Community Colleagues

Civil ActionsI’ve never really been one for Facebook.  It wasn’t popular until the year after I finished college.  And it wasn’t until law school that my friends started using it.  I stopped using it once I started working because, well, I was billing 2200 hours a year.  Then, as the years passed, I became one of “those people”.  You know the type.  You would say, “Did you see that Wilhelm and Carolina are on a Grand European tour?  It’s on Facebook!”  I would sniff in response, “Oh, Facebook.  Sorry, I don’t use Facebook.  Just don’t see the point anymore.”  Then I would walk away smugly, knowing that I was doing something more with my life than following people’s lives online.  I was usually watching  the Kardashians.

But that all changed a couple of weeks ago.  I went to Louisville and visited the Louisville Slugger Museum.  Outside the museum is a giant six-story baseball bat.  Never one to let a photo opportunity in front of a “World’s Largest  ____” go by, I asked a friend to take a photo of my husband and me in front of the bat.  She took the picture and it looked great.  Then I thought, I haven’t updated my Facebook profile picture in a year.  I’ll put this one up.  So I did.

I also happen to be six months pregnant.

Within five minutes of posting the picture, I got my first message – “OMG, you’re pregnant!”  And then another, “Aww, love the baby bump!”  And another, “Post more pictures!”  There were comments on the picture, there were messages to my Facebook account, there were emails in my Inbox, I even got voicemails on my phone.  People who I hadn’t talked with in years were congratulating me.  Relatives who I had only ever heard about let me know how happy they were for me.  My mother told me that the picture had been passed around among all my family members back in Trinidad, and they were ecstatic.

That’s the power of a community.  All those people, cheering me on, supporting me, encouraging me.  Facebook had provided me with an international community of supporters that I had never before used.  The moment I did, the results were overwhelming.

Which leads me to today’s post.  Last month, I attended my first ABA Annual Meeting.  While I listened to the panelists and visited vendor booths, I spent the majority of my time connecting with my fellow attendees.  Lawyers from across the world attended the Annual Meeting.  Their practices ranged from the popular (solo practitioner) to the esoteric (pet divorce mediator).  I socialized, I networked, and I involved myself in a community that, like Facebook, I had never before taken advantage of.  It was a remarkable experience.  I met people who were truly inspired by the law, people who sought to make equality before the law a reality.  They would engage in philosophical discussions about what it means to be a lawyer, while still fully recognizing the realities of our practice today.  It felt, quite honestly, like being back in law school when my friends and I would sit in the law quad and discuss principles of justice and democracy.  Four years later, I found that same experience with my bar association community.

There was, however, one thing I didn’t have in common with the vast majority of people I met.  My age.  I was hard-pressed to find anyone who had been practicing for less than ten years, much less five.   The young lawyers, it seemed, were AWOL.

See, the concept of community has changed a lot in the past two decades, especially for what some now call my generation – the Millennials.  Thanks to technology, we have less and less person-to-person contact, and more and more person-to-data-to-person contact.  We email instead of visiting.  We text instead of calling.  We’re more likely to know a forum poster 3000 miles away than the guy who lives next door.   Technology may have connected us virtually, but it has disconnected us personally.

But if there’s one place in our profession where person-to-person community remains, it’s the bar association.  Unfortunately, while the bar associations are doing what they can to attract a younger audience, the younger audience isn’t exactly reciprocating.  This article out of Washington State put the numbers in stark form:  71% of the Washington State Bar Association lawyers are age 50 or older.  21% are aged 61 and above.  25% are considering retirement in the next 5 years.  Meanwhile the average number of new attorneys between 2007 and 2011 was just under 1200, a number, the article states “that could easily be overtaken by retirements.”  A similar dynamic exists in bar associations across the country.

This blog post is therefore a call to action.  Not to the bar associations who are trying to get young lawyers involved.  No.  Rather, this is to you, my fellow Millennial lawyers.

GET INVOLVED. 

Why?

  1. ­Increase Your In-Person “Klout”Klout measures a person’s social media influence.  In other words, how popular are you among your friends and followers?  In-person Klout (or, you know, just good old “clout”) works the same way.  Do people know who you are?  What’s your reputation among your peers?  Are you someone people turn to for advice?  And really, the question these all lead to – would someone recommend you to a client?
  2. Improve Your Mental Health.   Burn-out rates.  Depression.  Addiction.  You know where lawyers as a profession rank in those categories?  Very, very high.   It’s difficult being a young attorney, especially in this legal market.  Having a community of people who support you and who understand what you’re going through cannot be overrated.
  3. Get a Mentor.  Not sure what to do at 4:35 pm when all the doors in the Daley Center are locked and you have a filing deadline?  Call your mentor, that’s what.  Join a bar association and find someone who you can ask the silliest of questions and still get the very best advice.
  4. Have a Title.  Even if it’s just Vice-Chair of the Committee for Sheer Awesomeness.  Not only will you be involved in something you find interesting, you’ll get to work side-by-side with your fellow committee members, likely some of the best and brightest minds in the profession.  Which leads to the final reason . . .
  5. Find a Job.  You could send a resume to an anonymous email address.  Or, you could get to know a managing partner or general counsel and find out about jobs before they’re posted.  Much better approach.

Never underestimate the power of a bar association community.  As a lawyer, you have an automatic entry into some of the very best.  Take advantage of them.  It won’t hurt you and it can certainly help you.  So get out there.  Join a bar association.  Meet some new friends.  And if you have a chance, look me up on Facebook.  I’ll be the one posting all the pictures.

Share this:

Michelle Silverthorn

Michelle Silverthorn

After spending seventeen years living in the Caribbean, Michelle undertook a number of around-the-world detours before ending up at the doorstep of the Commission, including four years as a general litigator in New York and Chicago. She remembers pretty much everyone she’s met in her travels but she would especially like to meet again the passengers on a January 2001 flight from Miami to JFK. At the pilot’s request, they donated enough money for Michelle, who had her wallet stolen, to get back to college safely. She would very much like to tell them all thanks.
Michelle Silverthorn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *