I have to admit that for most of the time I was actively practicing law, although I was a member and paid my dues every year for my local bar association, I wasn't particularly active. I seldom attended events, and in fact, rarely set foot in the home of the Association at all, other than when I needed MCLE credits. I didn't get involved. At the time, I just didn't see the value.
Like many organizations, to a newcomer or an outsider, the bar association can seem very closed or 'cliquish.' Walking into a room filled with people who already seem to know one another can be daunting, and actually joining a conversation can be even more of a challenge. Walking into a committee meeting as a new or potential new member can be overwhelming.
Some recognize that the bar association can be an opportunity to network with lawyers, particularly when you're fresh out of school and looking for a job. But the networking and leadership opportunities offered by bar association involvement aren't limited to job-seekers. In fact, many of the most active members of my two local bar associations are well established attorneys who enjoy their bar involvement not only as a way to give back to the legal community, but as a way to further improve their already successful practices.
I have become active in both of my local county bar associations, and my participation has been well worth it. It started with small steps and it's amazing how much it has grown. In my experience, most bar associations are struggling not just for members, but for participation. Although it may look from the outside like a closed society, that is only because (at least in my experience) the members come to know one another well, refer business to one another, establish relationships, and truly care for one another - often on a personal as well as a professional level.
The more I look at it, the more I realize that my participation is the result of the efforts of other lawyers in those associations who took the time to invite me to become more active, but they did it in a very specific way - and it was very effective. Rather than simply making a vague statement about 'getting involved,' each of them invited me to attend a specific meeting or event at which they would be present. Not only did it make it easier for me to participate because I had a specific date, time and location, but also because I felt that not going would let them down. After all, they had invited me personally.
I am grateful for those who encouraged my participation, and if you get involved, I'm sure you will be, too.
Have some insight to share about your bar association involvement (or lack of it)? What has it done for you? What would you like to see happen at your local bar association? How has your bar association helped your practice? Share your comments!