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Start building your professional community: Bar involvement as a law student

Shayda Le
Shayda Le (second from right) attends the "Planting the Seed for a Judicial Career" event at the 2017 ABA Annual Meeting in New York.

As a law student, there are numerous opportunities for you to build and expand your professional community outside of the classroom environment. Becoming active in your local bar association during law school is an excellent way to get a jump start on building the community you will rely on as a lawyer.

Beyond the American Bar Association, there are bar organizations based on practice regions, practice areas, affinity groups, and more. Finding a bar association with which you feel a sense of community can make all the difference in networking throughout your time in law school, especially during your 3L year.

Spotlight: The Multnomah Bar Association Young Lawyers Section

As a spotlight, we would like to introduce you to our local bar organization in Portland, Oregon.  The Multnomah Bar Association, which encompasses the Portland metro area, is one of the largest bar associations in Oregon. The MBA’s Young Lawyers Section consists of members who are under the age of 36 or are within their first six years of practice.  As of the 2016-2017 bar year, we had 11 board members and four standalone committees focused on various areas of service to our members: the CLE Committee, the Membership Committee, the Pro Bono Committee, and the Service to the Public Committee.  Membership also provides ample opportunities for networking and professional development.

3L liaison: From the practicing lawyer’s perspective

In 2013, the MBA YLS Board introduced a board 3L Liaison position.  Each of the Oregon law schools was invited to select a 3L student who would attend our board meetings.   As an organization, we wanted to make inroads to connecting with law students and creating a pipeline to MBA YLS membership.

The MBA YLS provides numerous programs and resources to lawyers new to the practice and is always looking for new ways to reach the community of interest most likely to benefit from these programs.  Inviting a 3L to participate on the board allows the MBA YLS to help that 3L learn about our programs and events, and provides the board with valuable perspective on what types of initiatives might be most useful to recent graduates, as well as what changes or areas of focus were prominent within the law school curriculum and environment.

In addition, the 3L board liaison became an avenue for the MBA YLS Board to send information back to the law schools.

On a more individualized level, part of the hope was that the liaison position would introduce the particular 3L (and hopefully his or her fellow students) to the benefits of early involvement within the local legal community.  Part of the strength and benefit of any bar organization comes from the connections and genuine relationships which are fostered through involvement.

Personally, as I enter my sixth year of practice and my third year on the MBA YLS Board, I can see that the connections I have built through MBA involvement have helped me both in my substantive practice and in my own professional development.  I have a network of colleagues from which I can provide client with referrals.  More specifically, I can make those referrals with a genuine recommendation because of my familiarity with the particular attorney’s practice, community involvement, level of responsiveness, and professional commitment.

I have a network of resources to which I can turn for anything from a substantive legal issue to a question about how I might highlight my accomplishments during my annual review.  I also have a group of committed people I can contact when I have a volunteer project to staff, a writing opportunity to source, or other professional development avenues which I can offer or suggest to them.  It can also be a way to introduce yourself to potential job opportunities, whether as a graduating law student or as a lateral associate.

Personally, I came to be involved with the MBA YLS because other members who were well-involved reached out to me and took the time to demonstrate its benefits.  The 3L Liaison position is an opportunity to facilitate that same type of introduction for a third year law student.

3L liaison: From the law student’s perspective

As a law student, I recommend getting as involved as possible with a bar association that connects you with attorneys in your area who you want to someday work with, particularly by region or practice area. Most bar associations offer law students free membership, so there is no reason not to try out at least a few to find the ones that will be most rewarding to you.

I was first encouraged to apply to be the MBA YLS 3L Liaison by my mentor who was helping me job hunt at the time. She knew that the liaison position would be a great way for me to demonstrate my leadership skills to a group of practicing attorneys and to meet lawyers who work in a variety of practice areas in the Portland metro region. After an informational interview with the incoming MBA YLS Board President, I applied and was accepted as the 3L Liaison on behalf of Lewis & Clark Law School.

As liaison, I enjoy sharing our local bar association’s news and events with my classmates who are also looking for ways to network and learn about possible career paths. I am also learning about unique challenges that the local legal community is working to address, and I work to raise awareness of those issues at the law school level. It is encouraging to work with local attorneys who have a genuine interest in law students and future lawyers in their community. In this role, I am also constantly exposed to opportunities such as breakfasts with judges, unique CLEs, and community service events.

Like most opportunities, the position is what you make it. The more effort you put in, the greater the reward. Instead of just attending board meetings or just going to the networking events, it is beneficial to take the additional steps that will make your experience the most rewarding. You can use these opportunities to reach out to individual attorneys; ask to grab coffee and come with questions in order to learn what it is like to practice in that particular city or in that niche practice area. Because you will already have the connection of the local bar association, you have an automatic conversation starter for your informational interviews.

Between classes, clinics, law review, moot court, clerking, externships, networking, and other activities you may be balancing during law school, it is important to effectively use your spare time to connect with lawyers where you hope to practice. These connections are not only helpful for finding post-graduate employment, but also for getting a jumpstart on developing your professional reputation. For me, serving as the MBA YLS 3L Liaison checked all of those boxes, and I encourage you to look for similar opportunities in your local legal community

Shayda Le and Nicole Elgin Shayda Le advises employers, management, and higher education institutions on a wide range of employment issues and litigation. Shayda earned her B.S. at Portland State University, and her J.D. at Boston University School of Law. She is licensed to practice in Oregon, the U.S. District of Oregon, and Massachusetts. Nicole Elgin is the Law Clerk and future associate at Barran Liebman, where she supports attorneys in litigation, employment advice, and labor relations practice. Nicole received her J.D., cum laude, from Lewis & Clark Law School. Nicole served as the 3L Liaison to Lewis & Clark Law School on the Multnomah Bar Association Young Lawyers Section Board.