Affiliate Spotlight: Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section

Vol. 39 No. 3

By

Adena Liebman is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and a Special Assistant with Ocean Conservancy in Portland, Oregon.

The Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (CBA YLS) boasts over 9,000 members and 25 substantive committees. It hosts a wide range of educational programs, outreach activities in the community, and professional development opportunities. Given the breadth of its coverage of both substantive areas of law and other events (such as coordinating the Chicago Bar Association Moot Court Competition), new lawyers can readily find a place to get involved that best aligns with their strengths and interests.

Leading the CBA YLS this year is Mary Curry. While the Section maintains a running series of about 50 service projects, the Chair is given the opportunity to bring in a theme or a few additional programs. Mary has made the focus of her year the “Future of the Legal Profession.”

Future of the Profession

Throughout the year, the CBA YLS will host programming that addresses where the profession is going and where it should be going. Topics will include a hard look at the student debt crisis, the job shortage, and the shortcomings of the legal profession, all of which will hopefully help new lawyers advance in the changing legal climate. In addition to hosting programs under these larger overarching topics, other programs will focus on more skills-based professional development, such as using technology in the legal profession and law firm management. The Section has already hosted several events under this theme that have included nationally renowned speakers and lawyers, and more programming is ready in the queue.

Community Programs

Though most of the CBA YLS’s work this year will revolve around the Future of the Legal Profession theme, its membership is still actively engaged in community programs. Each year, the CBA YLS hosts Pro Bono Week, in which the CBA invites 100 to 200 organizations doing pro bono work to share their work with YLS members. Young lawyers are exposed to the extent of opportunities available and can get involved with their communities right at the start of their careers. The CBA YLS also partners with an elementary school in a community of need and hosts an afternoon of pure, carefree fun for the students. Each month, the CBA YLS also coordinates a Wills for Heroes event, an ongoing initiative of the section.

One program that the Section is particularly excited about is its partnership with Legal Prep, a legal-themed charter school in Chicago. Legal Prep is the only charter school in the country that is legal-themed. CBA YLS maintains a close relationship with the school’s leadership and has worked to strengthen this partnership, including creating a Board-level position that serves as a liaison for the CBA YLS with the school. CBA YLS members teach legal negotiations, host an essay contest, and support a high-level of involvement with the school’s administration and student body through other projects.

Law Student Outreach

The CBA YLS also is active in the area’s law schools. The Section’s membership committee does a “law school road show” every year in which young lawyers visit each school and invite students to speak with CBA YLS Board members, committee chairs, and alums about the benefits of bar involvement. Law student outreach fits nicely into this year’s Future of the Legal Profession theme, and the CBA YLS has taken the opportunity to expand its law student initiatives. The Section now has a fully active committee dedicated to law students and is considering hosting a member social geared toward networking with students. In addition, the education subcommittee is working hard to recruit support for a Fourth Year Fellowship for recent graduates that would provide practical legal training with Chicago firms and corporations. The Fellowship is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2014.

Diversity

Diversity is also a large focus of the CBA YLS membership team. In preparing for this year’s programming, each committee was asked to take a hard look at the diversity of its speakers. The diversity subcommittee was then charged with compiling and maintaining a list of diverse speakers for other committees to use in planning future events.

The CBA YLS works diligently to enhance its relationships with Chicago’s affinity bars. Each committee was asked to co-sponsor an event with an affinity bar and the CBA YLS hosts an “all bar” social once a year. At the social, national and local affinity and specialty bars are invited to mix and mingle with each other and the CBA YLS. The leaders of the CBA YLS and each affinity bar also participate in an “all bar forum” during which the leaders of each group can coordinate programming and events. Instead of competing for membership, the bars have taken a more collaborative approach to provide the best programming possible for their respective members and Chicago’s young lawyers.

A Great Venue

Chicago has proven to be a great venue for the CBA YLS. It has a large pool of young lawyers to pull from for membership, leadership, and ideas. The enthusiastic leadership of the section has developed a robust and broad sweep of programs and initiatives that should encapsulate any young lawyer’s passions. Mary Curry is keen to point out, however, that if a member wants to do something the Section hasn’t yet pursued, the Section leadership is eager to help figure out how to make it happen.

Curry continues to be impressed by the ideas and eagerness of the CBA YLS’s membership, especially from recent graduates. Some of the Section’s most impressive new leaders just finished law school. They have been particularly helpful in advancing the Future of the Legal Profession program; they recognize law school didn’t provide everything that they need to be a successful lawyer and have been finding ways for the CBA YLS to help fill those gaps. Thanks to recommendations from their new members and others, the CBA YLS is investigating programs focused on using social media to promote a law firm’s practice, build its brand, and maintain client loyalty.

Though the life of a lawyer, especially a recent graduate stepping out on her own for the first time, will always be busy, those who do find the time to get involved will see the benefits of jumping into a bar association, especially one with as diverse and successful a reach as the CBA YLS.

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