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Why I’m glad I engaged with the ABA

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ABA Annual Meeting
Law students check out their pictures in front of the ABA backdrop at the 2019 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

When we suggest you get involved at the ABA, you don’t have to take just our word for it. There are thousands of lawyers nationwide who’ve joined the ABA and then seen their involvement expand in ways they never anticipated.

Often, lawyers don’t expect to become as involved in the ABA as they end up being—it just evolves organically.

Here, legal professionals who made the choice to dip their toes into all the ABA offers explain why they eventually dove in head first and are all the better for it.

Struggling no more

One of the most invaluable benefits I’ve received from being a part of the ABA is being connected to so many different attorneys throughout the country.

The summer after my 1L year, I had to choose between trying to write on for law review or applying for the ABA Law Student Division’s editorial board. I chose the board knowing I’d have to reach out to lawyers and law students across the country and that my articles would be read by students nationwide.

Being a part of the ABA gave me the opportunity to get my name out there in the legal world, which was especially helpful since I struggled my first year and didn’t think I had a shot at typical law school opportunities.

Since then, I’ve made so many connections and lifelong friends I don’t think I’d have made otherwise.

I know defense attorneys, prosecutors, estate planning attorneys, IP attorneys, civil litigators, mediators, judicial clerks, judges, and professors outside my own region. I know I can reach out to any one of them if I need help in an area of practice with which I’m unfamiliar.

One of my most memorable moments was when a student from UIC John Marshall Law School reached out to me after seeing my name in the magazine. She asked to have coffee since she was clerking for a local firm.

We’ve maintained regular contact since that day, and she even invited me to watch the Omaha Storm Chasers— our Triple-A baseball team— play from a suite rented out by the firm for which she was clerking. I must have met 15 attorneys from that firm at that game, something I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do without having been a part of the ABA.

Jessica Gilgor, associate, Brian J. Muench, P.C., Omaha, Neb.

I saw I belonged

Here’s one concrete benefit I received from my participation in ABA: I’ve attended two Women in Litigation conferences at which I’ve listened to a great number of women recount their stories of success in the profession.

Representation matters. As a woman, seeing hundreds of accomplished lady lawyers gathered together to celebrate one another reassured me that I belong.

Jennifer Fischell, associate, MoloLamken, New York City

I learned how to lead

My journey with the YLD began in 2014. What I’ve received has exceeded my expectations. My membership has enriched my professional and personal life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

I’ve gained lifelong friendships and invaluable mentorships, developed a strong community, and discovered a newfound passion for the profession.

Most importantly, I’ve been empowered to lead.

In short, I learned how to lead with confidence. Becoming an effective leader is a process. It doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes introspection, mentorship, and practice.

During my time in the YLD, I’ve experienced leadership in several different capacities. Each of these roles taught me something different, something new. They illuminated my leadership strengths and weaknesses, exposing an opportunity for introspection and growth.

I’ve learned we’re all leaders in our own way. We all possess a special skill set that makes us uniquely qualified to contribute to improving the profession.

Also, these experiences taught me a few key lessons—the importance of developing a vision and setting goals; how to foster buy-in from your team; prioritizing collaboration; delegation; the importance of appreciation for your team, meaning meeting them where they are and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses; taking ownership; and promoting your team’s success.

Empowered leadership, meaning leading with confidence, not only ensures the success of the project or task at hand. It empowers those around you to also lead with confidence. You’ll notice this confidence is contagious. It will bleed into all facets of your life—impacting your professional and personal life and your relationships.

Empowered leadership is a journey. My journey began and lives in the YLD. On this journey, I’ve renewed my personal self-confidence, reaffirmed my commitment to the profession, and found my unique voice.

I encourage you to start your journey.

Tamara P. Nash, prosecutor, Sioux Falls, S.D.

A place for shy networkers

Pursuing a career in law may feel daunting.

For many students, networking is hammered as the best practice for discovering passions and career paths.

Many students, like myself, initially disregard networking. Some think their academic record will speak for itself; others believe their connections will carry them along; and many, rightfully so, are scared away by the social and professional nuances. For me, it was all of the above.

In fact, these fears nearly kept me from attending the annual ABA Business Law Section event in 2019. With some persuasion, I accepted my professor’s invitation. But I still dreaded the thought of a four-day small-talk session with a bunch of lawyers, or even worse, judges.

