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Are we doing all we can to make young lawyers feel welcome and give them value for their membership?
Membership in bar associations has declined nationwide, yet the attorney population has increased. Various factors account for this decline, ranging from economic conditions to demographics.
For example, the largest segment of Illinois lawyers is 30-49 years old. The largest age segment of ISBA members is 50-74 years old. By far, our largest pool of potential new members is young lawyers.
Basic data shows that younger members have a different perspective regarding joining associations and developing professional relationships and networking. Joining associations used to be taken for granted. Today, potential members are looking for a more immediate and tangible return on investment.
As a bar association, we must make sure that we are relevant to our newer members, making membership an attractive investment. Here are just a few steps the ISBA and its veteran members can take to help young lawyers get value for their dues.
Mentoring and one-on-one connections
One way to bring lawyers into the ISBA fold is to meet them one on one. Mentoring is a good start. The ISBA supports the Illinois Supreme Court's Commission on Professionalism Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program. Click on http://www.isba.org/mentoring for details, including how you can earn MCLE credit for mentoring.
Another way is to casually meet lawyers, whether through ISBA and local bar activities or in the hallway of the courthouse. Remember what it was like to be a young lawyer. We were fortunate to have role models in our first place of employment. Many of today's young lawyers do not have that luxury, and they can't grow as lawyers by themselves.
Don't forget that law students will soon be young lawyers. My law partner, ISBA Past President Leonard F. Amari, has instituted a mentoring program to help young John Marshall Law School students perform well in school. The graduates of his program, in turn, pay it forward and become the mentors of the newly admitted law students. Many of these people eventually become active ISBA members.
My alma mater, the Chicago-Kent College of Law, has a semi-annual program where alumni volunteer to host a dinner with students. The students are given a sign-up list of various alumni, their areas of practice, and dinner location. The lists fill up quickly. Of course, I utilize these dinners to speak about the importance of joining bar associations for networking and professional development.
Minnesota's Committee 36
The Minnesota State Bar Association, under the leadership of its president, Brent Routman, has started a program called "Committee 36." The title refers to the demographic of newly admitted bar members who "fall off" and don't renew after the 36-month mark.
Their bar is working with their state's four law schools to identify graduates and assign them a coach who will identify various people to serve as a resource. They do not view this as a mentoring program but rather as a holistic approach to serve the needs of the law school graduate.
The bar association assigns a team to participating graduates made up of in-house lawyers, public interest and public sector lawyers, judges, bankers, recruiters, malpractice carriers, mental health and substance abuse counselors, etc. They will address various concerns, including debt burden, job searches, the practice of law, leadership development, ethics, business development, and networking.
The Minnesota Bar has graciously offered to share their program with other bar associations, and we wish them success and are looking forward to seeing their results. In the meantime, on an individual basis, we can incorporate some of these ideas when we speak to young lawyers.
The power of technology
Of course, when it comes to technology, nobody is more comfortable with communicating and multitasking in the cloud or via social media than young lawyers. The ISBA will continue to make new offerings in this area.
More CLEs will be offered online, many geared toward young lawyers. We now have a web page, www.isba.org/practicetech, dedicated to technology and practice management. It's a one-stop shop for software and systems, information, and advice on how to better run your practice.
As many people are on social media today as were living on this earth 100 years ago. The ISBA will continue to stay in touch with members through Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn discussion groups.
We have so much to offer, and we are the perfect bar association for newly admitted attorneys, especially with all of the great programming offered by our Young Lawyers Division. A little outreach can make a great difference. Think about what could happen if each of us got just one new lawyer involved in the ISBA.