Young Lawyers Division Newsletter
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Young Lawyers Division

December 2016, vol. 61, no. 3

A note from the Chair: Why a new lawyer should consider active involvement In the ISBA

On November 10 we gained another 1,374 new lawyers in this state. Many of those newly-admitted attorneys and some of you not so newly admitted attorneys may wonder what involvement in the Illinois State Bar Association has to offer you. As an attorney who has been heavily involved in the ISBA since my admission nine years ago, I can tell you there is much that awaits you.  This article is not a summary of the free CLE, practice management software, legal research program and other benefits that come with your general ISBA membership. Feel free to review a comprehensive summary of those benefits at <www.isba.org/membership/benefits>. I will not restate them here. This article discusses the benefits of getting involved in the Association beyond merely signing up and reading newsletters. Here is my summary of the benefits awaiting new and young lawyers who become actively involved in our Association:

1. You become a better lawyer because of the connections you make. Since my admission to the Bar, I have served as a member of the Young Lawyers Division Council, the Trusts and Estates Section Council, the Real Estate Section Council and the Task Force on New Lawyers. I have met and worked with many lawyers through my involvement in the ISBA. Those lawyers come from big firms, mid-size firms, small firms, from all over the State and they practice in a wide variety of areas. Yes, I receive referrals from the lawyers I have met, but the value of this network goes far beyond just referrals. These lawyers enable me to better serve my clients. Whenever I encounter legal issues on the fringe, or outside of, my practice areas, I typically know someone who I have met through the ISBA who practices in the area in question. Often, my relationship with that person through the ISBA makes it simple for me to call or email the person for a candid discussion of the issue. I receive those calls all the time from other attorneys I know through the ISBA and I am always happy to take them. The attorney I contact may provide me with sufficient advice to handle the issue if it’s a minor matter. Where the issue is more involved or further removed from my practice areas, referring the client to another attorney or bringing in that other attorney as co-counsel may make more sense. As I discuss below, ISBA involvement offers you a forum to demonstrate your work ethic and competence. I cannot tell you how many times I have been able to confidently refer a client to an attorney because I know exactly the type of practice in which the attorney is engaged, the person’s work ethic and his or her temperament, all of which I learned through my involvement in the ISBA. Knowing how an attorney to whom you are sending a client will handle a matter is much better than knowing merely that the attorney can handle the matter. Aside from fostering relationships with attorneys in other practice areas, participating in the ISBA (particularly, in its Section Councils) permits you to work with other attorneys in your practice area. Those relationships allow you to regularly discuss best practices for your practice area with lawyers outside of your firm. It also facilitates your development of personal relationships with other lawyers in your practice area. Those relationships can make later adversarial proceedings against an attorney with whom you have developed such a relationship easier to navigate. Investing time in the ISBA helps you build a network of attorneys that does far more than generate business for you. That network will make you a better attorney by providing you with candid advice you may need in areas outside of your primary practice areas, trusted counsel to whom you are comfortable referring your clients and a free-flow of information with other attorneys in your practice area. 

2. It permits you to influence the field of law in which you practice. As a member of the Real Estate Section Council and then the Trusts and Estates Section Council, I have had the privilege of structuring the positions of the ISBA concerning pending legislation and the ISBA’s legislative priorities. The Illinois State Bar Association seeks to protect and advance the interests of lawyers. It pursues these goals, in part, by advocating for our positions before our State’s legislators. The ISBA employs a full-time lobbyist who works hard to advance the causes of our Association in Springfield. The ISBA’s 40 Section Councils, each with a focus on a substantive area of the law (e.g. Construction Law, Family Law, Trusts & Estates, Etc.) do the work of reviewing, and formulating positions concerning, legislation introduced in the General Assembly. Those positions are then advanced by our lobbyist and often by our members themselves, many of whom have testified before legislative subcommittees in Springfield and have had ongoing dialogues with State Representatives on certain legislative issues. In other cases, the Section Councils or the governing bodies of the ISBA develop their own legislative initiatives, which are advanced in the same manner. I am proud to say that I have seen many of the positions developed by the Councils on which I have sat become the law of our State on account of the ISBA’s concerted efforts and influence.

