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Networking at the beach

Last week, I spent four days with more than 900 other attorneys and judges at the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Ocean City. Between happy hours and CLEs, the event provided a wonderful opportunity to meet and network with colleagues from across the state.

In several conversations with more seasoned attorneys, however, there was a recurring question: Where are the young lawyers?  For example, here’s a conversation I had with a judge on the circuit court who previously headed the MSBA:

Judge:  Where are all of the young lawyers?

Me:  I still qualify as a young lawyer.

Judge: Not really. I mean the young, young lawyers.

Me: I think of myself as a young lawyer.

Judge: You don’t count. I hate to break it to you, but you are not that young anymore.

I attended my first MSBA Annual Meeting three years out of law school. I had become involved with the MSBA Young Lawyers Section at the invitation of another young lawyer I met through an indoor soccer league. At the time, I did not know what I was getting myself into but in the brief moments of reflection I’ve had since then, I realize that one of the most important decisions in my career thus far has been my involvement with the MSBA.

Bar associations, whether the MSBA or a local association, provide a forum to discuss our professional and personal lives with other attorneys — seasoned, young, or young young. From a business development aspect, it has become a source of a number of referrals. Essentially, bar associations are a built-in networking tool and, as with anything, the benefits may not be evident immediately.

In a time of smartphones, videoconferencing, emails and immediate access to information, we may have forgotten the importance of cultivating relationships through a firm handshake and light conversation. Talking with people face-to-face instead of through email builds better relationships. And being physically present leaves a greater impression than a fancy signature line at the bottom of an email.

In the next three weeks, my firm will be welcoming two new associates, one in our business litigation department and the other in our business transactional department.  In addition to both showing high legal academic acuity, both also show a type of character or determination, a kind of moxie. Both associates also were not a result of a response to an advertisement but found through a series of “touches” from different people. Our new litigation associate knew several individuals within our firm, while our new transactional associate, before we determined we even needed a new transactional associate, had met several members of the firm by attending different firm events and simply developing a network.

So instead of asking, “Where are the young lawyers?”, maybe we should start asking “Why don’t they realize how important these types of events are?”

3 comments

  1. Where are all the young attorneys?

    At work. Many young attorneys cannot afford to take two days off of work (if we happen to be employed) and some young attorneys that can afford to go were not granted leave to go. We are at the bottom of the totem pole.

    Networking is crucial and I hope that young attorneys attend local events that are more affordable and accessible. But is it really fair to ask where all the young lawyers are at an event that cost so much to attend and that you would have to take two days off of work for?

  2. Mr. Siri,

    In answer to our colleague’s question, many of the young young lawyers are struggling to pay rent, and cannot afford the $600-900 it costs to attend the annual meeting. At least, that is my excuse. Last year I went, because my former firm paid for it. After being laid off, I no longer have the luxury of spending the money it costs to re-join the club.

    I doubt the MSBA could convince the Clarion or surrounding hotels to offer reduced rates for those of us young lawyers that are too poor to come, but to the extent the honorable judge is not alone in wondering where the young young lawyers are, perhaps MSBA could offer a reduced rate on its own attendance costs for young lawyers who are hoping to make a living hanging out a shingle. Just a thought.

    Sincerely,

    Jesse L. Iliff

  3. kjusth@pasternakfidis.com

    Mr. Iliff just hit the nail squarely on the head.