On May 22, 2012, the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) Board of Governors (BOG) voted 9–4 to eliminate the Washington Young Lawyers Division (WYLD) as a division of the WSBA, to defund the WYLD, and to make the WYLD a standing committee with a $10,000 budget.
The history of events leading up to this vote is as follows:
- 2008–2010: The WSBA Program Review Committee completes a comprehensive review of all WSBA programs including the WYLD. The WSBA BOG approves focus areas and recommends various mission and program changes, but does not recommend change to the WYLD structure or membership requirements.
- March 2010: The WSBA BOG reviews the final Program Review of the WYLD and adopts the recommendations of the WSBA Program Review Committee.
- March 2011: The WSBA Budget & Audit Committee considers a possible transition of WYLD to a dues-paying section not supported by WSBA dues. In light of opposition by the WYLD, the proposal does not come forward to the WSBA BOG.
- April 6, 2012: A referendum to reduce WSBA dues from $450 to $325 passes with 52% of those voting (12,339 voting) in favor. The referendum is passed, requiring an approximately $3.1 million reduction to the WSBA budget.
- April 16, 2012: The WYLD Board of Trustees is first informed of the WSBA Budget & Audit Committee’s proposal to change the WYLD to an unfunded, unstaffed standing committee.
- April 27, 2012: The WSBA BOG meets in Tulalip, Washington. The WYLD Board of Trustees submits a memo along with numerous letters from American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) affiliates in opposition to the proposal. The WSBA Budget & Audit Committee Proposal regarding the WYLD is removed from the agenda. Governors hear public comment regarding the WYLD and other programs slated for reduction or elimination.
- May 16, 2012: The WSBA Budget & Audit Committee meets. WYLD members attend in anticipation of the Committee’s consideration of the proposal regarding the WYLD. The WYLD proposal is not discussed.
- May 22, 2012: The WSBA BOG holds its special meeting and reviews a staff memo that states that Program Review had “significant misgivings” about the WYLD’s structure. The WYLD Board submits a memo in opposition, but the BOG adopts the staff recommendation to “transition” the WYLD to a standing committee with a substantially reduced budget.
What the Young Lawyers Do
The WSBA BOG vote on May 22, 2012, came after WYLD members enjoyed numerous events and programs during the 2011–2012 bar year, planned and implemented by Division leaders. A significant highlight of the year was hosting the ABA YLD Fall Conference in Seattle in October 2011. Great CLE and non-CLE programs, strong sponsorship, and robust attendance by young lawyers were highlights of the conference, which brought national-quality programming to Washington young lawyers.
The ABA YLD Fall Conference in Seattle was also the launch of the 2011–2012 ABA YLD Public Service Project—Project Salute: Young Lawyers Serving Veterans. Matt Potempa, the 2011–2012 ABA YLD Public Service Project Coordinator, commented, “It’s very disappointing to see state bar affiliates like the WYLD lose funding. The WYLD was instrumental in coordinating the launch of this year’s public service project, Project Salute: Young Lawyers Serving Veterans, held at Pike Place Senior Center, last fall. Seattle-area attorneys volunteered their time pro bono to help many veterans obtain their entitled benefits. Events like this immeasurably improve the public image of lawyers and wouldn’t be possible without organizations like the WYLD.”
During the year, the WYLD implemented programs to foster organic connections among members, such as the successful “Open Section Night” and the WYLD Section Liaison Program. The “2nd Annual Open Section Night” was held in January 2012. All WSBA sections were invited to attend to showcase their section for WYLD members and law students. “Open Section Night” has been also a fantastic opportunity for WYLD members to create mentoring relationships. The Section Liaison Program was modeled after the ABA YLD’s liaison appointments.
The Washington “First Responder Will Clinic” (FRWC), an implementation of the ABA YLD Wills for Heroes program, offers free basic estate planning to honor first responders and their service to the public. The FRWC got its start with WYLD funding, and serves hundreds of first responders through clinics held nine to ten times a year. Volunteer attorneys from all areas of practice and a variety of experience levels participate.
The WYLD Member Outreach Committee sponsored regular social and networking events, with the 2011–2012 year focused on connecting WYLD members to other young professionals. Joint networking events were held with Washington’s Young Psychologists group, Young Accountants, the Risk Management Association, and Rotary Clubs. Events were planned around the state to give WYLD members information about the WSBA Statewide Moderate Means Program, a reduced-fee direct representation project created by the WYLD in collaboration with the state Access to Justice Board and implemented by several county young lawyer affiliates. WYLD members enjoyed other regular social and networking events, including a successful Holiday Party in December, as well as sports-themed events including July 2012’s “WYLD at the Mariners” event and the annual “WYLD at the Seahawks” event in November 2011.
