I recently ran for a position as an ABA State Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates. After I sent out emails to friends and colleagues to solicit votes, I frequently received one of two responses: 1) Why do you do all of this? and 2) How do you find time to do all of this?
Both responses gave me pause. As is true for most of you, my life is busy and hectic, but when bar (and other community-service) opportunities arise, I generally don’t hesitate to volunteer. From the very beginning of my law career, I found bar service to be interesting and rewarding, but I also noticed there were not many women and, more specifically, women of color, at the meetings I was attending.
Once involved, I felt good about trying to solve the problems and making good use of the opportunity I had to make a difference. I also felt good about adding another perspective to the work. So as for the question why I regularly get involved with bar activities, the answer is that I simply like the challenge of dealing with the issues, whether new or old, and I love the profession. The work is interesting and usually fulfilling, and I can lend my voice to others, so that all voices can be part of the work.
Michelle Behnke, U.W. 1988, of Michelle Behnke & Associates, Madison, is a past president of the State Bar of Wisconsin.
"From the very beginning of my law career, I found bar service to be interesting and rewarding, but I also noticed there were not many women and, more specifically, women of color, at the meetings I was attending."
As for the “how” question, I think I’m no different from the other attorneys I know. We all find time for those things that interest us, and we’re willing to be a little overscheduled if we care about the issue. Some of us serve on the boards of housing organizations, the United Way, domestic violence victims’ shelters, or other worthwhile nonprofit organizations. When an issue or organization is important to you, you manage to fit it in, and the scheduling gymnastics don’t seem as daunting. No one person can really do it all. But if we each do the one thing (or five) that we really love, then we’re all doing our part, and the public and the profession are better as a result. And then there is the personal satisfaction: although I understand and appreciate the discussion of work-life balance, I’m not sure it really exists, so I just try to focus on fulfillment.
Getting involved and being active in bar or other organizations also helps me make sense of what I do each day. I enjoy working on my clients’ issues and helping them achieve their goals, but sometimes the matters are not easily resolved and the time pressures create stress that is hard to leave at the office. Working on issues in the profession or the community gives me a different sense of accomplishment and a sense of “doing good.” Whether you focus on bar activities, board service, pro bono work, volunteering in a school, or some other activity, I hope you find the thing that moves you and makes all the daily law-practice work more rewarding and fulfilling.