Then salvation: A few friends agreed to tag along so we could all be miserable together. And when we arrived, we met several other horrified souls who were also seeking company.

First up was a “speed-interview” session where students rotated around a room full of business law professionals.

Despite my initial timidity, with each encounter, my confidence grew.

Even better were the connections I was making. I left that session with no fewer than a dozen business cards, many from lawyers who helped propel me to where I am today.

My last conversation in particular struck me. We had a lot of common interests, and he was clearly an expert on numerous fields of law. It wasn’t just his legal acumen but his articulation of the difficult questions he faced every day.

And below the name on his business card, it said, “Bankruptcy Judge.” My worst fear—facing a judge—made me realize that I was able to talk to anyone, regardless of title or experience.

Shortly after that conversation, I attended my first meeting, which just so happened to be with the Business Law Section’s Young Lawyers Committee. A few months later, I joined the YLC as co-chair of its law student subcommittee. The opportunity has encouraged me to continue my outreach and expand my horizons.

I also moderated a YLC panel that focused on helping law students land their first job in business law. Since then, I’ve met countless knowledgeable attorneys who’ve served as valuable mentors, colleagues, and friends.

I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with the Business Law
Section and the YLC.

Matthew Mantell, 3L, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

A path to a national practice

My practice centers on administrative law—not the dry stuff of law school classes but on the fact that regulatory legislation and agency implementation touch every area of human activity. I started as a student liaison to the Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice Section while in law school. I continued through the committees and council to become section chair.

At each stage, I learned more about how I could provide clients with legal insights, gain mentors and friends, and build a practice. Through the Election Committee, I gained an expertise in election law that has afforded me the opportunity to represent national candidates and campaigns.

None of this would have been possible without being a part of the ABA
and one of its sections.

John Hardin Young, counsel, Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, Washington, D.C.

A voice amplified by the ABA

I’m glad I joined the ABA because I’ve made valuable connections with attorneys from across the country through the meetings and my work as an associate editor of TYL magazine.

I also proposed a resolution on parental leave for attorneys, which the ABA House of Delegates passed. It essentially provides that a lead attorney’s motion for a continuance based on parental leave shall be granted if it’s made within a reasonable time, unless the opposing party shows it will substantially prejudice their client.

The presumptive length of the continuance is three months.

After the resolution passed in the ABA House of Delegates, it garnered support in my home state of Florida, resulting in the Florida Supreme Court adopting it.

Ingrid P. Benson-Villegas, partner, Walton Lantaff, Schroeder & Carson, Miami

A solo builds his own team

I got involved with the ABA YLD through a regional summit. It was the first time I got to sit down with other new lawyers from across our region, including New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts, to discuss program ideas and coordination across our state bars. Harnessing the connections I made at that event, I went on to host two regional summits, increasing participation to Connecticut and Rhode Island.

From these humble beginnings, I’ve worked to become more involved at the national level, attending YLD conferences in various cities. Each was a fantastic opportunity to hear from local leaders and meet with lawyers from across the country. I now have connections in every region of the country who are great sources of inspiration, camaraderie, and even potential business.

I started not knowing a single person at the YLD, and I’ll never forget the warm welcome I received at my first conference. One of the best activities at these meetings is the dining night out, where the attendees are shuffled randomly into groups to go out to local restaurants. Everyone is on even footing getting to meet each other fresh while enjoying the local cuisine. These dinners are always a highlight, and some of my closest friendships have come from these random groupings.

As a sole practitioner, my YLD contacts have been an invaluable source of business since I handle Massachusetts personal injury claims that may arise with residents from out of state. I’ve often reached out to my YLD contacts to help answer questions of interstate law and to refer clients when they have an issue outside Massachusetts.

It’s these contacts that have formed the basis of my practice and allowed me to thrive as a sole practitioner for more than five years.

Samuel A. Segal, Law Offices of Samuel A. Segal, Boston

A platform to build a career

Less than a month after I began my term as an ABA YLD district representative to the U.S. Virgin Islands, two category 5 hurricanes hit St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, leaving a trail of devastation.

It was now my responsibility to mobilize volunteer attorneys to assist with the many civil legal issues on the horizon.

I soon found myself on a phone call that would change my life. Speaking with representatives of Legal Services of the Virgin Islands about the best ways to engage local attorneys, our conversation shifted to their interest in bringing me onto their team. It’s fair to say that my leadership role at the ABA planted the seed for my future career at the organization.

