At the outset of their careers, one challenge that lawyers face is achieving the name recognition that eventually will come with accomplishments in the legal sphere. In those early days, one of the best ways to increase your exposure—both to fellow attorneys and to potential clients—is through meaningful community involvement.
The first and best reason to be involved in your community is, of course, because it benefits those around you. But that doesn’t have to be a one-way street. Getting involved will also broaden the sphere of business and community leaders who interact with you personally. Many of your first client opportunities will come from those who know you first as a person, not as a lawyer, so diversifying those personal relationships is key.
One significant way to accomplish this is to seek a board position with a local non-profit organization. Such organizations are many and varied, spanning causes as diverse as literacy, hunger, poverty, the environment, cultural issues, and human rights. Regardless of whether your community is large or small, urban or suburban, all communities benefit from the presence of non-profits, and those non-profits will rarely turn down the enthusiasm of a bright young person who wants to help and brings legal skills to the table for free. Your fellow board members will come from varied backgrounds in business, education, philanthropy, and the arts, increasing your exposure to these elements of your community and their exposure to you.
Another excellent opportunity for community involvement is through your local bar associations, particularly at the city and federal district levels. These bar associations typically mirror larger ones at the state or national levels, but frequently provide younger attorneys with hands-on committee experience and even leadership positions early in their careers. Local bar associations also provide the most direct contact with local judges you are likely to receive outside the context of a litigated case. Most importantly, these associations invariably immerse their members in the most pressing legal issues facing the community.
Finally, most if not all communities have created opportunities for lawyers to offer pro bono legal assistance to populations in need. While these populations may vary from community to community and from institution to institution, all share the need for assistance that only your training and experience can provide. Whether you are a solo practitioner or employed by a major law firm, contributing pro bono service lifts up your community while elevating your legal skills and exposure in the process. For these reasons, even those at firms with robust internal pro bono programs should consider engaging with their community in this way.
In pursuing any or all of these forms of community involvement, you will find that your sense of fulfillment is primary, and any professional implications secondary. No other form of professional development is so effective and so enjoyable, too.
Keywords: litigation, professional liability, marketing, pro bono, community involvement, networking, cross-selling
— James Goldschmidt, Quarles & Brady, LLP, Milwaukee, WI