Sharing the Collective Insight: First-of-Its-Kind "Young Bar Leader Summit
By Ryan C. Reed
Ryan C. Reed, of Bowling Green, Kentucky, is completing his second year as Affiliates Director for the ABA YLD. In that role, he leads the Affiliate Assistance Team and is Chief Judge of the ABA YLD Awards Team.
Ordinarily, a handful of young bar association leaders getting together to discuss strategies for improving their organizations is a good thing. At the first-of-its-kind “Young Bar Leader Summit” in Charlotte, North Carolina, in October, the gathering of several dozen such leaders was an extraordinary thing.
Held in conjunction with the ABA YLD’s Fall Conference, the Young Bar Leader Summit gathered leaders from state and local bar organizations around the country, with over 100 people representing more than forty young lawyer organizations. The goal was simple: to share the collective insight of experienced leaders on the most pressing issues confronting young bar leaders today.
The Young Bar Leader Summit featured several simultaneous large-group discussions among leaders of state young lawyer organizations and of local young lawyer groups. These large-group discussions were followed by strategy sessions among more intimate, diverse groups of seven-to-ten young bar leaders each. The Summit wrapped-up with intensive instruction on developing future bar leaders, an annual report, and a model diversity plan, three “hot topics” identified through surveys conducted in advance of the gathering.
Premised upon the experience of a handful of young lawyer organizations that recently faced some “growing pains,” the plenary discussion challenged participants to think critically about the concept of young lawyer organizations as they currently exist. Confronted with the pointed question of whether young lawyer groups would even be created if they did not already exist, Summit attendees expressed a consensus that young lawyers would indeed organize themselves for purposes of professional development, technical training, and the collective impact of projects serving the public interest. The discussion also included commentary on topics ranging from the effectiveness of the structural and financial models presently followed by affiliates, to the continued role of pro bono and public service work in the mission of those organizations. In addition, Summit attendees expressed some rather strong opinions on the preference for interdependence with, rather than independence from, the parent bar organizations with which most young lawyer groups are connected.
The most apparent themes detected from the group discussion were that young lawyer organizations are vitally important to their members and are also important to the broader organizations of which they are a part. That is, young lawyer groups are very relevant: (1) to their members because they provide a number of valuable tangible benefits and a professional “home” for young lawyers unrivaled by any other community or civic group; and (2) to their parent bar organizations because they train a future generation of bar leaders and enhance the group image of the legal profession through public service work.
Having established the relevance of young lawyer organizations through the large-group discussion, the small-group discussions focused on developing practical strategies for demonstrating such relevance to the parent bar organizations in particular. Dozens of ideas were created and catalogued through this process, and many of those were reported to the Summit audience during a concluding session. Some of the ideas were familiar, some were unique, and some were ingenious.
All of the ideas constructed during the Summit will be compiled and evaluated by the Affiliate Assistance Team before being disseminated back to the community of young bar leaders through a number of post-Summit resources designed to help further, if not perpetuate, the fruitful discussions begun in Charlotte. Those resources include an anticipated white paper addressing the timeliest topics identified by young bar leaders before and during the Summit. The white paper will be drafted and revised through the fall with publication following thereafter. The other chief resource to be developed is an online “toolkit” intended to equip a young bar leader with the strategies and techniques necessary to make a good young lawyer group a great one, or to make a great young lawyer group an exemplary one. It is anticipated that at least a portion of the “toolkit” will be available online this fall.
As these resources are being developed, however, the immediate legacy of the Summit is the opportunity presented for state and local bar organizations to continue the discussion in their home communities. Young bar leaders of every description—state and local, current and future, officer and director—should act with measured urgency to facilitate the examination of why and how they serve their members and their parent bar associations.