In May, WYLD members from across the state participated in the annual Yakima Pre-Law Student Leadership Conference, a one-day conference to teach high school students about justice and to inspire and encourage them to consider a career in the legal profession. The conference is a collaboration among the WYLD, the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington, and the WSBA Committee for Diversity. The 2012 keynote speaker was Justice Steven Gonzalez of the Washington State Supreme Court.
The WYLD Pro Bono & Public Service Committee and the Snohomish County Bar Association YLD planned a second “Serving Our Seniors” pilot clinic this past July, following on the success of the first pilot clinic implemented during the 2010–2011 bar year in Chelan County. Thanks to the assistance provided by an ABA YLD subgrant, the Committee teamed up with the Snohomish County YLD (WYLD’s 2010–2011 Affiliate of the Year) to make this pilot clinic a reality.
The WYLD again held its successful Trial Advocacy Program. Modeled after the National Institute for Trial Advocacy programs, the WYLD’s “TAP” includes a two-day CLE course that gives new lawyers trial tips from top attorneys from around the state and a one-day mock trial to give new lawyers the chance to put the skills they have learned in the classroom into action.
The WYLD Board of Trustees continued its regular meetings around the state and conducted outreach to members and its affiliate groups. At the national level, WYLD members continued to represent the WYLD at ABA YLD conferences and meetings, and the WYLD sent its president-elect and staff liaison to the 2012 ABA Bar Leadership Institute. President Dainen Penta attended the Western States Bar Conference in Las Vegas in March as part of the WSBA delegation.
On June 8, 2012, the WYLD Board of Trustees met to discuss the impact of the May 22, 2012, vote and to determine the strategy of its transition to a standing committee. Its defunding and declassification as a division of the WSBA has left the WYLD with crucial decisions to make about its future identity and organizational objectives. The WYLD Board of Trustees is working hard on planning a structure and direction for the committee going forward and hopes to maintain the momentum of the Division and to ensure that there is a “home” for new and young lawyers in Washington.
Chris Rogers, 2012–2013 ABA YLD Chair, said: “In many states and local areas, young lawyer groups serve as the public service arm of the bar, finding ways to serve the least fortunate in the bar and the community. The financial crisis increases the number of people who need the services that young lawyer organizations provide.”
The California Experience
In 2007–2008, the State Bar of California (SBC) also examined its role and responsibility to provide resources to integrate recent law school graduates and its newest members into the profession. The SBC discussed the identity and funding of the California Young Lawyers Association at the 2007 Spring Summit. Its final determination in the “Report to the Board of Governors: Recommendations from the 2007 Spring Summit of the State Bar of California” stated:
Young lawyers will be best served if not segregated from the mainstream of SBC and provided with abundant opportunities to become well-prepared to enter and assume leadership positions within the SBC. Intergenerational synergy is essential for the future ability of any organization to sustain itself and advance its mission and for young lawyers, networking with lawyers across the age and specialty spectrum is essential for their future.
Former ABA YLD Chair Kelly-Ann Clarke commented: “Young lawyer organizations need to stay vigilant in proving their worth to the larger bar association and the community itself in both turbulent economic times and times of prosperity. Whatever that takes—creating an annual report, writing press releases, or just a handwritten note after a project to the members of the larger bar—the ‘big’ bar needs to know the good things being done and the impact it is having. The trend around the country is to cut programs for younger lawyers, you see it in firm programming and in the job market in general, so bar associations are no different. Young lawyer organizations are valuable to the profession in serving as a conscience, doing public service, building the leaders of tomorrow, and providing professional guidance to the future of the profession.”
ABA YLD affiliates can learn many lessons from both the Washington and California experiences. Affiliate leaders must remember to align projects with the strategic goals and objectives of their state bars, and, to accomplish this, they should maintain open lines of communications with key state bar leaders and staff. If affiliates do not have an effective or impactful voice on the governing body of the state bar, then affiliate leaders should work to ensure that their larger bar associations are aware and informed about the value of the affiliate and all of the important work being done by its leaders and members. Affiliates should cultivate a culture of leadership through a continuing dialogue with state bar leaders, and affiliate leaders must act immediately when issues such as funding and organizational structure are raised to avoid future action. As the national economy continues to struggle, ABA YLD affiliates will continue to face increased financial scrutiny from their larger bar associations, and affiliate leaders should prepare in advance to respond to that scrutiny so they can provide justifications for the importance of the existence of the affiliate.
If your affiliate is in need of guidance or help with these matters, please contact Erica Grinde of the Affiliate Assistance Team, at email@example.com.