Reflections on the ABA’s Bar Leadership Institute: Making It Their Year, Too
By Ryan C. Blazure
Ryan C. Blazure is Chair-Elect of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and an associate with the regional Northeastern Pennsylvania general law firm of Cardoni and Associates, LLC. .
“Capture it.” “Own it.” “Make it yours.” You have, no doubt, heard these phrases in the buildup to your year as a bar leader. Think about what these phrases mean. In the context of bar membership, your bar membership, these phrases are simply worded attempts to personalize your year leading the bar. These phrases, however, need not be reserved for leadership only. As an active leader in the bar—on the local, state, national, or even international level—you have a responsibility to make the year of your leadership the best it can be for yourself and those surrounding you.
I recently attended the American Bar Association’s Bar Leadership Institute (BLI) held in Chicago this past March. While at BLI, I learned ways, as a bar leader, to make the year “mine”—how to develop ideas, how to deal with (endless) meetings, how to get projects off the ground—you get the idea. BLI was indispensable, and it got me thinking about an important question: why shouldn’t my bar year be their year too? The “they” that I refer to are not a nameless entity; rather, “they” are those you will come to rely on at supervisory, lateral, and subordinate levels. Indeed, as a bar leader, you might have two solid years to carry out your leadership term. Sure, you will have pet projects and plans to accomplish while in office—so, why not build up those around you so they can assist during your term and facilitate those goals after you have left?
This article is intended to give you several tools to make the most out of your years of bar leadership while at the same time securing the willing participation (and assistance) of those who will assist you in your bar activities.
Encourage Attendance at Meetings
Although there are certainly other ways to become active in your bar association, there really is no substitute for simply showing up and lending a hand. Once members realize this, it will be very simple for you to make sure that meeting attendees hear things they may agree with, things they may strongly disagree with, but, most importantly, that they hear and see things that will make them think. This thinking is what leads to positive change.
Promote Opportunities to Serve on Continuing Legal Education Panels
Remind your colleagues that they have unique insights—they truly know things, sometimes very specific things, about the areas of law in which they practice. Although it is beneficial for members to share these insights on panels sponsored by your young lawyer organization, it is equally important for young lawyers to be present on panels/presentations organized by the “big bar.” Because of a young lawyer’s unique perspective, he or she will look at an issue in ways that others on the panel might not have imagined. Therefore, it is important to encourage your members to volunteer as “the” young lawyer on the panel. This status will inevitably open doors for the young lawyer individually and for your organization as a whole by presenting your bar association’s young lawyers in a positive light.
Support Writing Prospects
As lawyers, we often write all day long. But how often do you get to write what you want? Encourage members and fellow leaders to submit their writing to different publications, whether it is a case analysis for your legal journal or an article for your legal newsletter. Trust me—I once wrote an article on workout tips, and it turned into a three-part series. Writing is a wonderful way to flex the creativity muscles, and in fact, legal writing flows more easily after strong bouts of creative, leisure, or even journalistic writing.
Advocate Committee and Section Membership
All bar associations are different, and typically, denoting a subsection of the bar is simply a means to designate its size. Many bar associations maintain committees and sections that gather members with common interests in particular areas of the law together in a more intimate setting. Committees and sections often have their own meetings and conferences and function as the lifeblood of our profession. In truth, committees and sections are where the action often takes place, as each committee or section has individual members with varied ideas. These ideas are what drive the bar association’s resolutions and even proposed legislation. Then, through committee or section meetings, your bar association’s leadership learns about different resolutions and the viewpoints that their members endorse.
Publicize Accessibility
You can’t help if you can’t be found. Suggest that members bring ten business cards to every bar association meeting and get rid of all of them. I have collected enough business cards to paper any wall in my house (twice), but I’m thankful for each one. Many times they’ve come in handy when I need local counsel in another state or have a referral. Along the lines of being available, it is important to make yourself accessible to members and fellow leaders as well. While attending meetings or bar association events, accompany your colleagues to receptions, dinners, and cocktail hours. These social events allow you to talk candidly with one another, as well as with members of the judiciary and legislature. We, as young lawyers, face many issues that others in the bar are not familiar with—therefore, we should take advantage of our position and remember that the other “big bar” leaders want to hear from us.