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Vol. 41, No. 6

What do young lawyers want from your bar association today?

In recent years, a heavy emphasis has been placed on recruitment of law students for bar associations. The future is young. With bar associations struggling to connect with their younger members, membership totals and dues revenue have declined. No association is immune from this trend—national, state, local, and affinity bars are making conscious efforts to recruit younger members.

But while connecting with law students is essential, as we said in our fall column, young lawyers are not synonymous with law students, nor are they both simply categorized just as the Millennial target. Bar associations can often hold some common misconceptions about what younger lawyers really want or need. This article attempts to shed light on some ways bar associations can remain relevant to their younger members, while continuing their recruiting efforts at the same time.


Traditional member benefits are often lost on young lawyers and law students

Car and insurance discounts may be the bread and butter of an association’s bottom line, but they are lost on younger lawyers and law students. Concerned with how they are going to get a job, make their student loan payments on time, and begin saving for the future, younger lawyers and law students join bar associations for the connections, the people. The best thing bar associations can do going forward to attract young lawyers and new members is to provide mentorship opportunities, constant networking chances, and writing opportunities.

The legal job market is so different now than it was even five or 10 years ago, that law students and young lawyers are being forced to think of creative ways to land a job. As a result, programs, opportunities, and CLEs that offer the chance to network with attorneys in that field take an important role in young lawyers’ and law students’ lives. Young lawyers and law students are also eager for the bylines on their resume from writing.  

Be it short, pithy articles on a case or a long law review-style article, it still becomes a talking point in a potential interview, and jobs drive a young lawyer or law student’s motivation. In order for bar associations to stay relevant, they must provide content that keeps their young members around; potential mentors, job opportunities, and resume bylines from writing are good ways to do that.

Create a welcoming environment for new members

There’s nothing quite as unnerving as walking into a place for the first time. Your palms sweat a little, your heart beats a little quicker, you contemplate skipping the event and going back to do something else. Everyone experiences it, but the first few moments in a new environment shape your feeling toward it; bar events are no exception.

From the staffers at the entrance to the attorneys in the room, young lawyers and law students are learning from each of them. Bar associations should strive for networking events beginning in August that are free flowing, allowing participants to float around the room from conversation to conversation. The intimidation factor of starting a new conversation is limited when there are several people looking for a talking partner.

Another great program that we’ve experienced was put on by the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division at their recent meeting in Detroit. The program was a “speed networking” one, and allowed young lawyers and law students a few minutes to chat and exchange business cards with other attendees. Because the format only allows for three to five minutes of conversation, attendees are able to have a casual conversation while quickly moving on, without hitting an awkward lull that is inevitable in many networking conversations. This allows for more conversations and networking chances.  

Through either of these networking opportunities, bar associations will attract young lawyers and law students to events they are hosting, while remaining relevant to their current members. Fostering networking and mentorship should be at the core of bar associations’ goals moving forward, because the younger lawyers and law students are the future of the association.

Try a communication survey, because everyone is different

One of the biggest struggles of bar associations is, how many emails are too many emails? It seems like we get emails every day from the grocery store, our credit card companies, and, of course, from bar associations. Some people love them, some people hate them—finding the balance between the two is key. Once per year, bar associations should send out a communication survey to their members to determine how members would like to receive their communications moving forward. Some people prefer email, text messages, or blasts linked to their social media accounts. Associations should also consider what social media platforms their members most use (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), to get a better understanding of where their targeted marketing should go.

When it comes to dedicated email blasts, bar associations should be cautious when sending emails with large amounts of text and content. Great ways to break these up include graphics, pictures from previous events, messages from the chair of a section or committee, or even with a calendar of events. Young lawyers and law students want to see the information bar associations are putting out, just in different format styles.

Integrate young lawyers and law students into sections, committees, and divisions

Because of their age or number of years in practice, young lawyers and law students are often grouped into their own division, section, or committee within a bar association. Recently, bar associations have struggled with developing ways to bridge the pipeline of young lawyers and law students from their younger divisions into the substantive sections within the bar association. One of the easiest ways to hit the ground running with younger lawyers and law students happens while they are still “aged into” these younger sections.

Many of our peers do not get involved in bars, nor do they have any idea why we do what we do. They don’t see the value, either time-wise or financially. But by providing discounts to substantive sections within a bar association, young lawyers and law students are immediately exposed to what that section or committee does. From annual meetings to CLE events, discounted programming will allow law students and younger lawyers immediate exposure, at a price they can afford.  

By losing a little money when attorneys and law students are first starting out, a bar association could earn more money with a higher membership rate once they become higher dues-paying members. Bar associations have to keep costs in mind when recruiting new members, but sometimes a short-term loss means a long-term gain in membership totals.

We are impatient; create opportunities for us now

Millennials get a reputation for needing quick fixes and having everything at their fingertips. Bar associations should develop ways to get young lawyers and law students involved in leadership in sections, divisions, committees, and on their governing boards. With chances for advancement, a taste for actual responsibility, and big decisions that young lawyers and law students can have a say in, you are more apt to retain members. All that any young lawyer or law student wants is a seat at the table if a bar association is making decisions, so create the opportunities. Create a young lawyer leadership academy or a young lawyers’ committee within bar sections.

The future is young for bar associations

Bar associations have a difficult task going forward. Younger lawyers and law students will inevitably demand different resources and programs than their more established counterparts within an association. It will be a difficult task for association staff members and leaders to keep in mind each of these desires, while balancing the needs and resources available to them. However, the future of bar associations is young, and while young lawyers’ and law students’ needs should not be considered any higher than their more established counterparts', their needs certainly should be considered.