Monday, October 27, 2008

Leadership and Bar Organizations

Fellow Joiners:

I've spent some time extolling the virtues of networking on the internet, and new ways of communicating and keeping in touch with clients, colleagues and friends. But I do still think that old-fashioned networking and community leadership in "live" Bar associations is a fundamental pillar for professional growth and satisfaction.

Tax lawyers, especially new ones, start their careers with years immersed in research. I remember spending weeks in the early '90s doing little but research, writing, and reporting to the partners in my firm about esoteric tax minutiae. There really weren't (and aren't now) many opportunities for meaningful client contact for young tax lawyers. So in order to generate some modest amount of personal contact, I joined a local group--San Francisco Women Tax Lawyers--so that I could get out once in a while. Before long I had a chance to be in the leadership of that group, scouting out speakers for our monthly luncheons. From there I "graduated" to the State Bar Tax Section committee in my field--Exempt Organizations. This led to a stint as chair of that subcommittee. Once I termed out of that, I moved on to the ABA Business Law Section Nonprofit Corporations Committee (, and after a few years moved into the chair ship there. So you can see the progression.

Leadership experiences with legal associations broaden horizons, extend networks, enhance professional abilities, lead to public speaking opportunities, build confidence, and provide experience in teamwork, leadership, and mentoring. They also lead to career opportunities: I doubt that I am the first or only lawyer who first met my new employer at a Bar association-sponsored effort. Early in my career I wrote a paper that became part of a California State Bar delegation to Washington D.C., and on that trip I met a key tax partner at what became my new firm.

With the coming slow down in the economy, most lawyers I know are feeling that their careers are vulnerable. Nothing makes time go by more slowly, and anxiety increase more, than a day spent at the desk without any meaningful, challenging work. Use the slow down in billable work to find a place to volunteer time, expand horizons, and learn new skills. Not only will the day go by faster, but in the long run you'll be a better, and busier, lawyer.

Here are some links to sites that gather lawyer organizations:

A final note: The most valuable experiences in volunteer Bar organizations for newcomers are those that provide visible, personal contacts. One of the easiest ways to break the ice and get involved is to volunteer to put together a panel on some topic that existing leadership has already identified. It isn't necessary to know anyone for the panel at the outset--the value in the work is the personal contacts made trying to find, recruit, organize and then watch the panel perform. Volunteering for this task may well endear you to the existing committee leadership, leading to more and more leadership opportunities.

So get out there!


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