December 01, 2015

Serving on an Advisory Board or Committee: Tips for Attorneys

Claire Chiamulera

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Serving on an advisory board or committee takes time and commitment, something busy attorneys often don’t have. The benefits can outweigh the drawbacks though as they help broaden professional connections, provide opportunities to share knowledge and expertise, and work collectively to make needed changes in the field. Below are some tips for serving on boards shared by Howard Davidson, recently retired director of the ABA Center on Children and the Law.

Benefits of Board Involvement

  • Lends credibility to organization and individual.

  • Broadens contacts & relationships.

  • Prevents isolation (very important benefit; can’t do this work in isolation).

  • Can lead to partnerships (co-writing grant proposals, working on publications).

  • Fosters collaboration and co-branding.

Drawbacks

  • Time commitment (can cut into work time and involve evening/weekends).

  • If you commit, be prepared to do work.

  • Can take away from other job responsibilities (but this shouldn’t deter involvement and participation should be viewed as part of job).

Precautions

  • Avoid creating a conflict of interest.

  • Don’t go on a board/committee thinking the organization will channel money to you/your organization.

  • Think about time commitment upfront BUT saying no because you think it will be a burden is usually not a good approach.

  • Avoid shady/fly by night/deeply biased organizations (usually have an ax to grind, are unbalanced, pop up overnight to address the issue of the moment).

Tips/Considerations

  • Advisory committee positions are often better than board positions. Boards focus on organizational issues, budgets, operations, etc. Boards have a fiduciary responsibility and can be sued. Advisory committees are issue-focused; you’re on them for advice/subject matter expertise.

  • Identify organizations involved in issues you care and have knowledge about. Who are the players? What is the organization’s reputation? 

  • If interested in joining a board/committee, approach the organization’s director and express interest.

  • If asked to join a board/committee, ask what work is involved and the time commitment. When, where, and how often does the board/committee meet? What are the expectations for your participation? Be prepared to work if you agree to serve on a board.

  • Err on the side of saying yes to board/committee involvement, rather than seeing it as a burden. It is usually worth the effort and benefits the individual and the individual’s organization.

--Claire Chiamulera, CLP Editor