This year the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division will embrace a theme of nationwide public service. The primary goal for “A Year of Service,” a coinage adopted by 2012–2013 ABA YLD Chair Chris Rogers, is to increase the number of community service initiatives taken on by members of the ABA Young Lawyers Division. “As young lawyers, we inherit a long and proud tradition of service. An uncertain economy, a difficult job market, and increasingly demanding professional lives mean that young lawyers’ public service is more needed than ever,” said Rogers.
During its “Year of Service,” the ABA YLD will use a three-part approach focusing on (1) promoting the past and present work of ABA YLD affiliates, (2) encouraging the expansion of existing programming and the creation of new programming, and (3) elevating the work of our state and local affiliates to the national level. Over the course of this summer, the ABA YLD leadership team has worked hard to identify and create resources that will assist in making this year a success. In consonance with this year’s theme, the ABA YLD’s Public Service Team will soon introduce two new initiatives intended to support members in identifying and implementing community service programs in every state—the Affiliate Project Database and the Spotlight on Service Series.
Affiliate Project Database
The Affiliate Project Database is a focused effort to collect and publicize great service projects that groups, including the ABA YLD and its state and local affiliates, have successfully implemented. Initially, this collection of works will draw from some of the past ABA YLD projects familiar to many affiliates, such as Project Salute: Young Lawyers Serving Veterans, Wills for Heroes, Serving Our Seniors, and They Had a Dream Too. It will also include selected past Award of Achievement-winning state or local affiliate projects that have received recognition from the ABA YLD. It is expected that the database will grow to include service project ideas from around the nation.
“Our goal this year is to keep track of all of the great past works that have been done, make them available to everyone and try to encourage more service by making it easier to put on a program,” Chris Rogers explained. “If we can reduce the amount of time it takes to invent an idea or project, that is going to free them up to spend more time in a clinic, in a classroom, or on the ground performing service in their communities.”
Projects listed in the database will be sorted into categories such as size, type, and budget to make the implementation process more direct and efficient. By putting this information online, the hope is that affiliate leaders can easily browse a selection of potential projects to identify ones that fit the needs of their local communities. The database will be available this fall.
Spotlight on Service
The Spotlight on Service Series is an e-mail based marketing campaign the ABA YLD will implement in conjunction with the Affiliate Project Database. Regularly distributed e-mails will feature projects from the database and will encourage affiliate leaders to think creatively about the types of service work they might seek to implement in their own communities.
In addition to creating resources for state and local affiliate leaders to use past projects, the ABA YLD also will implement a new national public service project for 2012–2013. The American Voter is set to roll out at a national level in August and be one of the first projects featured in the Affiliate Project Database. The multi-pronged multimedia project will aim to educate the public (particularly high-school-aged students who may be eligible to vote for the first time) about the importance of voting rights and to encourage civic participation in the voting process. Targeted at capturing the interest of these new voters in a nonpartisan fashion by focusing on the history of voting rights in the United States, American Voter continues the long-standing tradition of the ABA YLD’s commitment to producing quality, law-focused education programming for young lawyers across the country.
The inspiration behind this targeted approach towards voter education stems from the success of Vote America!, a documentary first released in 2008 by the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA). Vote America! highlights a wealth of information regarding the efforts made for equality and democracy, including the struggles of the Civil Rights Era, passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. While Vote America! continues to be a public service project of TYLA, American Voter is designed to disseminate the same types of information on a broader level and with a more focused and state specific approach.
American Voter will take a multi-faceted approach to providing young lawyers tools to assist them in making this national initiative accessible at the state and community levels. The project will rely primarily on the use of a multi-media website, as well as a mobile application for smartphones and other mobile devices, for the publication of information concerning election laws and the voting process. The Vote America! documentary will also be incorporated, as well as a “Go Packet” that will provide young lawyers with all of the necessary resources for project implementation. These items include (1) an in-class curriculum, (2) a streaming video featuring a model-rollout, (3) short video segments highlighting various voting related topics, (4) information on how to register to vote, and (5) other nonpartisan information about state and local elections this November. The aggregated information will be made available on a state-specific basis when applicable and will allow affiliates to take a targeted approach and serve as conduits, disseminating the available information to local schools and organizations.
On Friday, June 15, members of two ABA YLD affiliates, the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers (DAYL) and the Austin Young Lawyers Association, officially launched the American Voter project by successfully performing the model rollout, which will be featured on the project’s website. The event was held during a week-long DAYL high school leadership class that included students from across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. With the assistance of Chief Justice Carolyn Wright of Texas’s Fifth Court of Appeals and John Martin, both of whom are featured in the Vote America! documentary, participants learned about their civic rights and responsibilities as they pertain to voting. Chief Justice Wright is the first African American to be a chief justice of an intermediate court of appeals in Texas. She was also the first African American female to be elected to a position that encompasses more than one county in Texas. A partner at Carrington Coleman, Mr. Martin worked as an attorney in the Department of Justice during the 1960s civil rights era and is a frequent speaker and author on the topic of voting rights.
The Time Is Right!
More is to come. The ABA YLD rolled out the American Voter project during the ABA YLD Annual Meeting in Chicago in August with other local affiliates following. A national rollout is being planned and information about it will be available on the American Voter website at www.american-voter.org. A subsequent rollout will take place later in the fall during the ABA YLD Fall Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. The time is right to capture the interest of new voters and encourage them to participate in the voting process. “During times of national elections people have a tendency to focus on the elections themselves and not the historical process which engendered access to rights as we have them today. While the election itself is important, with the implementation of American Voter, we hope to bring light to the history, issues, and laws that truly make the act of voting one of our most cherished rights as American citizens,” said David Courreges, Vice Director of the ABA YLD’s Public Service Team.
Public Service Team Director Lacy Durham agreed that young lawyers play a special role in public service: “Service is one of the best ways for attorneys to showcase the compassionate side of lawyers working together to make a difference in the lives of others. I am proud that we are continuing the long tradition of public service. There is no better feeling than knowing you have made a positive impact.”
Projects such as the Affiliate Project Database,Spotlight on Service Series, and American Voter are clear indications that the ABA YLD is off to a fantastic start in making this “A Year of Service.”