3. It permits you to influence our profession. Through its work in evaluating the judiciary, making recommendations to the Supreme Court, its regular preparation of ethics opinions and its influence on law schools, the ISBA provides you with numerous opportunities to influence our profession.  The ISBA’s two Judicial Evaluations Committees evaluate the judiciary and judicial candidates throughout our State. Circuit judges, appellate justices and our Supreme Court Justices regularly rely on the work of these committees in selecting candidates for judicial appointment. The ISBA publishes judicial evaluations for voters seeking to gain more information about the candidates who appear on election ballots as well. The Supreme Court maintains close ties with the ISBA and often elicits the opinions of the ISBA on matters of importance to the profession. In fact, if you go to our Annual Meeting or the Mid-Year Meeting, you will probably run into several of our Supreme Court Justices. I no longer feel excited to shake hands with our Illinois Supreme Court Justices. This isn’t because I hold a lesser opinion of any of them. It’s because I have already met many of them so many times at ISBA functions. As the voice of our profession in this State, the Association regularly releases ethics opinions addressing the issues Illinois lawyers encounter. The opinions carry significant weight, as they are often cited in case law and by the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission in its proceedings. The ISBA has released several reports in recent years concerning the impact of law school debt on young lawyers, the needs of young lawyers and the advisability of traditional law school curriculum in today’s environment. These reports were created through the hard work of many volunteer members of the ISBA.  Their reports have led to meaningful dialogue between the ISBA and the Illinois Supreme Court, the Deans of Illinois’ law schools and the American Bar Association concerning how we can improve the traditional law school model and improve the plight of our State’s young lawyers. All of these endeavors are advanced through the hard work of our members. Our ongoing work in these areas offer you many opportunities to positively influence our profession. 

4. The ISBA wants new and young lawyers like you to accept leadership positions. The ISBA does a great job of ensuring that young lawyers have a voice in the important business going on throughout the Association. Its Board of Governors has two seats reserved for members under 37 years of age. New Lawyers are often successful in seeking election to its General Assembly as well. The leadership of the ISBA has consistently expressed a desire to appoint more young lawyers to our Section Councils, Committees and other leadership positions. For instance, Daniel Thies, a member of the Young Lawyer’s Division Section Council, was tapped by President Cornelius this year to head a special committee tasked with determining whether Illinois should adopt the Uniform Bar Examination. Mr. Thies’ committee answered that question in the affirmative and gave a detailed report of its findings to the Board of Governors. The Board unanimously adopted the recommendations of the committee. The Board’s position in that regard will likely become a significant consideration of the Supreme Court when it determines whether to adopt the Uniform Bar Examination in the coming months. In my own experience, my status as a young lawyer has assisted me in seeking appointment to the Councils on which I have served. The Association wants more young lawyers involved in its business and is generally eager to place young lawyers willing to get involved in positions that are often more difficult for older lawyers to attain.

5. The ISBA provides you with a forum in which you can build your reputation.  If you are looking for a professional association that enables you to impress people with your work ethic, intelligence and leadership skills, look no further. Appointment to one of its Section Councils would permit you to serve as a newsletter editor, work on its legislative committee, structure ISBA CLE offerings in your practice area and advocate for legislative changes that are important to your practice. Appointment to one of its Committees permits you to influence the policy decisions of the ISBA with regard to the judiciary, professional conduct and a variety of other matters. Running for a seat on the General Assembly or Board of Governors will give you a direct say in the leadership of our Association. All of these opportunities would permit you to engage in hard work that demonstrates your work ethic, intelligence and leadership skills to the lawyers with whom you work. These efforts help you build a reputation that will reflect favorably upon your law practice. Aside from enhancing your reputation, assuming a leadership position in the ISBA gives you opportunities to develop people management skills that will be useful as your career progresses and you begin managing other lawyers. Involvement in the ISBA allows you to both build your reputation with other lawyers and help you develop the interpersonal management skills you will need as your career progresses.

6. Involvement in the ISBA gives you an opportunity to form strong long-term friendships. The trial by fire we all experienced in the first year of law school caused many of us to forge deep and enduring bonds with the classmates with whom we spent so many hours attending class, studying and decompressing. Active involvement in the ISBA provides many of the same opportunities for friendships, but without the stress of law school.  Throughout my years, I have found myself working on various initiatives as a part of a team with a common cause and common passions. These opportunities have caused me to develop many strong and enduring friendships with the lawyers who have stood beside me in pursuing those causes and passions.  

‘Tis the Season to nominate yourself for an active position in the ISBA.  If the foregoing benefits interest you, then invest some time in your ISBA membership this year by nominating yourself for a position on one of its 40 Section Councils or one of its 21 Committees. You could also run for a leadership position in our upcoming elections. You may find more information concerning these opportunities and nominate yourself for the ISBA’s Section Councils and Committees at <https://www.isba.org/membergroups/nominations/form>. You can find information about elections at <https://www.isba.org/elections>. Note that these nominations and election petition must be submitted early next year. I hope to see you around at the Bar!