A resolution worth keeping: Growing your membership with young lawyers and law students

Volume 42 Number 3

By

Josephine Bahn is an honors attorney with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Bahn is a May 2016 New York Law School graduate and previously clerked for the Honorable Joel H. Slomsky in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She served two terms on the ABA Law Student Division board as vice chair-student bar associations and one year as the law student on the Council for the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Christopher Jennison is an attorney-advisor with the Federal Aviation Administration. Jennison is a May 2016 graduate of Syracuse University College of Law and completed the Honors Attorney Program at the U.S. Department of Transportation. He spent two years with the ABA Law Student Division, including one year as the at-large law student on the ABA Board of Governors. They are both finishing their second year in the ABA Young Lawyers Division, this year serving as Division Scholars, having previously completed the Emerging Leaders Program.

Now that the holidays are behind us and a new year has begun, it’s time to add one belated item to your resolutions for 2018: Commit to growing your bar association by enticing new young lawyers and law students to join your ranks. 

As we have noted previously in our articles, bar associations need to make an active and concerted stride in recruiting young lawyers and law students in order to maintain and grow the associations’ overall membership going forward. All bar associations are struggling with membership and new member retention, and without a renewed focus on actually appealing to the next generation of lawyers, membership rolls will continue to decline. We hope these tips will shine a light on the importance of relationships among your members and will help your bar association develop targeted programming and mentorship programs that work.

Stop using your old tricks and commit to new habits

Programming could be the easiest way to recruit new members into your association, as long as the programming provides exciting themes or panelists, engaging locations or intriguing conferences topics, or is tailored to keep a person’s interest. Instead of hosting several smaller events per month, consider one or two marquee events every one to three months. Young lawyers and law students want to be where the lawyers are. One or two larger events where they can meet lots of attorneys or where a topic is particularly interesting will no doubt be enticing. Through promotion and word-of-mouth excitement, your attendance among younger lawyers and law students will be on the uptick.

Be careful of multi-day conferences that struggle to fill time slots and do not give attendees the opportunity to network with each other. Younger lawyers and especially law students have to be “bank account conscious” when choosing which events to attend. Multi-day programs are, by nature, more expensive than a one-off evening CLE program.

Be aware, too, that unless it is an interesting topic, the fact that a program offers CLE credit does nothing for a law student. For law students or young lawyers to justify the cost, there must be programming or networking chances that appeal to them.  Keep in mind the importance of breaks throughout the day that could easily be made into networking opportunities, and make sure that other gaps in the schedule are kept to a minimum. 

The worst turnoff for a younger lawyer or law student is paying a good amount of money to attend a meeting or conference and feeling like there are only one or two CLEs that are worth going to—and a lot of empty time in between. Keeping younger lawyers and law students engaged at your programming will keep them engaged in your bar association.

Tip: Recruit a “fellow” or “law student member” from the law school to help promote your bar association’s events in the places and ways that appeal most to the students at that school. For example, perhaps the school has a students-only Facebook group where your law student fellow can share details about the event.

A mentor’s on their resolutions list … Can your bar association help?

When we turned the calendar to 2018, younger lawyers and law students probably made a list of personal and professional goals they would like to achieve this year.  One of those goals is likely to find a mentor who can help them adjust to the legal profession, guide them through their specific practice area, or help them in their job search (through resume review or informational interviews on where to apply). Bar associations can help achieve these goals by putting their members out there in a mentorship program.

Of course, mentorship programs are as varied as the kinds of bars that sponsor them. A state bar could have a program that’s different from a county bar association’s, and a women’s affinity bar might work differently from a bar association focused on employment law. 

The American Bar Association has used a great first-step strategy: starting with resume review, working out the kinks, and then figuring out what to move onto next. The ABA Law Student Division’s staff put together a program to compile resumes that could be reviewed by lawyers across the country. The resume reviews allow the lawyer to email the edits to the law student and potentially answer any further questions the law student may have. As part of this program, one of the writers of this article (Jo) conducted a phone interview with one of the law students who was interested in some legal career advice beyond the resume edits.

By starting small and working on relationships between law students and lawyers, the ABA has created a pilot program that will keep law students engaged beyond their time in school because of the tangible benefits they received as a student. If you start small with a resume review program and work out the kinks as you go, your association could grow a review program into a career advice interview program, which would then develop into mentor/mentee relationships. These tiered relationships will become cyclical, with your inaugural class of resume reviewees wanting to be the next class of resume reviewers, creating more relationships organically—and growing your association.

Tip: Mentorship programs often fizzle out for many reasons, not the least of which is that we’re talking about busy law students and even busier lawyers. Set defined parameters for both mentee and mentor, for a limited commitment. For example, 1) one meeting in person, 2) one follow-up (in person, a call, or perhaps an email, depending on the mentee’s objective), and 3) one connection, introduction, or other action to help the mentee further whatever goal or objective the mentor and mentee talked about. Of course, a relationship can continue beyond that, but having this limited, defined obligation from the start creates solid expectations.

It’s the relationships, stupid

We keep coming back to bar association meetings because of the people that we met early in our law school careers who have looked out for us, provided advice for us, and made us feel like we belonged in the profession. In our local, state, and affinity bars, and in the ABA, it has been the people and opportunities that have kept us engaged enough to pay our dues each year. Young lawyers and law students want to know that they have a seat at the table—that their voice matters in the room where it all happens—in order for them to remain engaged. For both Jo and Chris, there were the one or two people who reminded others that the law student or young lawyer in the room is the future of the profession, and that our voice mattered with at least equal weight as everyone else at the table.

Going forward, your association should focus on ways to engage young lawyers and law students in leadership-related ways. Maybe it is the new task force your president is thinking about putting together—why not add a young lawyer or law student (or both) to the mix. Maybe it is the board of governors of your association—do you have a young lawyer or law student on the board? Do you have both? Young lawyers and law students have different interests, so it is important to have them both represented in the boardroom.

Tip: In the July-August 2017 issue, we gave you some possible opportunities for young lawyers to become more involved and invested. Have you and your association taken the steps yet—and if not, why not? 2018 is the time to do so.

New year, new time to grow your association

By implementing these strategies, your association can see an uptick in membership, but more importantly in engaged members. When law students and young lawyers buy in to bar associations, they are all in. Soon, you’ll see law students and young lawyers wanting to put together panels and CLEs, participating in conferences, and joining leadership. By making your association available and inviting, you will build the ship that young lawyers and law students will flock to.

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