West Virginia Young Lawyers “Leading the Charge”
By Alexander P. Ryan
Alexander P. Ryan is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices with the Groom Law Group in Washington, D.C.
Recently, the West Virginia Bar Association Young Lawyers Division became the newest member of the ABA YLD’s family of young lawyer organization affiliates by formally “affiliating” with the Division.
The West Virginia Bar Association is a voluntary bar organization, which means that its members choose to join and participate. Formed in 1886, the WVBA is one of the oldest bar associations in the United States. Its mission is “to advance the science of jurisprudence; to promote reform in the law; to facilitate the administration of justice; to uphold integrity, honor and courtesy in the legal profession; to encourage liberal education; and to cultivate cordial intercourse among the members of the bar.”
By comparison, the Young Lawyers Division of the West Virginia Bar Association is relatively “young.” The WVBA YLD was formed on October 20, 1995. “Historically, the primary role of the YLD has been to encourage young lawyers to become actively involved with the WVBA,” says the WVBA YLD’s current president, Courtney Kirtley.
Traditionally, that involvement has come through several WVBA YLD-sponsored annual activities, including a bench and bar reception, an after-bar exam celebration, and a CLE dinner for young attorneys. Kirtley is excited about the activities planned for 2008. For example, the annual “Bench and Bar Reception” generally features local judges as keynote speakers. In view of the fact that two seats on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals are up for election in 2008, this year’s “Bench and Bar Reception” will feature a Supreme Court candidates’ forum.
Similarly, the annual WVBA YLD CLE dinners are both fun and informative. Last year’s event, for example, was called “Piggin’ Out on Commercial Damages” and concluded with a traditional pig roast held at a nearby country club. The event was so well attended that, according to Courtney Kirtley, the WVBA YLD is contemplating making the pig roast an annual event.
No doubt, a lot of fun can be had serving as the president of the WVBA YLD. However, Courtney Kirtley knows that the position entails a lot of work, too. Her primary goals for 2008 include increasing the number of young lawyers in the WVBA and adding public service activities to the YLD.
Kirtley would also like to increase the participation of young lawyers throughout West Virginia, particularly in the northern and eastern panhandles. “The YLD’s membership and activities are based primarily in the Charleston area, and building membership in other parts of the state has been difficult,” says Kirtley. One of her plans for accomplishing this goal is to increase the number of attorneys on the WVBA YLD Executive Committee from various parts of the state and from multiple practice areas. “We believe that the YLD Executive Committee is a reflection of the general membership of the [WVBA] YLD,” says Kirtley. In an effort to reach out to more attorneys throughout West Virginia, the WVBA YLD is also considering hosting a second Supreme Court candidates’ forum in the northern part of the state.
And then there is the challenge of the costs associated with bar association membership. Historically, many members of the WVBA YLD have come from large private law firms that are generally willing to fund bar association dues and related travel expenses, while members of smaller law firms or sole practitioners have had fewer funding resources. Courtney Kirtley notes, “While the membership of the WVBA as a whole includes many small firm and sole practitioners, the YLD lacks this diversity.”But Kirtley and her Executive Committee are working to change that. “We realize that young lawyers will be much more likely to incur the expenses of membership and give of their free time, and that firms will be more supportive of associates’ participation in the YLD, when they realize the significant benefit of membership,” she says.
Beyond these immediate goals, Courtney Kirtley and the WVBA YLD Executive Committee want bar leaders from across the country to know more about West Virginia and the work of the WVBA YLD. “West Virginia is an amazing state, and the young lawyers in West Virginia are passionate about effecting positive changes in their communities and throughout the state,” Kirtley says. “West Virginia’s young lawyers are leading the charge to improve the quality of life in West Virginia, and exciting changes are happening every day!”