President's Message January/February 2016



Giving and Receiving at the Bar Association

Melissa E. Darigan, Esq.
President, Rhode Island Bar Association

Involvement with the Bar Association, in particular joining one the Bar’s many committees, is an excellent way to get first-hand exposure to cutting-edge developments in a particular industry or subject matter, direct insights into how the court system works, and an opportunity to shape legislation and regulations. 

   
It is “Giving Tuesday” as I write this President’s Message. That is, it’s the first Tuesday  of December, which is now a movement aimed at countering the consumerism of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday and encouraging charitable giving.  The media is awash on this day with stories about giving back, but one item caught my attention:  Millennials are great givers of their cash and, even more so, their time, and they lead all the generations except baby boomers with their philanthropy. 

This is not what many of us routinely hear about millennials.  We are more likely to hear millennials are not loyal to employers, are more interested in themselves than the enterprise, that they eschew human contact in favor of technology and gadgets, and they want it all without having to pay their dues.  Given this, a news program about millennials’ high rate of volunteerism and charitable giving took me by surprise.  And it got me to thinking. How do we harness our Bar’s millennial members’ energy, willingness to invest for a cause and passion for doing good through the Rhode Island Bar Association?

I confess, I don’t have the answer.  Barriers to active participation in the Bar Association run the gamut, from financial (lack of discretionary income and overwhelming student loans) to psychological (“I won’t know anyone.”) to practical (demands on time and the struggle to balance work with life outside of work).  But, what I do have is two decades of being an active member in the Bar, and I think I have turned out alright.  So, I offer our young lawyers some ways the Bar Association helped me when I was starting out.

First and foremost, young lawyers need to learn how to be good lawyers.  Going it alone – that is, diving in without having the necessary knowledge and background in an area and not wanting to look foolish by asking questions or seeking guidance – is never the best way to achieve this goal.  Our Bar Association supports young lawyers in their practices by providing resources and tools through a wide array of CLEs on substantive areas of law.  Rarely is just being knowledgeable in a particular field enough for young lawyers to have successful and productive careers.  Lawyers today must also know how to run a business and how to attract and retain clients.  The Bar Association helps here too, by supplying training in practice management, finances, technology and marketing.  Young lawyers can and should take advantage of these offerings.  While you are still building your practices you may have extra time on your hands, so take as many CLEs as your budget and schedule permit.  I’ve never heard anyone say that they know too much about the practice of law. 

The Bar’s List Serve also is a terrific way to get advice and information from across the Bar’s membership and usually within moments of your post.  And don’t forget the many articles in our Bar Journal!

Part of being a good lawyer is learning the ins and outs of how things get done.  Involvement with the Bar Association, in particular joining one the Bar’s many committees, is an excellent way to get first-hand exposure to cutting-edge developments in a particular industry or subject matter, direct insights into how the court system works, and an opportunity to shape legislation and regulations.  Committee membership also introduces young lawyers to seasoned attorneys and contemporaries alike, increasing the opportunities for finding mentors in a particular subject matter and potential referral sources for new clients, developing friendships or simply upping the odds of seeing a friendly face in the courthouse corridor.

One of the challenges along the way to becoming a good lawyer is getting actual experience. Increased competition for jobs and fewer clients means less work.  Even young lawyers employed by larger firms may miss out on assignments because, increasingly, clients refuse to pay for what they see as new lawyer training, and we all know that there are fewer trials and other opportunities to get into court.  A sure fire way to obtain badly-needed, real-world experience is to volunteer with the Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer Programs.  Many of these programs offer mentorship and training on the subject matter free of charge in exchange for pro bono services.  Learn a practice area, get experience in court, meet fellow practitioners, grow in confidence and do good for others, all in one.  Being a volunteer lawyer is a great opportunity for young attorneys trying to break into the profession.

Beyond knowing the nuts and bolts of the trade, young lawyers want to be perceived as being good lawyers and leaders.  One way to achieve professional recognition is to be an active part of the Bar Association.  Giving CLEs, working with committees, writing for the Bar Journal and serving on the Bar’s governance boards all offer young lawyers unique opportunities to elevate their profile within the legal and business community.  In particular, Bar Association work helps young lawyers develop important leadership skills.  This is not a skill set taught in school, and it can take years for a young lawyer to even have exposure to leadership opportunities in a law firm setting.  Skills developed working with the Bar are useful in all areas of life, from client development to law practice management, to being president of your child’s school PTA.

My President’s Messages this year have focused on the changes in the legal profession and the challenges all lawyers are facing, and no one will be more impacted by the changing legal landscape than young lawyers.  I urge young lawyers to pay attention and to get involved.  Put your passion and your energies into shaping our profession, helping each other be better lawyers and helping those in need.  And remember the old adage, the more you give the more you receive.

[1] Millennials are those born roughly between 1982 and 2000.  They make up approximately 12.4% of the Rhode Island Bar Association’s membership.