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Why every non-traditional law student should attend ABA Annual Meeting

Meredith Parnell
Meredith Parnell (center) listens to an ABA member at the roundtable session during the 2016 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

I’m a non-traditional law student. I’m a mid-thirties parent of two young kids. Balancing school work, a marriage, and parenting – it’s not easy. Neither was making the decision to walk away from a previous career to go to law school. For me, the decision was less about the intellectual pursuit (although that part is fun), and more about opening more doors professionally.

That’s why I joined the ABA, and why I think the ABA Annual Meeting is such a vital event for students like me. The Annual Meeting brings together thousands of the country’s top lawyers and legal professionals. It’s chock full of weighty educational programs, fun social events, advocacy opportunities, diverse vendors, and fascinating speakers. The networking and learning opportunities are unparalleled. And unlike the classroom, it’s all couched in the real world. There’s no question that the Annual Meeting is worth the time and money.

First, there are the Law Student Division events. These are a must do. Last year I received high-level feedback on my interview skills, learned more about student loan repayment strategies, and helped shape the ABA’s priorities when it comes to student-related policy issues. Most importantly, I met a ton of people – other students like me who are balancing law schools with other jobs and a family.

As a law student, you’re encouraged to attend events organized by other ABA sections and divisions as well. This year, I will be attending events sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division, the Center for Professional Responsibility, and the Section of Litigation. I also plan to check out an exclusive advanced screening of “Marshall”, an upcoming movie about Thurgood Marshall’s early days. I’ll also be going to the Trial of Two Pizzas and Reception – a social event which promises resolution to the long standing rivalry between New York and Chicago style pizza.

You may not be interested in these exact things, and that’s okay. There are over 100 entity CLE programs that you can attend to learn more about the practice area that you’re interested in joining. There is literally something for everyone.

Last year, attendance at the Annual Meeting was an unexpected launching pad for me into leadership within the ABA. I attended as a representative for my law school and went in with the goal of learning how to be a better representative. I did that, but I also learned about other leadership positions that would soon be opening up.  I met people who encouraged me to apply. I did and to my surprise, I got elected to a position that I’m really excited about. Through my new role, I’m meeting even more people and learning even more about various career paths that I didn’t know existed. And I have the opportunity to serve by bringing the voice of law students to the ABA Board of Governors.

If you’re in law school with an eye towards expanding your career opportunities, then your time is precious. Use it wisely by going to the ABA Annual Meeting and getting involved. You can control exactly how much you take on. You are guaranteed to meet and become friends with interesting and influential people from all over the country. Who knows, some of these people may be in your life for decades to come. Your career may be better for it. I look forward to seeing you in New York next week.

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Meredith Parnell Meredith Parnell is a rising 3L at Harvard Law School. Prior to law school, Meredith spent 12 years working on political and public interest campaigns. She is the ABA Representative from Harvard Law School, student liaison to the Center for Professional Responsibility, and student representative to the ABA Board of Governors. Meredith lives with her wife and two young kids in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She can be reached at