The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

August 2013Volume 101Number 8Page 400

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Reaching Out to Generation Next

New admittees and young lawyers face different challenges and have different expectations than their more senior colleagues. New President Paula Hudson Holderman is determined to make sure the ISBA speaks their language.

ISBA President Paula Hudson Holderman has a varied and lengthy docket for her tenure, focused on the development of young attorneys but also prominently including issues like gender and racial diversity in the profession, defining and marketing the value of ISBA membership, and the future of the court system in an era of fiscal cutbacks in government.

The fourth woman to be elected ISBA president in its 137-year history, Holderman brings broad and varied experience as an attorney, from her current role as chief attorney development officer at Winston & Strawn in Chicago to past positions in the Champaign County and Cook County state's attorneys offices and at her alma mater, John Marshall Law School.

A helping hand for new lawyers

Holderman's role at Winston & Strawn has given her a vantage point on the challenging climate facing new attorneys since the national recession of five years ago. Clients began asking for more predictability in billing, fewer deals got done, and firms began to hire fewer lawyers and downsizing some who were already there, she notes.

"Now we're seeing five years after the recession hit, that it is also hitting law schools, and it is hitting new lawyers," Holderman says. "Firms need to have lawyers working for them who can basically hit the ground running - they need more experienced lawyers, there are more experienced lawyers in the market [due to downsizing] - as the new law school graduates come out, there are very few jobs for them."

Citing recent ABA statistics that about 45 percent of new graduates haven't found legal jobs within nine months of graduation, she says, "If you combine that with the law school debt, you can have - I hate to use the overused term 'the perfect storm' - but that's kind of what's happening." That didn't happen suddenly when the recession began, she adds. "It's a ripple effect. It's taken five years. We started seeing it a few years ago, but we've really become cognizant of it in 2013. The impact has moved downstream."

To explore what impact the ISBA could have on this issue, Holderman has appointed a New Lawyers Task Force, chaired by two successful young attorneys, Marron Mahoney and Brian Monico, who have surmounted these challenges themselves but have plenty of former classmates who are struggling. (For more on the task force, see the President's Page on p. 384.) "I determined that I wanted young people to look at this issue, as opposed to myself or my contemporaries," she says. "To some extent, even though I work with young lawyers every day - that's really what I do - I feel I can be insulated."

Holderman wants task force members to talk about their own challenges and those of their contemporaries throughout the state, and to come back with recommendations on what the bar association might do to alleviate them. "We do have some ideas already," she says. "I'm quite intent on getting the perspective of the young people, rather than me as a very experienced lawyer trying to say, 'Yeah, this is what I see, this is what the problem is, and this is how we're going to fix it.'"

Potential solutions on the table thus far include offering financial counseling for young attorneys about how to handle their debt load, debt counseling for prospective law students so they can see "what the impact of having this law school debt is before they incur all of it," and creating a clearinghouse to help steer recent graduates to geographic and practice areas where openings are more plentiful, Holderman says.

"People often ask me, 'Don't you think we have too many lawyers?'" she says. "The answer to that is no, but we have too many lawyers trying to find jobs in, frankly, our major metropolitan areas. There are many suburban and rural areas that desperately need lawyers.…So while some say there are too many lawyers, my point is we need to apportion the lawyers better."

The clearinghouse would pair newly minted graduates with senior suburban or rural attorneys, some of them solo practitioners, who are nearing retirement age. "Can we match up young lawyers who would like to have that kind of practice, but who need to get the training to start, to work with the more senior lawyers, get the training, get to know that lawyer's clients, and get to know that lawyer's neighborhood?" Holderman says.

Retooling the ISBA for the next generation

Holderman's concern for the fate of new attorneys dovetails another agenda item: While the ISBA has been catering to the needs of its current members, the association hasn't necessarily appealed as strongly to newer attorneys - in keeping with an overall societal trend that younger generations are less likely to join professional associations, she says.

