Bar Membership Required for Lawyers’ Professional Growth
By Michele Hyndman
Michele Hyndman is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices in the New York, New York, office of Ernst & Young.
Every new lawyer wants to have numerous opportunities to develop into an excellent lawyer in his or her area of law practice. Specifically, new lawyers want the training that will aid them in building their toolbox of leadership and client relations skills. Most law firms and corporations provide programs in trial advocacy and deposition skills, negotiation and transactional skills, and legal writing and presentation skills, but boutique law firms and small nonprofit organizations may not have the resources to provide these programs for their lawyers. So, how can these lawyers develop their skills? They become members of their state or local bar associations.
Professional Development
Bar associations provide professional development programs, similar to those provided by large law firms, for their members. A lawyer’s professional development and growth calls for a consistent professional framework that provides lawyers with the right experiences, learning, and coaching to achieve their potential and make a difference for their clients, their areas of law, and each other. Law firms and corporations provide such a framework for lawyers through formal and informal learning programs and mentoring programs. These programs give new attorneys the tools they need, allowing them to apply the knowledge gained to actual on-the-job situations, and provide valuable counseling from more experienced lawyers.
A typical professional development program organizes seminars and educational meetings in different practice areas that may include programs in trial advocacy and deposition skills, transactional issues, and legal writing and presentation skills. Moreover, such programs may include educational meetings and seminars to discuss developments in specific practice areas.
State and local bar associations, however, add an important ingredient to a lawyer’s professional development and growth that cannot be successfully obtained at a law firm or a corporation—networking. What better way to develop your networking skills than to be surrounded by lawyers of different ages, from different backgrounds, who practice different areas of law, and who work at different organizations?
Bar Association Networking Events
The Women’s Bar Association (WBA) and the Federal Bar Association (FBA) represent a scintilla of the many bar associations that provide professional development programs for their members. These two bar associations are notable because they offer exceptional, structured networking events that facilitate future development and growth for their members.
Each summer, the District of Columbia chapter of the WBA holds an annual networking event, “Women in the Law Night with the Mystics,” held in conjunction with the D.C. Lady Lawyers, at the Verizon Center before the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Washington Mystics’ season opener. Lawyers from different disciplines of law and law students gather for a unique, structured networking reception and a Mystics basketball game. This event, lead by Jennifer Schwab and Elizabeth Marvin, requires its participants to form small groups of five or six women and to introduce themselves to each other within their respective groups. Business cards are often swapped within these groups and the women are able to connect with other lawyers in the D.C. area.
The FBA offers twenty-five sections and divisions representing substantive law and special areas of practice. Sections and divisions provide continuing legal education programs and professional development programs, giving members opportunities to network with other lawyers in and outside their areas of law practice. Most sections of the FBA hold networking events for lawyers who practice within a specific area of law. During these networking events, five or six experienced lawyers are invited to share their career paths and backgrounds with the young lawyers. The young lawyers are divided into five or six smaller groups and an experienced lawyer is placed in each small group to field questions from the young lawyers. This type of networking event allows young lawyers to network with an experienced lawyer in their practice area in a small setting. Many mentorship relationships have been formed through this structured networking event.
Other Bar Association Opportunities
In addition to networking events, professional development programs are important for lawyers to develop their technical skills, knowledge about their practice areas, and networking skills. Sponsoring these types of programs makes joining your bar association a requirement, not an option, for a new lawyer to develop into an excellent lawyer.