For the past two years, it has been my privilege to run its disaster advocacy program and to help the most vulnerable members of my community navigate a devastating period of their lives.

The YLD gave me the leadership training, support, and platform to find my career.

Casey Payton, supervising attorney, Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Meeting different thinkers

Being a member of the ABA has made me a better attorney in two ways. First, it has shown me how my immediate practice area is impacted by legal and policy developments outside my particular area.

As a nuclear energy lawyer, my practice is highly specialized. But belonging to ABA sections that cut across various industries gives me insights into how my niche practice is affected by such broader practices as administrative and environmental law.

That exposure allows me to anticipate potential trends.

Second, ABA membership has afforded me the opportunity to interact in a unique forum with attorneys in my practice area whose views on legal and policy issues differ from mine. Serving on ABA committees with these practitioners in a collaborative and non-adversarial setting broadens my perspectives and allows me to more fully understand differing viewpoints.

That helps improve my own legal analyses and advocacy.

Darani Reddick, director, regulatory initiatives, Exelon Generation, Washington, D.C.

Exploring your own greatness

After more than 40 years as a lawyer, I find it’s not the great substantive CLE programs or outstanding publications that stand out as the most valuable benefit of ABA membership.

Much more meaningful to my successful career has been the communication and leadership skills I’ve learned from my colleagues. More-experienced ABA mentors taught me how to lead meetings and to inspire colleagues to give their best.

They modeled how to resolve conflicting viewpoints with respect to reach consensus. They reminded me that every interaction should be conducted with respect and empathy—and showed me just how effective that approach is, time after time. I learned how to delegate while remaining supportive and how to respond when a colleague encountered grief or loss.

I’m not sure these mentors knew they were my guides; they were just doing what they always do, and I was paying attention.

In the process, I became a better professional, whether in the role of supervisor or subordinate. I earned my colleagues’ respect and sometimes their admiration. Now I spend much of my ABA time passing along what I’ve learned to other attorneys.

That seems the best way to thank the many men and women who’ve made time over the years to show me how to be better.

I’m reminded of the words of John Buchan, a former governor general of Canada and the author of a book made into one of Hitchcock’s best movies, The 39 Steps: “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” Being active in the ABA is a wonderful way to explore your own greatness.

Jo Ann Engelhardt, LL.M., AEP® (distinguished), managing director, senior client advisor/regional compliance liaison, Bessemer Trust, Palm Beach, Fla.

Disillusioned no more

It was through the ABA that I learned how prioritizing personal well-being and work-life balance isn’t only a part of, but is essential to, a healthy practice. Up to that point in my legal career, enforcing my own personal boundaries in the workplace and the legal community seemed antithetical to career growth. I’d become disillusioned, and I didn’t think the legal community was a place for me.

But it’s because of the ABA’s emphasis on well-being and advocating for your health and happiness that I found a home in the law. The profession finally started to talk about issues important to me, and it continues to do so every day.

In my current role as the YLD’s wellness director, I’ve planned and participated (from the comfort of my own home) in a health food cooking class, a mindfulness water-coloring event, and countless well-being CLEs on such topics as coping with the stress of student loan burdens and practicing law without losing your authentic self.

Watch for upcoming YLD events to learn, as I did, how to find your place in our profession.

Whittney A. Dunn, risk manager, The Bar Plan, St. Louis

The boomerang effect

What have I received from ABA participation?

I’ve been licensed since 2018. By this summer, across four ABA entities, I’ll have written multiple blog posts, three magazine articles, and part of a book—and I’ll have co-taught seven CLEs or webinars. I’ve also been able to rapidly become competent and current in my substantive areas of practice by learning from the best in the business.

Participation in the ABA has also revealed opportunities I hadn’t even known existed, such as getting to serve in the ABA House of Delegates and receiving board appointments.

I now have lawyer mentors at every level and have had countless opportunities to mentor and encourage others.

I also have a safe space to make mistakes and bounce ridiculous and brilliant ideas.

But one thing I’ve learned as an ABA member is that little in our profession is linear if we engage with the bar community. The connections are like elastic boomerangs.

The LSD elected me to the House of Delegates, and I then became part of my state delegation. Relationships that started in the House of Delegates have benefited me in several ways back in my state and city. Those relationships created opportunities to present local CLEs. And so on, and so on.

Rene Morency, MBA/LLM (tax), counsel, Prudent Counsel, St. Louis

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.