Vol. 83, No. 9, September 2010
Recently, I had lunch with a U.W. Law School graduate, a lawyer who has been out of school for three years. Over greasy burgers, fries, and a milkshake at a local pub, we talked about the practice of law, family, sports, and other subjects and eventually wound our way to discussing the State Bar. I outlined my goals as president over the next year for improving member benefits, strengthening local bars, increasing the private-bar rate for criminal defense work, and getting younger lawyers involved in the organization. I said I hoped I would have the support of the Board of Governors in these efforts.
My friend asked, “What is the Board of Governors?” For those of you who do not know, the Board of Governors is the policy-making body of the State Bar and is comprised of members elected from 16 in-state districts and one district comprised of out-of-state members.
I encouraged my friend to get involved in the State Bar. He responded that old lawyers active for years in the State Bar “do not want young lawyers messing up the status quo.” This impression is far from the truth. Many lawyers who have been engaged in the State Bar for years openly express a desire to involve more young people.
I truly believe that, for any organization to be successful, it must engage young people. Young people give an organization new energy, new ideas, and new technologies and serve as the future leaders of an organization.
Jim Boll (center) joins the Young Lawyers Division board. The division recently received a top award for programming excellence from the ABA for its Leadership Conference and special recognition for its many projects and events. (Left front to top): Jill Kastner, president; Jennifer Wilson; Richelle Balistreri, U.W. student liaison; Karen Seittmann; Jennifer Dye; Steve McGaver; and Michael Balter, MYLA liaison. (Right front to top) Amanda Ashley; Lydia Chartre; Lindsey King, secretary; Lee Turonie; Deanne Koll, treasurer; Hans Thompson, Marquette student liaison; Nick Vivian, past president; and Jonathan Gruhl, president-elect. Missing from photo: Francine Bailey, Joseph LaDien, and William Spangler.
When I became president-elect, I met with many past presidents of the State Bar Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and the YLD Board. (The State Bar defines young lawyers as those under age 36 or who have practiced law five or fewer years. Members meeting either qualification are automatically enrolled in the YLD.) Together we talked about ways to encourage young and new lawyers to become involved with the State Bar. Those discussions led to the first Young Lawyers Leadership Conference in March 2010. This event brought together new lawyers from across the state. More than 120 lawyers from 20 Wisconsin counties and several states traveled to Milwaukee for the leadership training and networking offered at this conference. The great success of this conference was recognized beyond the state’s borders – it earned the YLD the 2010 first-place ABA YLD outstanding Service to the Bar award. The YLD also earned special recognition as Outstanding overall as a young lawyers division for all of its projects and events.
As an organization, we have to work to provide opportunities to get young people and new members interested in being involved in the State Bar. Participating is not just about running for office. Being a member of a State Bar committee, section, or division gives young lawyers the ability to be in a position to influence decisions that help frame the direction of our organization. These committees, sections, and divisions allocate resources and set priorities. For my part, I appointed a member of the YLD to the State Bar Finance Committee.
A great place for young people to start is through involvement with the YLD. The YLD is energized and eager to push the State Bar into the future by using new technology and focusing on member service. It created the first State Bar entity Facebook page and has an active email list for its members. These methods of communication provide important contacts and information to members and encourage young lawyers to become active in the Bar’s many leadership and public service opportunities.
To assist the significant number of unemployed young lawyers, the YLD website provides links to various job opportunities, including to the State Bar’s Career Center and classified ads, law school career centers, government and tribal employers, public interest jobs, and other job databases. In March, the YLD partnered with the Milwaukee Young Lawyers Association on a free “soft” skills training workshop focused on client development.
The YLD is also committed to public service. To help people struggling in the down economy, which has resulted in area food pantries being faced with rising demand for their services, the YLD developed the Holiday Season Food Drive Challenge, implemented in 2009 to benefit Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest) food banks that serve local pantries.
Working with the State Bar and several private partners, including Foley and Lardner, Lexis Nexis, and Thrivent Financial, the YLD rolled out the Wisconsin Wills for Heroes program, providing free basic estate planning to local first responders. The YLD also sends attorney volunteers into classrooms throughout the state to teach children about our system of laws and the legal profession.
Getting active in the YLD is one way to participate in the State Bar; there are many other ways.
My sincere hope is that young and new lawyers will recognize the great benefit of getting involved and, yes, their obligation to get involved in the State Bar to serve the public and the profession. Participating does not require a significant time investment, but the time you do invest can yield great results. As Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”