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Vol. 39, No. 6

How bar associations can attract and help new lawyers

Kelly-Ann Clarke says:

Today’s young lawyers are not joiners, want to be invited to participate, and will move to other resources if their needs are not instantly met, so a bar association must work harder to show their value to their newest members. Young lawyers have huge debt, need jobs, and are seeking mentors. 

Daunting school loans and limited employment mean that every dollar counts. Bar dues, CLE fees, and other expenses of being a member of a bar association need to come with value for young lawyers. Bar associations should consider programming specifically for young lawyers to address issues of financial planning, networking, interviewing skills, and other skills to assist unemployed or underemployed young lawyers in their job searches. These programs should either be a free member benefit or offered at a teaser rate for nonmembers.

Scarce job prospects have forced new and young lawyers to hang out their own shingles. Because they have little or no training in operating a business, running a law office or practicing law, this creates problems for young lawyers and the profession in general. With numerous ethical and practical landmines, these new business owners may not even know what they don’t know! Bar associations have a great opportunity to be the go-to resource for ethics programming, practical solutions, and instant answers.

Young lawyers are also seeking guidance in the profession. Even thriving associates at large law firms are seeking mentors for various reasons—business development, professional development, or just an external opinion of how to be the best. Bar associations should provide opportunities to allow those seeking mentors to find a good match. While such a relationship cannot be forced, having a fostering environment is key.

Important to providing these services is the delivery. A young lawyer’s time is precious due to job constraints, family obligations, or both, so providing on-the-fly resources is important.  Leveraging technology is the best way to become a trusted ally for young lawyers. Providing networking opportunities with in-person meetings is important, but webinars, teleconferences, and web posts or archives filled with useful information will allow young lawyers to learn at their pace.

Many bar associations, including ones I’ve been part of, have put on successful programs or implemented initiatives to meet the needs of today’s young lawyer. The Texas Young Lawyers Association provides a flash drive of forms and information, called Office in a Flash, for young lawyers who are hanging out their shingle. A necessary corollary is TYLA’s pamphlet, Grievance and Malpractice 101, which walks lawyers through the processes.

TYLA also provides web-based videos under the Ten Minute Mentor name, providing short “nuggets” of information for young lawyers on various topics. The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division has many publications and resources that can help new lawyers open a practice. The ABA YLD also does resume reviews and phone bank calls with law students or new lawyers seeking employment (called Career Line Live!) and provides numerous programs regarding interviewing, ethics, and financial planning for young/new lawyers. The State Bar of Texas even created a resource for other bar associations, to help them create a mentoring program: Transition to Practice. These types of programs and resources help young lawyers navigate the new profession, while solving their most urgent needs. 

Knowing how to meet the needs of today’s young lawyer is key to the success of any bar association.    

Mary Amos Augsburger says:

Have you been wondering how to connect with and engage new lawyers in your bar association? This is one of our key strategic initiatives at the Ohio State Bar Association, so we went right to the source, via a survey and focus groups, to learn what law students and new lawyers want from their bar association. Here's what they told us.

  1. Law students and young lawyers want a personalized experience with their bar association, especially with communications being sent to them. If you are using mass marketing, you may want to reconsider, as they want only communications—preferably electronic—that include information about resources that may be relevant to their practice experience. To this end, we are using shorter, more concise emails that then lead them to more detail, and supporting promotions with content marketing strategies. We are also testing new forms of discounting.
  2. They want to be able to quickly and easily navigate the resources of their bar. Websites should be well organized, mobile friendly, and easily searchable. In addition to constantly updating both the content and format of our primary website, we developed and launched a separate website just for law students.
  3. They value networking, but want to do this in a less formal setting. Occasions where they are required to work a room and exchange business cards don't always give them the fruitful relationships they are seeking. To this end, we are hosting events on law school campuses, including coffees and cocktail parties, to facilitate informal networking with local attorneys. We are also hosting more volunteer service opportunities, which also serve as networking events.
  4. They want opportunities to meet and build relationships with more senior lawyers, but they don't necessarily need another formal mentoring program (in Ohio, our Supreme Court offers a formalized mentoring program for a young lawyer's first year in practice).
  5. They need advice on practical aspects of their career, as they recognize there is a gap between what they learned in law school and real world application of these skills—and they are hoping bar associations will help. We are developing videos and materials on practice resources and practice management tips.

At OSBA, we try to incorporate this advice as we consider new programs for law students and young lawyers, and as we market to them. As other bars do the same, I offer this advice: Don't be afraid to be more dynamic in your messaging as you try new ways to connect with law students and young lawyers, but also be patient and give your new strategies an opportunity to work.

As we've updated our branding in our marketing, made our communications to all of our members more personalized to their generation and practice area, and implemented skills-based training, we're finding diligence and patience is key to increased engagement. It's working for us, and I hope that it will for other bars as well!