The Jewel of the Inland Northwest: The Spokane County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division
By Jeffrey J. White
Jeffrey J. White is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices law with the firm of Robinson & Cole LLP in Hartford, Connecticut.
The State of Washington is known for many things including the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, and the award-winning wines produced by Chateau Ste. Michelle, to name a few. Although much of the attention has always been focused on the City of Seattle, a group of young lawyers in Spokane County, located roughly 300 miles away from the Emerald City, have made their own mark in the “Inland Northwest.”
Founded in the 1970s, the Spokane County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division has been widely acclaimed as one of the most active and successful young lawyer groups in the Pacific Northwest. The division’s current president, Kevin O’Rourke, an attorney in the City of Spokane, attributes the success of the division to its ability to meet the needs of its members by offering low-cost CLEs and business meetings inside the county.
Success Does Not Go Unnoticed
This success has not gone unnoticed by the Washington State Bar Association. In 2003, the state bar selected the Spokane County YLD to create a pilot program for the Greater Access and Assistance Program (GAAP), which is designed to provide legal services for those individuals who do not qualify for pro bono legal aid. For a reduced fee, those individuals who fall “within the gap” are able to seek the counsel of young lawyers in a variety of areas including bankruptcy, landlord-tenant, and family issues. To date, the program has proven to be a runaway success as it has helped roughly 355 individuals. As a result, the Washington State Bar intends to expand it to other regions in the state.
As with many programs, one of the challenges in implementing the GAAP is obtaining the necessary funding. Rachelle Anderson, the Spokane YLD representative to the State Bar Association, noted: “We have been very successful in garnering interest from outside of Spokane to help this program grow. Last year, we were fortunate to receive monies through an ABA YLD subgrant award and from the Family Law Section of the Washington State Bar Association. We hope to continue to find this kind of support in our local community.”
ABA YLD Connection
The award of an ABA YLD subgrant is just one example of a developing relationship between the Spokane County YLD and the ABA YLD. O’Rourke credits this growing relationship to improved communication between the ABA YLD district representative and his organization: “In the past two years, our two ABA YLD district representatives have gone out of their way to acknowledge the local leaders and chapters by directly communicating with us. In addition, Rachelle Anderson has been pivotal in developing and maintaining our relationship with the ABA YLD through her attendance at several ABA conferences at which she obtained valuable information and resources for our division.”
Young Lawyer Opportunities
In addition to improving its relationship with the ABA YLD, the Spokane County YLD has made great strides in providing young lawyers with opportunities to interact with state and federal court judges. Each year the YLD organizes a “New Admittee CLE,” which is held after the bar results are released in Washington. This two-day CLE includes tours of the state and federal courthouses and presentations by judges and senior attorneys on issues such as jury selection, motion practice, ethics, and professionalism. The YLD also sponsors a social event following the first day. According to President-Elect Kammi Mencke, who practices in Spokane, this event provides “a fantastic opportunity for the newly admitted attorneys to network with not only other young lawyers, but also with the CLE speakers as well.”
The opportunities do not end there. The YLD, in conjunction with the senior bar, also offers a “Judicial Theatre CLE” in which state and federal judges act out skits that involve ethical dilemmas. After each skit, the attendees discuss the ethical issues raised in small groups and then participate in a larger group discussion facilitated by the judges. Not only has this CLE been the YLD’s most successful, but it has also proven to be quite a bit of fun. According to Mencke, “the judges enjoy stepping outside of their traditional formality by role playing, often in costume, and participating in open dialogue about ethical issues in the legal profession.”
Formula for Success
As evidenced by these programs, the Spokane County YLD continues to provide its members with numerous opportunities to interact with judges, senior attorneys, and their peers. For O’Rourke, “our success stems from the YLD’s active membership, great support from the Spokane legal community, and helpful mentoring by former YLD members.” Based upon this formula, there is no doubt that the Spokane YLD will continue to lead the way in Washington.