"Associations generally, since the year 2000, have seen a decline in membership as younger people come into the workforce," Holderman says. "The height of associations started after World War II. Over the last 13 years, we've definitely seen a decline, and that has impacted state bar associations." To counteract that trend, she says, "We need to look at what are the services and benefits that the next generation of lawyers in our profession…need and want."

For starters, the ISBA might need to re-think how it communicates with members - and facilitates their networking with one another. While annual meetings and smaller gatherings of committees or section councils traditionally have been viewed as among the greatest benefits of membership, younger generations don't seem to value in-person networking as much as their elders do, Holderman says.

"They have social media communications available to them, so they use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other means of electronically communicating with one another, which my generation never did," she says. "We need to figure out what younger members of the profession need from a bar association, and then [ask], how can we provide that?…We need to determine what makes us relevant."

Part of doing so will mean thinking critically about member benefits ISBA offers and whether they match up well with the current realities attorneys face. For example, the car rental discount might not mean much to younger attorneys who can't necessarily afford to take an airline vacation - but the bar association's new offer of 15 free hours of MCLE per year to member attorneys could save them as much as $2,000, Holderman says.

"We have to look at how we market that," she says. "I don't want to dilute our main message with…the myriad of other little benefits that we offer.

Strengthening ties with women, minority lawyers

Another area where the ISBA will build ties to members and the profession as a whole is by promoting the ascension of women and minority attorneys, which Holderman sees as a work in progress, noting that the percentage of women partners in large law firms has been about 16 percent and minority partners closer to 2 percent for several years.

"While we certainly have seen huge strides both with respect to women and minorities in the profession, the statistics have kind of stagnated," she says. "There is still a pay disparity among gender and diverse lawyers. That's something I would like to concentrate on.…People coming into the profession are now 50-50 men and women, but yet the statistics in terms of those people at the top have not changed."

ISBA will hold a program to highlight the progress of female attorneys on Aug. 22, co-sponsored with the 7th Circuit Bar Association, and underwritten by (and held at) Winston & Strawn. The program will hark back to the first national meeting of female lawyers, held in Chicago in August 1893, in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition and World's Fair. And the event will celebrate upcoming milestones like Justice Rita Garman becoming chief of the Illinois Supreme Court and Judge Diane Wood becoming the first female chief of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals. "We're going to look at where we've been, where we are, and where we're going," Holderman says. (For more, see LawPulse at p. 390.)

Holderman will ask the Women in the Law Committee to examine gender pay disparity, particularly at medium-sized and smaller firms, and she plans to continue the Illinois Law & Leadership Institute program, which promotes diversity in the law, and which Holderman led the effort to create in 2011. The free summer immersion program exposes a diverse group of high school students to careers in the law.

"This is to get these young, diverse kids to start thinking about a career in the law and what it entails," she says. "They have to graduate high school, do well and graduate college to be able to get into law school. We want them to see that it's possible but, frankly, it takes planning, it takes perseverance, and to see that they have role models in the community."

Holderman recalls a letter from a young man who had been through the program and just finished his freshman year at University of Illinois. He's doing a law firm internship this summer, and "he just wanted to write and thank us for the direction we gave him," she says. Nearly 100 such young people will have completed the program by the end of this summer, she adds, noting that ISBA partners with the Just the Beginning Foundation to bring about the programming.

Court funding and civic education

Also tied closely with Holderman's concern for the future of the legal profession is the future of the courts, which she sees as challenged at both the state and federal level. In Illinois, she notes, funding for the courts is less than 1 percent of the state budget, despite the fact that the judiciary is one of three allegedly co-equal branches of government.

"It's always been bad, but it hasn't always been quite that awful," Holderman says of the courts' funding. "Not only is the percentage low, but frankly it's somewhat unpredictable. Courts don't know, from one year to the next, what their funding level is going to be.…We'd certainly like to increase the revenue that is allotted and budgeted; just as importantly, we'd like to stabilize that funding." The federal sequester has created similar problems in federal courts, she adds.

