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The in-person value of the ABA: networking

Law students talk during a break during the ABA Annual Meeting in 2017.

For some, the bar exam is now a recent, trauma-filled memory, for others, it is just around the corner, and for some still, it’s a mythological beast to be slayed after 3L year.  While an important and necessary step for a law student’s transition from law student to lawyer, there is another necessary component to consider: networking.

In the social media fueled world in which we live, the true meaning of networking can be lost.  We find ourselves commenting on articles and re-tweeting infographics, and in doing so, believe that we have taken positive steps that day to increase our sphere of influence.  WRONG.

As law students and young lawyers, it is important to realize early in your career that meaningful networking is done in-person and through personal communication.  Networking events can be found through local or regional bar organizations; however, few organizations can increase and add value to your network as profoundly as the American Bar Association.

In the coming weeks, lawyers from all over the world will descend upon Chicago for the ABA Annual Meeting.  This event will host all ABA entities and its members for impactful CLE events, public service projects, and networking events.  The sheer number of ABA members and their diverse background make the ABA annual meeting a not-to-be-missed event for the law student and young lawyer.  The diversity in practice areas and background of ABA members means that the substantive conversations and programming at the ABA Annual Meeting are often those which are not being discussed at the local or regional levels.  Ultimately, this means that the information obtained at the Annual Meeting will allow you to become a thought leader at the local and regional levels—thereby adding value to your career.

In addition to the substantive law takeaways, the level of mentorship and leadership positions available to law students and young lawyers is unrivaled.  Such mentorship and leadership within the ABA (and beyond) starts with a handshake and a smile.  The culture cultivated within the ABA serves as an incubator for law students and young lawyers.  The association is not the stuffy board-room, but rather a room filled with colleagues eager to improve access to justice in the United States and assist any lawyer who wishes to do the same.

I get it – conferences are expensive and many employers are no longer reimbursing for such events.  When spending your designated “membership dollars”, there are many factors to consider and locality may be one of those.  If that is you, I encourage you to look at all that the ABA can provide—CLE credit, webinars, toolkits, ListServs—the list goes on-and-on.  These tangible benefits are experienced and supplemented at in-person conferences, such as the Annual Meeting.

All of that being said, I will leave you with this, the value I have personally received as a result of my ABA membership far exceeds the costs associated with the same.  I have expanded my network and generated billable business for my firm from referral sources met at ABA conferences.  That being said, the practice of law is one which requires an investment.  At the end of the day, this is your career, not your firm’s.  You need to invest and cultivate the career you want, not the career your firm wants for you.

Raymond J. Panneton Raymond L. Panneton is the current Social Media Coordinator for the ABA YLD, and is heavily involved in the ABA TIPS Medicine and Law Committee. He practices civil litigation with Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, PC in Houston, Texas.