Unlocking Your Potential: Transitioning from Young Lawyer to Senior Bar Member
Mercedes Pino is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and is the assistant director of Career Services at the Touro Law Center in Central Islip, New York.
“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in-between that we fear. . . . It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”
It may not seem that long ago that you were making your way from law school graduate to young lawyer. You worked your way up through the ranks and found your place as a leader in the bar. And now, just when you have found your comfort zone, it is time to “age up and out.” It is time to forge your path in the senior bar. Are you prepared?
When asked what the most difficult part of transitioning from young lawyer to senior bar member was, Katerina Milenkovski responded, “Missing the friends and social events! I made a lot of great friends in the YLD and after we all turned 36, we found homes in various sections of the big bar, which means that we don’t get to see each other except for midyear and annual meetings.” Milenkovski, an associate with Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur in Columbus, Ohio, and a former chair of the Columbus Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Committee, added, “I found that in the YLD, it was relatively easy to advance to senior level positions fairly quickly because of the ‘up and out’ nature of the membership. When you get involved with a big bar section, you are often there with people who are preeminent in their fields of law and others who have been active for ten or twenty or thirty years, so it can be more of a challenge to ‘earn’ a leadership role. It can be done, though.”
The key is to become involved now, while you are still serving as a young lawyer. According to Patricia Sexton, a practice group chair with Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan & Suelthaus in Kansas City, Missouri, and current Missouri YLD representative to the ABA House of Delegates, “Because I became involved in big bar activities while I was still a young lawyer, the transition has been easy. I found that members of the big bar are very welcoming and want to help you integrate into their Divisions or Sections.”
When deciding whether or not to transition and where to become involved, consider the benefits gained, both personally and professionally. There are a multitude of benefits, and what you can take from participating can differ from the benefits reaped by your peers.
For Sexton, the benefits are varied. “The most important benefit to me is maintaining all of the great friendships I made in the YLD. . . . Maintaining my involvement in the big bar has allowed me to strengthen those connections. The big bar also plays an important role in my practice from a substantive standpoint,” she noted.
For Gene Vance, a member of Stoll, Keenon & Ogden in Lexington, Kentucky, and former chair of the Kentucky Bar Association Young Lawyers Section, “The opportunity to work with tremendous lawyers from across the country is a significant benefit. Also, the ABA and its various entities offer an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.”
And for Milenkovski, the benefits are both personal and professional. “Personally, I find that bar involvement energizes me. The constant exposure to new ideas and insights about the practice of law help keep me excited about what I do. And, of course, there are the continuing education opportunities and the publications, which make it easier to practice law,” she added.
Like the benefits, the opportunities to become involved are limitless. You can choose from divisions, sections, committees, and/or fellowship programs. In the face of so many choices, you may feel overwhelmed. Take comfort, however, that regardless of the path you choose you can always look to your senior bar leaders for advice. “Consult with more senior lawyers whom you trust to provide you with sound advice,” Vance suggested. “Seek a section with a subject matter that interests you and look for opportunities to become involved. Recognize that the transition to leadership positions will take longer in the senior bar as there is no five- or ten-year time limit and leaders tend to stay in place longer. This limits opportunities for younger lawyers. Patience is the key to success.”
Patience. The transition may seem daunting; however, the opportunities and your potential are unlimited. And if that thought alone seems too much, remember these words of Mimi Welch, a nationally recognized consultant on transition, “We are defined more by what we don’t know about ourselves, than by what we do know. Change offers us the chance to discover what we don’t know and therefore helps us reach our potential.”
The ABA YLD recently completed a “roadmap” to help young lawyers navigate their transition into other ABA
entities. Visit www.abanet.org/yld