Taking the Pulse of Young Lawyers: Two Affiliates Administer Surveys to Their Memberships

Volume 38, Number 2


Keya Koul is the Associate Editor of The Affiliate and the Associate Managing Attorney at Castle Stawiarski, LLC in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In hard economic times, serving the members of an organization becomes even more of a challenge and knowing the members’ issues and needs becomes crucial for the success of the organization. One way to measure member needs and satisfaction is to administer a survey to glean important information about trends in the community.

During this past bar year, both the Chicago Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section and the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Young Lawyers Division surveyed their memberships to obtain valuable information about the state of the profession for young lawyers in each affiliate and to gauge sentiment about the benefits offered by the affiliate.

Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section (CBA YLS)

The impetus for the CBA YLS to implement the survey during this bar year stemmed from numerous conversations with young lawyers, especially those one to three years out of law school and unemployed, under-employed, or not working in a traditional legal environment. The CBA YLS wanted to gauge the current state of the profession from the best source possible, its members. An important consideration for the survey was the idea that leaders of a bar organization often have specific ideas about what the bar can do to help its members, but a survey provides valuable information about what benefits and opportunities its members are seeking from the organization.

The original idea for the CBA YLS survey came from the Danish Association for Lawyers and Economists (DJØF) and the leadership of Lars Mørup Petersen and Morten Schwartz Nielsen. Lars and Morten presented the DJØF’s survey of the legal profession in Denmark during the ABA Annual Meeting in 2008. They provided the CBA YLS with guidance, methodology, and the results of their work, as well as translations into English.

Using DJØF’s questions as a starting point, 2011−2012 CBA YLS Chair Justin Heather drafted the initial set of questions. Those questions were then reviewed and improved by several of the current CBA YLS officers, including current Chair Natacha D. McClain. The CBA staff also vetted the questions for readability to ensure a successful product. The survey committee spent approximately two months drafting, reviewing, and revising the questions for inclusion in the survey.

The CBA YLS survey format was multiple choice with several optional questions that allowed respondents to provide narrative answers. Even though the narrative responses were optional, several respondents chose to answer those questions. The survey was administered through SurveyMonkey, an online resource. Given the large number of questions (85) and the need for a potential large number of responses, this provided the most economical method (cost was about $300).

The survey topics included questions about the current state of the profession and questions regarding the performance of the CBA YLS. All young lawyer members of the affiliate (somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000) were sent the survey, and 676 responded. New CLE and career development programs are being developed based on the feedback received from the survey. The CBA YLS is also continuing to vary the locations and times of its monthly socials.

“I think the survey was a great success because, while it confirmed that the CBA YLS is viewed by its members as beneficial for both career and personal development, it also provided insights to further improve our programming. Other affiliates can easily use our model, and in fact, I have already shared information and the questions we asked with several so that they can solicit input and advice from their members in order to better serve them in the future,” stated Justin Heather.

Some statistics from the survey results:

  • Current State of the Profession—72% of respondents stated that they have good opportunities to develop their professional skills and 63% indicated that their employers support such development. In contrast, less than 48% believed that their current position offers good career growth opportunities. Respondents felt that the practice of law would be improved by greater civility and professionalism, less emphasis on the billable hour, higher standards for practicing lawyers, and more practical training during law school.
  • CBA YLS Programming and Initiatives—About half of the respondents were members of three or more bar associations. Over 50% spent less than two hours a week on bar activities, with 40% spending no time. Over 60% of respondents were very aware or familiar with the various CBA YLS pro bono and public service projects and nearly 70% agreed that these programs and projects were an important public benefit. Nearly 86% of respondents, however, had not participated in one of these projects.
  • Key Demographics—43% of respondents had been in practice for less than two years, and 68% of respondents made less than $100,000 a year.

For a copy of the survey results, please visit


State Bar of Wisconsin Young Lawyers Division (SBW YLD)

The SBW YLD conducted its first survey in 2011, and the 2012 survey focused on three key areas that members had identified as top priorities in the first survey—networking, mentoring, and student debt. Attorneys Jeni Dye and Chuck Stertz and State Bar of Wisconsin staff member Fred Petillo developed the questions for this year’s survey. The SBW YLD Affiliate Affairs Committee oversaw the survey’s administration.

The SBW YLD used a multiple choice format with a box for narrative comments and administered the survey through SurveyMonkey. The entire SBW YLD received the survey, which consists of 4,682 members, and 333 of those members completed the survey. The survey was designed as an internal tool to focus the SBW YLD’s projects on issues important to its members.

“The Wisconsin YLD’s 2012 survey proved to be a huge success and provided invaluable information the YLD board and Wisconsin State Bar will use for years to come,” stated Attorney Chuck Stertz, Chair of the SBW YLD Legislative Affairs Committee.

Some statistics from the survey results:

  • Networking—46.4% of respondents attended networking events over the last 12 months with 49.4% of those young lawyers attending State Bar or Young Lawyers Division networking events. The reasons cited to attend networking events included to learn new things (54.1%), develop sources of referrals (47.1%), and build a reputation (41.4%).
  • Mentoring—13% of respondents are currently in a mentoring program, and 70% of young lawyers reported no participation in a mentoring program during their career. Young lawyers reported access to mentorships was 57% through law firms and 25.7% through county bar associations.
  • Student Debt—84.7% of respondents believe that law schools and the federal government should help solve the problem of law student debt, and 41.1% reported that loan repayment assistance programs would help with their loans. Survey respondents reported median income as $57,000, and 84% of respondents reported working full time.

For a copy of the survey results, please contact Chuck Stertz at chuck.stertz@da.wi.gov.


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