Programming Partnerships—Working with Other Local Bars and Professional Organizations
By Jill M. Kastner
Jill M. Kastner is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and in private practice in Glendale, Wisconsin.
“I want to put on this great program,” says an affiliate leader, “but I need help from another group.” The affiliate may need money, a location, promotion, or general organizational help to put on its program. Other local bars or professional groups may be the place to get that help.
Whether you want to put on a CLE, leadership workshop, public service program, or networking event, you can often increase your program’s success by working with another bar or professional group. Partnering can increase your access to resources and people. Equally important, a good partnership will lead to sharing ideas and building relationships between the groups. As someone who has put on countless programs with various partners, ABA YLD Conference & Program Director Seth Levy of Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles, California, remarked, “It’s really the exchange of ideas that’s important . . . in a successful partnership.”
Getting a Partner
If you have a program in mind, ask yourself (1) who will benefit from the program, (2) what do you need to make a successful program, and (3) what benefits will a partnership provide. For example, if you want to put on a Depositions 101 CLE, members of other young lawyer groups or trial groups could benefit. Senior bar members or corporate lawyers may not be interested. If you want to implement the “Wills for Heroes” program in your state, estate planning bar groups come to mind as potentially useful partners.
Once you have a specific group and/or groups in mind, make contact. “You can’t get the help if you don’t ask,” stated Levy. Many potential partnerships fail before they start because young lawyers are hesitant to make that initial contact or fail to follow-up. Levy added, “You need to ask the questions in order to . . . [establish] the partnership.” A personal contact is often best, but if you don’t have one through your networking contacts, then you can often find contact information through a website or your state’s bar. Contact the group’s leadership directly. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and make that call—and then make it again and again. Because people have different preferences, it is wise to use both e-mail and telephone. You can send an e-mail and then follow-up by phone.
Establishing the Partnership
“Be clear about what you want [from the other organizations],” Levy recommended. Be clear what each group’s role and responsibilities are from the beginning. Whether you divide up the financial or other responsibilities equally or most of the responsibility falls on one party is far less important than a clear understanding between the partners. It is perfectly acceptable to have one group plan and pay for everything while the other group provides only its name and promotes the program to its members—so long as that is what was agreed on.
“If you need funds or speaker ideas . . . or anything, you need to ask . . . and make that clear,” Levy said. This means you must be up-front about what you need and want from your partner. If you are looking for funds, don’t be coy. Be clear from the beginning that you need access to funds. Even if that group doesn’t have the funds needed, by being clear up front that funds will be needed, your partner may have ideas for sponsors or other means of acquiring what is needed to put on a successful program.
Things to Consider
Here are just a few pointers:
  • Partner Early: If you have a program in mind and know that you will need additional resources or other assistance, don’t wait. Contact the group and/or groups that can help you as soon as you have a clear idea of how the groups and the program can benefit each other.
  • “No” Doesn’t Always Mean “No”: If at first you get turned down by your prospective partner, be sure you understand why. This is particularly true of affiliates dealing with their state bars. Sometimes you can modify your request or programming. Other times, you’ll be able to convince the right person to change his or her mind or get advice on another group to partner with.
  • Know What Your Partner Can and Cannot Do: Have a clear understanding of your partner’s available resources and capabilities. For example, some bar groups are not permitted to put on CLEs that conflict with those of the state bar; others are not permitted to have alcohol during events. It is important to know any applicable restrictions.
  • Partners Are More Than Sponsors: A sponsor gives you resources or other assistance for you to put on your program. A partner works with you to implement the program. If you’re not willing to cooperate and compromise with the other group, a true partnership won’t work.
  • More Isn’t Always Better: More partners means more groups with which to communicate, get agreement from, and coordinate with.
  • Regular Communication: Make certain everyone is kept in the loop about what is happening and what is needed. Conference calls are a great way for everyone to discuss issues; e-mails are great for keeping records of decisions and giving progress reports.
  • Specific Responsibilities and Deadlines: The key to any successful program is organization—especially when dealing with different groups. It is vital that everyone understand what needs to be done, who is doing what, and what the deadlines are. Designating one task-master or putting one person in charge of specific areas can help things run smoothly.