We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future."
-Franklin D. Roosevelt1
Do you remember the first time someone asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I'm thinking about this both because May 1 is Law Day and because, later this month, we will welcome to our profession King County's newest batch of lawyers.2 These events are particularly good occasions to reflect on what led us to become lawyers, and how KCBA can play a role (for some) in making that decision and (for all of us) in our professional development.
I didn't always want to be a lawyer - there was a time when baseball and the priesthood held greater allure. But by high school, I knew my limitations on the sports field and my primary interest had shifted to government and politics. Law seemed a good foundation for a potential political career. Then, in senior year, the exhilaration of practicing law really hit me, and not just as a step toward a life in politics.
That year, six or seven of us founded the Virgil Academy. We translated and discussed portions of The Aeneid that we had passed over as juniors. For a year-end project, our faculty moderator proposed that we place Aeneas on trial, charged with disobeying and dishonoring the gods. I was on the defense team.
This experience erased any doubt as to my future path. Examining witnesses, arguing to judge and jury - it was all terrific fun. Add that I was helping to prevent a grave injustice and I was hooked. (It didn't hurt that the defense prevailed, not that I can take credit; after all, could Troy's greatest hero, the son of Venus, really have committed such unspeakable crimes?)
But what of those who aren't "born lawyers" or lucky enough to have had a Virgil Academy-type experience? Locally, we're fortunate that KCBA not only strives to help future legal professionals discern their vocation, but it then makes every effort to support them in that vocation.
Building a Diverse Pipeline Into the Profession: The Future of the Law Institute
Part of KCBA's mission is to promote diversity in the profession. Over the years, we've come to appreciate that many young people of color, and others from disadvantaged backgrounds, don't realize that a legal career is even possible for them. Therefore, if we want young people from groups that are underrepresented in the profession seriously to consider a career in the law, we need affirmatively to focus them on the desirability of both higher education and a legal career. And we need to do so early in their lives.
KCBA starts "recruiting" potential minority lawyers in high school through the Future of the Law Institute (FLI). Students in this year-long program receive courthouse tours, meet with lawyers and judges, and participate in legal workshops, career counseling and a mock trial. Participants also team up with a mentor, receive SAT preparation assistance, and are eligible for summer legal internships. Those who go on to college receive $500 scholarships from KCBA and additional scholarship funding if they go to law school. Since FLI's inception in 2002, more than 725 students have participated and more than 150 have received scholarships from KCBA to encourage them to pursue higher education.
Reaching out to Law Schools
Once students enter law school, there's a good chance they will become lawyers. But as we know, many people do not attend law school with the actual intent of pursuing a legal career. Therefore, in the law school setting as well, KCBA acts to foster an interest in the practice of law and to make the transition from student to practitioner as easy as possible.
To this end, KCBA aims to establish relationships with students at the University of Washington and Seattle University law schools. We offer free membership to students, entitling them to participate in most KCBA activities. Our Young Lawyers Division holds numerous events at the schools, from happy hours to substantive presentations. YLD is also starting a walk-in clinic at the Public Law Library in downtown Seattle where law students can gain practical experience within our pro bono programs.
To further promote our bond with King County's future lawyers (and KCBA members!), I have asked our Membership Committee to consider developing a program, similar to one run by the Bar Association of the City of New York, that would bring experienced lawyers to the law schools to discuss their early experiences at different legal tasks. One panel of lawyers might focus on their first depositions, another on their first briefs or oral arguments, another on the first contracts they drafted. Panelists also would discuss what they've learned since their initial experiences. While I envision students as the primary audience for these discussions, YLD members also could attend, perhaps for CLE credit.
Importantly, our effort to promote a diverse profession continues in the law schools, principally through our minority law student scholarship program. Since 1970, KCBA and its sister organization, the King County Bar Foundation, have awarded more than 700 scholarships, valued at over $1.6 million, to minority students attending the UW and SU law schools, making KCBA/KCBF one of the largest providers of minority law student scholarships in Washington. More than half of our scholarship recipients practice in Washington.
Helping New Lawyers Grow: The Young Lawyers Division
All young lawyers can use help to kick-start their careers and the YLD provides that help in many ways.3 It offers formal training through its Bridging the Gap CLE program and brown-bag lunch programs. It provides leadership and management opportunities through service on committees and its Board of Trustees, and through publication of the Washington Lawyers Practice Manual and handbooks on such topics as pursuit of small claims. Of course, YLD also promotes socializing and networking among young lawyers and with more experienced members of the bar (including judges) at monthly happy hours and other events.
YLD offers young lawyers a chance to positively impact our community, too. It operates the Neighborhood Legal Clinics (including the new clinic at the Law Library) at which young lawyers provide pro bono legal help. It raises funds for other KCBA pro bono programs through its "Bowling for Justice" and "Fun Run and Walk" events. YLD also recruits volunteers for non-legal projects that benefit the community, such as helping to house and feed the poor and the homeless and, within the last year, assisting in the restoration of the West Duwamish Greenbelt, working in conjunction with other organizations.
