Have You Talked To A Young Lawyer Lately?

By Ryan McDonald, Esq. – Osborn Reed & Burke, LLP
Chair of the MCBA Young Lawyers Section

This week’s Bar View guest author is Ryan McDonald. The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and are not intended to represent those of the MCBA or its board of trustees.

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As the Chair of the Young Lawyers Section, I am frequently asked by other groups within the MCBA “How do we engage the Young Lawyers?” There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here, and the question is one that many of my predecessors have tried to answer.

I have been asking fellow Young Lawyers about what makes them feel disengaged with the greater bar association. A common issue identified was how the generations communicate and interact with each other.

Under the traditional bar model, that many of you may have enjoyed while rising through the ranks, the bar association would facilitate networking events where you would rub elbows with higher ups and climb the ladder in the Rochester legal community. We young lawyers are finding that this simply hasn’t worked for us.

Of the numerous members of the Young Lawyers I have spoken to, perhaps less than 3% of those who have networked at these events have been able to lateral into another firm or employment situation. For the remaining 97% of members, the likelihood for genuine professional networking when many members do not attend events, renders MCBA-wide gatherings less enticing. Ultimately, many of these individuals come to the conclusion that there are very few benefits to membership, and cease to renew.

On a more personal level, I sometimes wonder how it came to that point, when the MCBA changed, if at all. Some of this may be a cultural shift, and a natural consequence of firms that have moved from downtown to the suburbs. Upon inquiring with a more established attorney (who requested anonymity) I learned that as recently as the late 1980’s, downtown Rochester was littered with bars where lawyers would meet up before the commute home. Many of these lawyers smoked, and could smoke in the bars. Most, if not all, would drive home afterwards without fear of the 21st Century’s DWI laws. Michael Dukakis drove a tank. Geraldo was still a serious journalist. It was a different time, and somewhere along the way the local legal community became disconnected, and scattered to the four winds.

This is not to say that there are no benefits to having traditional networking-type events. Certainly the odd happy hour has its place but, based upon my purely un-scientific observations, they are poorly attended by young lawyers and members of the general bar. Instead, we find that young lawyers are more engaged in events where they get to participate in some type of activity. For example, our trivia events are always well attended and encourage our members to get to know someone they’ve never met before by assigning participants to random teams. I implore you, our members of the general bar, to give one of our more participatory events a try.

We truly appreciate our “regulars” who make time to engage young lawyers in conversation and build bridges between the generations. At our events members have opportunities to: discuss pending appeal issues with the Rob Brucato and LaFon Howard of Counsel Press; chat with local legal luminaries such as Steve Modica or Mark Moretti; and even be regaled with the war stories of the MCBA’s own James Hinman and Brad Kammholz and several other regular attendees from the general bar. Our members realize that the wealth of knowledge these individuals bring to our events provides not only the meaningful connections with the movers and shakers of the MCBA, but also can be a font of wisdom that could potentially lead to success in practice.

But by and far, the highlight of our events are the connections that happen after last call. Perhaps 1 in 3 members ultimately form friendships that exist outside of the MCBA, and foster a professional/personal support network. It is these connections outside of the MCBA that truly underscore Generations Y and Z, and how we value inter-personal connections.

Another misstep in engaging young lawyers is misunderstanding why they join the bar association. Why did you join the bar association? Was it because your firm paid for it or because it was the best place to socialize with your colleagues? Were you seeking a mentor? Or was there another reason?

For some young lawyers, they join to rub-elbows and get ahead but, for more of our members, it’s to simply get started. It’s no secret that the current generation of young lawyers, those who graduated between 2006 and 2016, have faced the worst job market in a generation. Many of you may know that your own firms downsized or didn’t fill vacancies after the 2008 recession hit. It seems like things are getting better but, it is young lawyers who still have the toughest row to hoe. The odds are stacked against young lawyers in that, even with an uptick in hiring, there simply are not enough jobs to go around and applicants face fierce competition. Adding to the difficulty is that many positions are never publically posted and are filled based upon word-of-mouth recommendations.

I think young lawyers understand that most members of the general bar cannot offer them full-time employment. However, taking the time to engage a young lawyer in conversation and learn a little about him or her may facilitate meaningful strides toward ultimate employment.

With that I implore you to engage a young lawyer next week. It can be an associate in a different practice group, a stranger in a CLE, or someone waiting for calendar call at the Hall of Justice. Any young lawyer, just a couple of minutes. Take steps to help bridge the generational divide within the MCBA. We’ll be a stronger legal community for it in the end.

If this blog leaves you feeling energized to reach out to a young lawyer or two, please join us on Tuesday, October 25 from 5:30-7:30 for OktoBARfest 2016 at TRATA co-hosted by the Young Lawyer’s Section, RBBA and GRAWA.

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