The Practice Corner: The Value of the Local Bar Association
by Daniel DeWoskin
There is no shortage of ways for attorneys to be active in their professional communities. Here in the Metropolitan Atlanta area, we have many county Bar Associations, such as our own Dekalb Bar, as well as the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Georgia Defense Lawyers Association, the Korean Bar Association, the Gate City Bar Association, and many, many more.
Each Bar Association has its own goals, strengths, values, and unique character that suits its purposes and its membership. These associations allow for information sharing, mentorship, social interaction and support, professional development, and service to the community. At times, there may be competition for membership, as it is difficult for attorneys to participate meaningfully in many groups. For instance, I spend a great deal of time working with the Dekalb Bar, but also participate in Lawyers Club of Atlanta events, GTLA, and GACDL. There are those times when I must choose which social event I should attend. Of course, there are also those nights when my family would like for me to be home for dinner.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with leadership from more than a dozen local Bar Associations. One of the topics we discussed was how to get younger lawyers involved in local Bar Associations. Although many people focused on how these types of law student and new lawyer memberships could increase numbers in the associations, it seemed as though our collective aim may be off the mark. There is no question that law students and new lawyers could be persuaded to join for the prospects of mentorship and employment opportunities. However, there is a broader appeal and value of local Bar Associations that we who actively participate should be sharing with our membership and prospective membership.
For a young lawyer, joining a local Bar Association to meet someone and hopefully get a job offer in a tough market is a longshot. The young lawyer would certainly meet many, many practicing lawyers and judges whom it would be helpful to know throughout his or her career. This familiarity and involvement in the professional community could thus prove to be far more beneficial in the long run than a simple job offer. In the end, we as local Bar Associations need to be more proactive in demonstrating how our service and role in the community is the answer to a young lawyer’s question, “What will membership in this association do for me and my career?”
I take no issue with this question as I can still remember what it was like when I passed the Bar. I can recall the uncertainty, fear, and intimidation that I felt when I started practicing. Fortunately, I was quick to join certain organizations which had listserves, publications, social functions, and other programming that put me in contact with dozens of experienced colleagues who would generously lend an ear and even provide more hands-on assistance when I had a case that called for it. Today, I actively look for moments when I can provide similar guidance or assistance to new lawyers.
Local Bar Associations can be influential in the community, they can provide valuable continuing legal education opportunities that cater to their specific membership, and they can create a diverse atmosphere culturally and socially that can work for better communication and understanding. The fact is that virtually every practicing attorney, be it for professional development or community involvement, should participate in at least one local Bar Association. As members of these associations, we should work to expand our programming and engage with other local associations.