Bar News - March 16, 2012
Opinion: Should You Belly Up to the Bar (Association)?
By: Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton
One of the things that plagues we rezoomers is the question, "How do we get back in the game?"
I asked myself this question as I restarted my legal career in 2010. For 29 years I was a member of the ABA and the New York State Bar Associations (NYSBA). Yet in all those years, I had never attended a bar association meeting. I had done nothing with these bar association memberships. I simply paid my dues and attended stand-alone CLE’s to maintain the active status of my license to practice law.
In January 2010 I said, heck, lets see what these annual meetings are all about. I attended three programs; one sponsored by the Committee on Women and the Law, one by the Committee on Animal Law and one by the Dispute Resolution Section. As I sat there, I realized I’d missed a whole chunk of the experience of what it meant to be a lawyer in NY. I was actually sad. I love camaraderie.
This experience encouraged me to volunteer to help put together the NYSBA Women and the Law Program in 2011. I found myself offering up speakers in the field of mediation because I was the only one who had pertinent knowledge of the movers and shakers in this group. I moderated the 2011 ethics section. In 2012, I am moderating, along with Linda Radlisky, a brilliant solo practitioner, the Trial, Tribulation and Tips of the Women Trial and Appellate Lawyers section.
In April 2010, I attended the ABA Women Rainmakers Conference. Yes, I am bold as brass. Rainmaking was not something I’d ever done or was currently doing. Again I said, heck why not. It was awe inspiring. My age may have helped me blend in, since one does not assume I am starting out. It was the single best conference I’ve attended. It inspired me to volunteer to assist in creating the program in 2012. This enabled me to keep in touch with a bushel full of wonderfully talented, rainmaking women attorneys.
I now have credits to my name, in connection with statewide and nationwide bar association events. I have colleagues whom I consider friends and feel secure calling and asking questions, even if they are partners in international Fortune 500 firms. In fact the ABA Women Rainmakers blasted an email touting "one of their own" as a section moderator of the 2012 NYSBA Women and the Law event this year. If you hadn’t guessed, they were talking about me.
If I had not "Bellied up to the Bar (Association)" and put myself out there, taken a chance, I would not have obtained the experience I have today. I can now say I have helped put on several statewide and national programs, working alongside colleagues from every legal venue and constructed written materials from panelists for attendees. It isn’t easy. It takes time you don’t have, skills you may need to acquire on the job, and the guts to throw your ideas out there to see if they sink or swim.
I have heard so many solos say the bar associations have ‘lost touch with the solo practitioner’ or have a ‘large firm mentality’ and ‘cost more then they are worth’. I am here to tell you, you are misinformed. Today, the bar associations are recognizing solos as the wave of the future. As more new grads start their own firms in order to survive, the bar associations are adjusting their focus to meet the demand of a changing legal environment. Ask Susan Cartier Liebel. Business is booming for Solo Practice University. Law schools are asking SPU to help them teach their students the nuts and bolts of going solo. It is seen as a viable option for a goodly number of their graduates to survive post graduation.
If you are like me and want to get the most for less, always ask if you qualify for a reduced membership or CLE fee. No one will know and you can get all the benefits of full membership for one-third the cost.
Once you join, pick a section to dive into! Make a commitment to be uber involved. You will be amazed how welcoming they are to worker bees with new ideas. Keep your ego in check. Listen more then speak, and do what you say you will do. The street cred is unbelievable and the networking priceless.
By the way, in the ABA-published, The Road to Independence -101 Women’s Journeys to Starting Their Own Firms, several of the contributors credited getting involved in their local bar association as a stepping-stone to their firms’ success.
So my rezoomer friends, "Belly up to the Bar (Association). You will be glad you did.
P.S. My NYSBA Women and the Law Committee Program went fabulously. The attendees’ take-away from our first panel, ‘Where have all the Women Litigators Gone?’ was each became heavily involved in their local bar association and a section that interested them from the get-go. Several were past presidents of their local Woman’s Bar Associations or section presidents. Don’t worry if you have never attended a bar association meeting before. As Rezoomers we have street cred, age and alternative experience on our side, something these groups prize more highly then gold.
Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton is an attorney and mediator from Armonk, New York. She can be reached at her website, www.hamiltonlawandmediation.com.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on www.SoloPracticeUniversity.com and is reprinted here with permission.