After a few years doing the law school thing, I can confirm that some of my choices have worked rather well, and some of my choices have worked rather poorly. Among the former, fortunately, was my decision to become involved with several bar associations, including the ABA.
In addition to active involvement since my 1L year in Mound City Bar Association (my local African-American bar association), the National Bar Association, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, our local Hispanic Bar Association affiliate, our local women lawyers’ association, and our local South Asian Bar Association, I eventually finally attended the ABA Young Lawyers Division Spring Conference in St. Louis in 2016. I confess that, until then, I had considered student involvement in the ABA irrelevant at best.
I was so wrong.
My decision to attend that Spring Conference was not out of any newly found insightfulness. Rather, it was out of convenience. The meeting convened on the day after my last exam of the semester, in the same town as my law school. Within minutes of my arrival at the Spring Conference, I became aware that I had been missing so much.
My first discovery was that many of the most influential attorneys of my local community were participating in the meeting and were active in the ABA. This included many of the senior attorneys with whom it was to my advantage to become acquainted. As a result of my greater involvement in the ABA, many of these local leaders are now among my most valued mentors, promoters, and sounding boards.
My second discovery at that Spring Conference was the community of lawyers across the country who over a couple of years have become my friends, allies, mentors, and cheerleaders. Because my expanded network now includes attorneys at every stage of a legal career and in every practice area that I can imagine, I have people that I can and have queried for their experience and insights about everything from compensation, to their subject matter expertise, to even clothing advice.
My third discovery was that, generally, ABA involvement need not compete with one’s involvement in other geographic, professional, identity, or affinity bar associations. It can be a complement. I have found that, even as a student, my ABA world can and has become the hub of a cluster of overlapping circles of legal communities. My involvement in the ABA has enhanced my effectiveness, clout, knowledge, network of advisors to call upon, and governance skills within the other bar associations listed above. The ABA is where I go to learn what other bars are doing and to what extent it works for them. I am able to bring these benefits to my local bar associations.
My fourth discovery was that my involvement in the ABA and other bars greatly enhanced, rather than distracted me from, my law school education. Through my conversations with my new ABA and NBA colleagues, I found opportunities to better understand doctrinal and technical legal concepts taught in law school and to place them in practical context. In addition, the wealth of CLEs I have attended have helped me to understand, prepare for, and apply my coursework. Without a doubt, this educational enhancement indeed made me a better summer associate.
And, by the way, my excellent 1L and 2L summer associate positions arose out of bar associations and the relationships that they enabled me to develop.
My fifth and perhaps most important discovery was the enhanced opportunity to serve my fellow law students, our chosen profession, and the greater communities of which we are a part. The examples are now many. At ABA Day, I joined the state delegations of leading lawyers and judges from across our nation in Washington, D.C., to speak to members of both houses of Congress with a unified voice about funding Legal Services Corporation and legal assistance programs that benefit veterans in our rural and urban communities. In the ABA House of Delegates, I offered the voice of the indebted law student concerned about his/her professional and financial future. In my Student Bar Association and other student groups at my school, I brought home broader perspectives to benefit my classmates. In my local bar associations, I helped us to conduct more effective activities like know-your-rights events, voter registration, strengthening community infrastructure, judicial endorsement policies, and member recruitment.
When young lawyers and law students “show up,” we have opportunities for us to inform senior lawyers, judges, and policymakers from our perspective. When we “show up,” we become relevant. Through it all, I am now a more valuable citizen of my school, city, state, country and profession.
So does ABA involvement matter? It depends – on what matters to you.