A rousing WELCOME to the newest members of the Illinois bar!
This past November, a new crowd of smiling faces were sworn in as the newest members of the Illinois bar. We salute and congratulate each and every one of the new members of this legal community. We would also like to provide a special welcome to those members who are part of the community of racial and ethnic minorities (“REM”). After the conclusion of your celebration with family, friends, and supporters, consider these brief tips that I hope will help you navigate the first years of the legal profession.
- Join a bar association. If you have just passed the bar exam (congratulations!!), remember that many bar associations offer free membership for the first year after you have passed the bar. You might consider starting with the ISBA, at www.isba.org.
- Create a mentoring circle. Whether formal or informal, having guideposts and resources outside of our employment is ALWAYS a good thing. In fact, you can have more than one mentor, and different levels of mentoring relationships. On one hand, sign up for mentorship programs. On the other, if there is an attorney who you know and admire, perhaps through an alumni network or past internship or clerkship, keep the communication open – have lunch or coffee from time to time. It’s easier to start an ongoing mentor-style relationship than you might think. You might start by telling him or her that you want to brainstorm about your job search, your first trial prep, etc. (I’ve even used mentors to help walk/talk me though moments when I felt I was being underestimated because of my race or sex. I would have not navigated those moments as well as I did without those relationships.) I would venture that most attorneys are happy to share what we have learned over the years and help young attorneys through some of the inevitable growing pains.
And, of course, there are also formal mentoring programs and activities organized through various bar associations, including but not limited to the Cook County Bar Associations, the Chicago Bar Association, The Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, and the Black Women Lawyer’s Association of Chicago. If you are looking for a place to begin, the ISBA offers a Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring program. You can find more information about the program at https://www.isba.org/mentoring .
- Why wait for a CLE? There is always going to be something that you could learn how to do or navigate a little better. Maybe you want to learn more about electronic discovery, or taking and defending depositions, or even copyright law. At any point in your career, you are only a click away from publications that address these areas in detail. You don’t have to wait for a CLE to begin to read and learn about an area that you want to explore or master.
- Take an e-filing class. NOW! E-Filing is now mandatory in most state and federal cases in Illinois. Don’t wait until your job arranges for you to take an e-filing class. Find one now, enroll, and make sure you know the rules. When it is crunch time, you will be glad to be one of the attorneys who is already familiar with the e-filing systems.
- Don’t forget that YOU are still the biggest investment of your career! Law school was a huge investment in your career. But the substantive investment doesn’t stop there! Some employers give ample leeway to join bar associations and attend legal conferences, including giving time off and paying for or subsidizing the costs. Other employers do not help cover the costs, and may not even be lenient with the time you might need to meet your CLE requirements. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, remember that you need not let your employer’s policies or interests dictate what you learn. Don’t wait for someone else to decide what skills YOU sharpen, or determine how much YOU put into your personal index of legal skills.
I remember with a bit of nostalgia the day that I was sworn in before the Illinois Supreme Court. Though my career path has not always been easy or well paved, I am glad to say that, fifteen years later, I have no regrets about my decision to become a practicing attorney. I wish the same for all of the new members of our esteemed Illinois legal community.