In recent years, new lawyers and bar associations alike have grappled with the question of how to convince some firms that supporting their associates’ bar involvement is worth their while. Complimentary CLEs sound less enticing to a firm that provides them in-house. Volunteering time may be a hard sell to a boss who would prefer that his associate spend that time billing hours. And pitching it as a way to meet other lawyers in your field might make it sound like you’re prepping to jump ship. So, how can young lawyers sell their firms on bar involvement?
Let’s start with some blunt truth—law firms are businesses, first and foremost, and associates help them earn money. Highlight how the bar association can help you do just that.
Grow Your Professional Network
Attending events and joining committees help young lawyers grow their own professional network. Over time, that network will organically develop into business referral sources. A personal injury lawyer might mention their friend’s need for a separation agreement review to an employment lawyer during an association happy hour. That employment lawyer might refer a client to a family law attorney they know through their bar’s public service committee. Learning how to grow a book of business can be incredibly intimidating as a young lawyer—this is a great way to start.
Build Your Reputation in Your Legal Community
Bar association involvement also helps you build your reputation in your legal community, which is a good way to build your reputation and bring in clients or inspire the trust of existing ones. Opportunities for you to speak publicly or publish pieces on topics relevant to your field can be few and far between. Volunteering to speak on a bar association CLE panel or write an article for its legal newsletter are easy and accessible ways to establish yourself as an authority on specific topics. They also serve as content for a client-facing professional website biography or LinkedIn profile—pages that often give clients the first impression of a lawyer’s competency and skill.
Leadership and Confidence
After the excitement of a new bar card and title wears off, the first few years after law school can hit new lawyers like a bucket of cold water. No matter how well you did in law school, there will be practical skills you need to learn on the job and mistakes you make while doing so. A bar association cannot eradicate that learning curve (or cure the stress, imposter syndrome, or self-doubt that often comes with it). It can, however, offer leadership and development tools to build members’ confidence and skills.
- Many bar associations offer leadership or board training programs for new lawyers. While these programs are typically designed to prep cohort members for future bar or board leadership roles, they also force attorneys to come out of their shells and boost their belief in their own abilities—traits unquestionably transferable to one’s legal practice.
- Volunteering on a committee, chairing an event, or serving on a section or division counsel forces one to learn how to take responsibility for projects, delegate, and work effectively as part of a team—skills that serve attorneys well within a law firm structure.
- The bar association also offers members a large pool of potential mentors who can guide new lawyers trying to find their footing. They may offer advice on responding to a performance review, share insights on how they prepare for depositions or act as a sounding board for questions and concerns. While in-firm sponsor relationships are vital to an associate’s internal business development, it’s also important to build relationships with external mentors who have no supervisory authority over them.
Practical Skills and Community Outreach
Another simple truth about your first few years of practice is that hands-on experience away from a computer screen can be hard to find. Bar associations give members access to opportunities that provide just that.
New Lawyers Get Hands-On Experience
Many bar associations, whether directly or through educational resources, provide members with access to pro bono opportunities including, but not limited to, volunteering to represent individuals in protection from abuse proceedings, drafting wills through their local Wills for Heroes program, or representing a pro se indigent inmate in a civil case at a deposition or mediation. These programs allow young lawyers to interact directly with clients, independently assess a case's pros and cons, and gain experience speaking in court—giving them a leg up when they start getting similar opportunities through their firms.
Firms Get Free Marketing
Finally, and perhaps most simply, a lawyer’s involvement in the bar association raises their firm’s profile in addition to their own. Each time a lawyer wears a name tag listing their employer to a community service event, their firm also gains some positive credit. Every time a lawyer hands out a business card at a happy hour, posts about a new bar association project on their LinkedIn, or ends a newsletter article with their professional email address or bio, their employer’s name is necessarily spread through their network as well. In short, it’s free marketing.
As our profession adjusts to a hybrid work world, it’s more important than ever that young lawyers continue to have access to the wealth of resources, relationships, and development tools that bar associations offer. It’s similarly important for employers to support (or at least not discourage) that involvement. Allowing lawyers to take advantage of these opportunities inevitably leads to the development of better-connected, better-rounded, and more confident associates, providing a clear benefit to their firms.