opportunities. At the same time, we continued to offer our regular networking activities so that all members’ needs were met.”
Introducing these events allowed us to reach different segments of our membership. On a personal level, it gave me the chance to remain involved and gave my son the opportunity to play with other kids and meet the love of his life . . . for a few months until he discovered hockey anyway.
Continuing Legal Education
Your affiliate may offer its young lawyers discounted rates on CLE courses and, of course, that is a tremendous benefit; but that isn’t my focus here. One of my frustrations in attending CLEs geared toward “young lawyers” was that the presenters were talking to us as if we had as many years in practice as they did. If you have never done real estate work and someone starts throwing terms at you like HUD and RESPA, your eyes will probably glaze over and your mind will inevitably wander, not to return until long after the seminar has concluded.
A couple of years ago, the NJSBA YLD introduced its 101 Series. These were CLEs for young lawyers, designed and taught by other young lawyers. It not only gave us the experience of lecturing early in our careers, but it allowed us an avenue to speak to each other on our own level. The seminars were very well attended. Had we charged a little more for them, it also would have provided a very nice income stream for the YLD.
Most young lawyer sections are the public service arms of their bar associations and that could be exactly what drew new members to your affiliate in the first place. In finding the balance of right programs to offer members, it’s important to not lose sight of the public service aspect. This was never as clear to me as when my husband attended his first ABA YLD conference in February. He grew up in a military family with his dad flying helicopters for the Army. When he heard the description of Project Salute: Young Lawyers Serving Veterans during a dinner, he leaned over and whispered, “It is so amazing that you guys are doing something like that to help veterans.”
For some people, like my husband, the CLEs and happy hours don’t matter at all. But the service aspect, particularly when it’s something that hits close to home, that’s what makes all the difference in the world.