Monday, June 30, 2014

Section Membership Opportunities for the Taking

The following posting is made with permission from the State Bar of Wisconsin who originally printed it as an article with the same name included in Young Lawyer Division News, State Bar of Wisconsin, June 2014, Vol. No. 17, Issue No. 3:

There are 24 sections of the State Bar of Wisconsin (“SBW”) which, in my opinion, are the lifeblood of the organization.  Sections generally have newsletters, e-lists, and host seminars.  Sections activities are where attorneys can learn from, network with, and mentor other attorneys within their particular areas of practice.  For years the Young Lawyers Division (“YLD”) and the Sections themselves have been working to better involve young lawyers in the work of the Sections.  On May 16th the Challenges for New Lawyers Committee (“Challenges Committee”) of the SBW continued that work by giving a pitch to the Section Leaders Council (“Council”) as to why each Section should consider adding a young lawyer seat to the board of directors of each Section.

The Council is comprised of representatives from each of the SBW’s 24 sections, and it works to address issues that the Sections have in common.  President Patrick J. Fiedler established the Challenges Committee to develop and present, as action items to the Board of Governors, concrete proposals to address the issues identified by the Challenges Facing New Lawyers Task Force.  One of the subgroups of the Challenges Committee is focusing on governance issues within the SBW.  I am in charge of that subgroup, which is why I, with the assistance of David Edwin Jones (Chair of the Challenges Committee), gave the pitch to the Council.

The idea that I was pitching is as follows: give a young lawyer a job with a prestigious title, for example, board member of the litigation section, then make that young lawyer earn the title by making the job description entail working to involve more young lawyers in the Section. 

This is not an attempt to grab power for the YLD.  The proposal is that the position could be formal or informal, appointed or elected, voting or nonvoting, and the seat would not be tied in anyway to the work of the YLD Board.  The Challenges Committee just wants a young lawyer to have the position and to tie the position to involving other young lawyers.  All the other specifics would be left to the Council or the individual Sections. 

The Council was overwhelming in support of the idea of continuing to involve more young lawyers in the work of the Sections.  However, there definitely seemed to be resistance to the idea of giving a young lawyer a board seat.  Some representatives were concerned about the legality of having elected board seats with age/years of practice restrictions, some representatives felt that board seats need to be earned prior to being obtained, and others simply did not see the need for the position given the work the Sections already do to involve young lawyers. 

I argued that there should be a young lawyer seat to give someone the specific obligation to involve young lawyers.  It’s easy for everyone to agree that something should be done to help young lawyers, but if no one has the specific job to involve young lawyers, then balls get dropped. 

I doubted that there are any legality issues with having age/years of practice considerations considering that there is a designated young lawyer seat on the Board of Governors, that there is a designated SBW young lawyer seat on the ABA House of Delegates, and that there is a YLD of the SBW. 

Lastly, I disagreed with the notion that board seats are earned prior to election.  I am a Council Member of the Litigation Section of the State Bar of Michigan, which is the Michigan equivalent of being a board member of a section.  I argued that I did not earn that seat.  Rather, I was simply lucky enough to have been elected to that position.  I have to earn it now.  The same goes for my first term on the YLD.  I did not earn that position, until I already had it.  I can see the argument that I may have earned my re-election to the YLD board, but for my first-term all the voters had to go on was faith in my word.  I am positive that I am not alone in that regard.  In fact, I would venture to guess that most first-term board members of the Sections of the SBW do not earn their positions until after election.

The Council agreed to have the boards of the individual Sections discuss the idea proposed, to think of ways to further involve young lawyers in the work of the Sections, and to report back to the Council.  Hopefully, some new opportunities will arise for young lawyers as a result.

However, you should not wait for designated young lawyer seats or similar positions to get involved.  Contact the chair or other board members of Sections in which you are interested.  If you reach out and never hear anything, ask again and again until you get an answer.  If you don’t hear something initially, it is more likely that someone got busy and forgot to follow-up, than it is that there is nothing for you to do.  When you get involved remember to pay it forward by helping others in your new position. 

I recently read something on LinkedIn that I found funny but troubling.  It was a picture of a billboard that said something to the effect of, “The two secrets to success are: 1. Never tell everything you know.”  There was no number two.  I completely disagree with this sentiment.  I find that it always comes back one way or another when you help someone.  Karma is real.  Invest in people and you create allies that will help you in ways you could never have expected.  Get involved and bring others with you.  

© June 2014 Brandon J. Evans