Following up on the ISBA's report last year called "Fair and Impartial Courts," which was commissioned by ISBA Immediate Past President John Thies and looked at six broad areas of concern in the court system, Holderman has appointed a Standing Committee on the Future of the Courts that will make specific recommendations on how the ISBA could make a difference with committee or section council work, or through programming that's already in place. "Or, are there new avenues that we, as the state bar association, need to pursue?" she says.

For instance, the first area of concern is the public's overall lack of understanding of the judiciary's role as one of three co-equal branches of government, Holderman says. The ISBA believes budget cuts have undermined civics education and, in the spirit of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's national effort, the bar association is considering programs where lawyers and judges visit schools and teach about the courts.

"We'll be looking to see if taking on civics education might be something the Law Related Education Committee could do," she says. "We could teach children about the three branches of government, and the system of checks and balances."

'[T]he total package'

Holderman knows it will be difficult to bring checks and balances to her life during her year as president, but after some hesitancy - and consultation with her husband, former U.S. District Chief Judge James Holderman - she forged ahead in seeking higher office within the ISBA, where she has served on the Board of Governors since 2006.

The native of north suburban Lake Forest, who has four children, two grandchildren, and "no lawyers" in the family beyond her husband, wryly notes that "my hobbies are - or were - I play golf, I read mysteries, I garden a lot. I'm currently growing organic and heirloom vegetables and herbs. And I like to go flea markets and estate sales and collect stuff. I'm very involved in bar associations generally. I'm very involved in women lawyers' issues."

Holderman's colleagues and friends feel confident she'll be a great leader for the ISBA. One who knows what that takes is Judge Carole Bellows, the first female ISBA president in 1977-78, who's known Holderman for years.

"She is one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met," says Bellows, pictured with Holderman and the other two female ISBA presidents, Cheryl Niro and Irene Bahr, in a framed photo on the wall of Holderman's 37th floor office at Winston & Strawn. "She's very progressive in thought, and if she sees a problem, she is going to tackle it."

Another Bellows - Chicago lawyer Laurel (no relation to Carole), whose one-year term as American Bar Association president ends in August - says Holderman brings a breadth of experience from her various roles as an attorney, legal educator, and bar association leader.

"Paula is a special combination of a person," Bellows says. "She has a unique understanding of the issues that face large law firms and clients, and the legal profession, and legal education. She will transport that understanding into action. Paula has the ability to find the right tone, so that people are able to absorb her message and are willing to follow her lead."

Leonard Amari of Amari & Locallo has known Holderman since her time on staff at John Marshall Law School, where she served as associate director of the Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution/director of clinical education, and where she now serves on the board of trustees - at Amari's insistence.

"As an example of the great respect I have for her, I made it my personal agenda when I became president of the John Marshall Board of Trustees to get her on my board," Amari says. "Her plate is full, and I still imposed upon her.…And she hasn't missed a meeting, not only of the board, but also of various committees, some that she's not even on, but that I asked her to attend because I wanted her talent."

Aurora N. Abella-Austriaco, who served as president of the Chicago Bar Association in 2012-13, has known Holderman for about a decade since working with her through the Women's Bar Association of Illinois and the Chicago Bar Association's Alliance of Women. She says Holderman brings a varied perspective from past roles including Champaign County assistant state's attorney, and director of hiring, training and minority recruiting for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

"She is the total package," Abella-Austriaco says. "Having that global perspective will be a great benefit to the Illinois bar."

Another prominent woman who can testify on Holderman's behalf is Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who first met Holderman through her husband and has since interacted on everything from bar association committees to tap-dance classes they've taken together.

"She has endless energy, and it's all geared toward improving the justice system in Illinois and throughout the country," Burke says. "She brings to the presidency a common woman's approach to things. She's so down-to-earth. She's so approachable. She's such a moral and ethical person. She will work tirelessly to improve the lot of those who are marginalized and unable to help themselves."

Ed Finkel is an Evanston-based freelance writer.