Newer lawyers at larger firms and public agencies usually work with experienced lawyers. They benefit from a built-in mentoring system, learning aspects of practice crucial to their professional development that are not taught in law school. But for young lawyers who hang their own shingle or join a small firm where training opportunities are limited, the benefit of establishing a relationship with a mentor can be huge.
KCBA encourages mentoring in several ways. Sometimes, there's a clarion call for experienced attorneys to mentor newer lawyers and law students, as when former KCBA presidents Mark Fordham and Gary Maehara devoted columns to this need.4 More frequently, we build a mentoring component into our programs. One of our pro bono programs, the Family Law Mentor Program, is premised on a mentoring relationship between lawyers new to the family law field and experienced family law practitioners.
Our Lawyer Referral Service allows newer lawyers to join its panels only if they identify an experienced attorney with whom they can confer; it is also looking to implement a more formal mentoring program. Our BOLD Section, composed of attorneys who have retired or are in their later years of practice, endeavors to maintain the vibrancy of its members' professional lives in part by encouraging them to be mentors for lawyers starting their careers.
Pro Bono Service
KCBA's pro bono programs not only help the recipients of free legal aid, but they provide young lawyers the chance to handle cases on their own, to meet with clients and, in general, to engage in facets of practice sooner than their billable work may allow.
Our programs also can introduce young lawyers to new fields of law, opening up to them areas of practice that they might not otherwise have considered. This can be of particular value to lawyers struggling to find employment in a tough economy; the experience and skills that they gain through pro bono representation may help in establishing their own practices or in seeking positions with potential employers.
Building a Book of Business
KCBA's promotion of diversity doesn't end once minority law students pass the bar exam. The "Building a Book of Business" program provides networking contacts to new attorneys of color who work at private firms, and arranges for them to receive instruction from leading minority lawyers on how to market themselves and acquire clients, all with the goal of increasing the likelihood that they will be successful at their firms.
Providing Career-Long Support
KCBA assists members of all ages in their professional development so that they can fulfill the lawyer's charge to "help secure the rights of individuals, bring justice to our communities, and reinforce the proud traditions that make America a beacon of light for the world."5
KCBA does this by offering our members opportunities to:
- promote access to justice by providing free legal assistance to the poor;
- improve the justice system by, inter alia, evaluating the performance of judges and the qualifications of candidates for judicial office, resolving complaints related to judicial campaigns, and proposing and evaluating potential changes to court rules and court administration;
- study law-related issues of public policy on which they may ask the Board of Trustees to take a formal position on behalf of the Association;
- engage in activities that recognize the diversity of our membership and help to increase diversity within both our membership and the profession as a whole;
- assist voters to make informed choices in elections that impact the justice system by publishing judicial evaluations and surveys, and hosting candidate forums;
- improve their professional lives through our Lawyer Referral Service, CLE programs, substantive sections and special programs that exhort us to embrace and celebrate the privileges and responsibilities that all lawyers share; and
- engage in camaraderie with our fellow lawyers from a wide variety of practices, many of whom we might never meet were it not for KCBA.
We have a "noble profession" in which we can justly take pride.6 And we have a great bar organization which, for more than 125 years, has assisted our members to promote justice, professionalism and service. KCBA's varied programs, for lawyers (and pre-lawyers) of all ages, truly form a network to carry us from our professional cradle to our professional grave.
Regardless of how or why you decided to become a lawyer, I truly hope that you have never had, and never will have, reason to regret either that decision or the decision to make KCBA part of your professional life.
KCBA President Joe Bringman is of counsel to Perkins Coie LLP, where he practices in the Commercial Litigation Group. You can contact Bringman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Address at University of Pennsylvania, Sept. 20, 1940.
2 KCBA sponsors admissions ceremonies twice a year at the King County Courthouse. On May 18, Presiding Judge Richard McDermott will swear in those who passed the winter bar exam and others who seek admission to practice in Washington.
3 YLD membership is automatic for KCBA members who are either under the age of 37 or in their first five years of practice.
4 Mark Fordham, "Building a Professional Foundation," KCBA Bar Bulletin, Aug. 2010, at 2; Gary Maehara, "Make a Difference, Be a Mentor," KCBA Bar Bulletin, Nov. 2005, at 2.
5 Proclamation No. 8250, 3 C.F.R. 40 (2008). In commemorating Law Day's 50th anniversary, President George W. Bush picked up on a theme that President Dwight Eisenhower expressed on the first Law Day. Cf. Proclamation No. 3221, 3 C.F.R. 143 (1958) (describing the lawyer's duty to "vigilantly guard the great heritage of liberty, justice, and equality under law which our forefathers bequeathed us").
6 See, e.g., William Jennings Bryan, The Law and the Gospel (1890) ("Next to the ministry I know of no more noble profession than the law. The object aimed at is justice, equal and exact . ... Its principles ennoble and its practice elevates."), quoted in Mary Baird Bryan, "Biographical Introduction" to 1 William Jennings Bryan, Speeches of William Jennings Bryan, at xxvii (1909).