Law Students, Build Your Brand Within Bar Associations

Editors Note: This post was submitted by Brenda Villanueva, a 2013 Ms. JD Fellow.  The Ms. JD Fellowship is the result of partnership between Ms. JD and the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.  Fellows, who are rising 3Ls, are paired with an ABA Commissioner or Margaret Brent Award Winner as part of a year long mentorship.  Applications for this year's fellowship are now available and are due on March 1, 2014. Apply today!

Congratulations, you joined a bar association, now what?  Career development offices remind law students to join bar associations to meet new people.  For some law students, joining a bar association may be the easiest part of the task.  Knowing what to do once you are a member, is a bigger challenge.  What can you do to take advantage of opportunities offered by a bar association, a group that at first, may seem large and daunting? 

In speaking with my Ms. JD Mentor, Lorelie S. Masters, a Partner at Jenner & Block LLP and a Women’s Bar Association Past President, she offered guidance and insight.  Bar association membership and participation are an investment in yourself.  Your active participation helps build your brand as a professional.  As you build your “brand,” your reputation follows you regardless of where your career takes you. 

First, join a committee that interests you.  You will meet like-minded people who are interested in your success (and of course theirs as well).  This is an easy way to make friends and to develop mentors.  In the beginning, volunteer for small tasks and be sure to complete everything on time or, early if possible.  In many committees, even the smallest tasks give you an opportunity, and a reason to reach out to leaders in the legal community.  For example, on behalf of a committee, you can volunteer to reach out to a local judge to nominate her for an award or to ask her to speak for an upcoming bar association event. 

Second, propose a new program or initiative for a committee and be ready to step in to help.  New programming and meaningful events help raise the visibility of the committee, the bar, and yourself.  Over time, committee leaders and others will start to think of you as someone who is a team player and more importantly, as someone who completes what she promises.  The relationships that you make and nurture will follow you throughout your career.  Individuals, who work with you in your volunteer capacity, will want you to work with them in their “day jobs.”

Active participation in a bar association is more than showing up to a networking event every few months.  Being active is joining a committee, getting to interact with fellow committee members on a regular basis in working towards a common goal or project.  There are tremendous opportunities to work with remarkable leaders in the field.  In many situations, executing committee work is a far easier approach than cold calling busy and respected giants in the legal community.  Moreover, quarterly meetings, lunches, conference calls, to in person brainstorming sessions, these opportunities to communicate with committee members are worth your time. 

Regardless of your volunteer activity, these undertakings can lead to the further development of your current knowledge, or that of another expertise.  In fact, working on a committee in a substantive area of the law, or on diversity or charitable issues in the future may lead to job opportunities in those fields.

Building a great reputation and finding common ground amongst legal professionals can be a springboard for your career.  Bar and committee leadership are often approached to nominate someone to a higher position, or are asked to recommend a young attorney for a job.  So be willing to invest the time into building your brand within a bar association, it will be worth your effort.

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