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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Committee 36: Ensuring Our Future

Recently, I had the great pleasure of speaking to the incoming first-year class at two of Minnesota’s fine law schools.  The energy of the first gathering of the students, prior to the first class, was palpable.  The moment brought me back to the day before my first day of law school and my mixed emotions of pride, fear of the unknown, and anxiousness to jump in.  (I actually thought I’d get through much of the Con Law casebook before classes began.  Somewhere in the middle of that afternoon it occurred to me that I might need to rethink that strategy.)

My hosts had asked that I be positive in my remarks, as the students were all well-aware of the challenges facing new lawyers today.  I was half tempted to share with them my perspective on being a 1L—that law school is more of an emotional adjustment than an intellectual one, that it is far easier to understand if you find ways to read about the “forest” of the subject before you examine each “tree” through the case book, and that as hard as it is for those used to being at the top to accept, there’s some validity to the statistic that 90 percent of them will not be in the top 10 percent.

I opted to focus on the crucial role we as lawyers, and the courts, play in the functioning of our democracy, the importance of civility and professionalism, and the need to remember that it is not about us, it is all about our client.  But, having counseled nearly a thousand law students on job searches, I couldn’t help but impress upon them the challenges each would face to make their future happen.  The career services offices offer valuable information, resources, and advice but ultimately, the job search is the student’s responsibility, requiring resourcefulness, determination, and energy.  Contrary to popular belief, career services directors don’t have a ROLODEX® of jobs to hand out.  (This ancient “hard” copy contact list, sorted alphabetically by hand, was not vulnerable to a hard drive crash, but if it fell on the floor it ruined your day.)

Enabling New Lawyers’ Success

Clearly, these bright students have to take charge of their professional futures.  Any feelings of entitlement that they might have regarding employment need to be set aside.  Many will need to think outside the box to make their quest for a job successful.   But we too, as persons privileged enough to be in this profession, need to step up to the plate.  We have a responsibility, indeed I would argue a strong self-interest, in ensuring that new lawyers joining us have the tools, knowledge, and assistance to be strong advocates for their clients, ethical and professional in their conduct, and helpful in educating the public about the meaning and importance of the rule of law and access to justice.

Bar associations have a compelling reason to help these soon-to-be lawyers:  if we don’t add value from Day One, they won’t be there for us on Day Two.  Over 20 percent of new lawyers drop their bar association membership a year after graduation, when the free membership expires.  Within three years of graduation, 41 percent have left the fold, most forever.  This attrition, combined with the impending retirement of Baby Boomers, poses unprecedented membership challenges to bar associations in the years to come.  Unlike when I started in practice, law graduates today aren’t looking to bar associations for social networking.  Of course, the Bar offers a host of valuable services and practice tools to its members, but folks need to stick around long enough to learn about and benefit from those services.

Committee 36

Committee 36 has been formed to make a difference in the lives of those entering our profession.  Borrowing from medicine, the committee intends to implement a person-centered team approach to support new lawyers.  The “team” will involve inhouse lawyers, public interest and public sector lawyers, judges, bankers, recruiters, malpractice carriers, mental health and substance abuse counselors, and others.  The agenda?  To address concerns related to managing debt burdens, job searches, understanding the culture of the practice of law, leadership development, ethics, business development, avoiding common faux pas, networking, work/life balance, personal development, self-sufficiency, IT, and other topics.  From the day they graduate, and for 36 months thereafter and beyond, the Bar will be there to provide resources, programs, mentoring, and individualized support based upon the needs of each graduate.

The idea is that if, after their first year of practice, we continue to add value to the graduates, they will renew their membership for Year Two.  If after Year Two we are still making a difference, they will rejoin in Year Three.  If we walk with the graduates, we then become a partner for their professional lives and they too will give back to others.

Under the inspired leadership of Kendra Brodin, Committee 36 comprises a remarkable corps of creative, innovative, and enthused lawyers.  This brain trust is tasked with reviewing other programs around the country, evaluating what works and doesn’t work, and bringing together resources and persons to craft a winning program that will serve as a template for bar associations nationwide.  This is not a one-on-one mentoring program but rather a holistic team-based support model.

Looking for an opportunity to participate?  Give back?  Share your wisdom?  Work with other professionals in a team?  We need your help to make Committee 36 a success.  However you may want to contribute, we can use your help.  Drop Kendra a line at kdbrodin@stthomas.edu.

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Brent Routman

Brent Routman was president of the Minnesota State Bar Association from 2011-2012. He is a partner, general counsel, and Asia Regional Trademark Attorney with the intellectual property law firm of Merchant & Gould in Minneapolis.