Tips for Success: Working with Your Affiliate’s Staff

Volume 38, Number 1


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

Now that you are filling the role of an affiliate leader, how do you achieve your goals? One of the best ways to ensure that an affiliate has a successful bar year is for your affiliate leadership to have a positive working relationship with the members of your bar staff—if you are fortunate enough to have a staff.

With the turnover in affiliate leadership, the staff is a source of institutional knowledge for the young lawyer leadership. One of the huge assets that affiliates can gain from their bar staff is that the staff can be a public relations team for the young lawyers by promoting the activities of their section. In addition, staff can be a conduit for information to ensure that the young lawyers are informed about important issues that are being discussed by the larger bar.

For the most part, how to best work with your staff depends on how your affiliate works. Often times, the young lawyers section or division shares staff with their larger bar associations. The young lawyers must use staff time effectively and not overburden staff to the detriment of other sections. For those affiliates that are lucky enough to have their own staff members, they should make sure that they are using those staff members to their full potential, rather than using staff designated for the larger bar.

So what are some tips and tricks to use in working with your staff? Here is a list of the Top Ten “Dos” and “Don’ts” developed by the ABA YLD’s staff:


  1. Take the time to get to know your affiliate staff and understand how they work. Learn their roles and how they interact with other sections of the larger bar association.
  2. Plan ahead. Your affiliate’s staff has lots of competing requests for their time from other affiliate leaders, staff colleagues, and members generally. Make sure you talk with the relevant staff person well ahead of your need to plan, set priorities, identify roadblocks, an focus on the resources your project will require.
  3. Set a realistic timeframe for action. In addition to the daily tasks that must be completed, the staff often has larger ongoing projects that they are trying to juggle. Set a realistic timeframe for action that will facilitate successful completion of your project, allow staff to fulfill their obligations, and avoid staff burnout.
  4. Stick to the plan and implement it. It’s important to agree on a plan and stick to it. New ideas can and should be incorporated midstream, but distractions and constant revisions to the plan make it very difficult to progress as you had agreed on at the beginning.
  5. Acknowledge a job well done. It goes a long way, and lets the staff know what they are doing right.
  6. Communicate early and with respect. Keep the staff in the loop. Honest, open communication builds trust from leadership to staff and vice versa. Staff and leadership must ensure that they listen to, hear, and understand one another.


  1. Call multiple staff members with one request. If you are fortunate enough to have multiple staff members working for your affiliate, be considerate and don’t have several staff members working on one request. It is a waste of the staff’s time and resources. Allow staff members a reasonable amount of time to respond before making a request to another staff member.
  2. Be unrealistic in your expectations. Your staff is constantly juggling several requests at any one time from many of your members throughout the year.
  3. Go to just any staffperson. If you have a designated staff person for the young lawyers, make sure you go through that person first. By going to that person, you will avoid any duplication of efforts or confusion.
  4. Over-promise without checking in with staff. Staff members are often one of the best resources to determine whether a goal is attainable, and they may have suggestions on how to go about reaching that goal. Checking in with staff members first may mean that you can avoid having to tell your membership that you can’t achieve your planned goals.

Use these tips and you’ll be on your way to a positive start for the bar year. For other tips on working with your individual affiliate’s staff, schedule a meeting with the staff and ask them directly for their own tips and tricks for a positive relationship.


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