By Joann Sternheimer
Recently, I had the privilege of sponsoring a young attorney for admission to the United States District Court, Northern District of New York. It brought to mind my own experience of being admitted to the bar. At the time, I was law clerk to Hon. William F. Tuohey (Ret.), who insisted that my family attend my swearing in because “other than your wedding day and the birth of a child, the day you get admitted to the bar is the most important day of your life.” He encouraged me to make the most of my professional life early on by becoming an active member of my local bar association, counseling me that a serviceable career in the law can be based on knowledge and hard work alone, but a truly successful legal career also requires relationships with colleagues you trust and respect, getting out into and becoming part of the broader legal community. He was right.
Active participation in bar associations has been an integral part of my career. It provided me with my first public speaking and leadership opportunities and introduced me to people who would shape my career for years to come. When I moved to the Capital District twenty years ago after practicing in New Jersey, I didn’t know a soul. Bar associations, including FCBA, were key to my ability to successfully relocate my career. I met new friends and colleagues, developed a network of referral sources, developed relationships with judges and court staff and built my professional network. As a small firm lawyer, I needed and developed a “brain trust”- a group of trusted colleagues I can call for advice or refer my clients to when their needs require an expertise different than my own. Through my bar association activities, I learned of career opportunities, for myself and others. For example, a bar association colleague recommended to me a paraprofessional under temporary contract with the state when her term concluded. My firm gained a valuable employee as a result. A New Jersey colleague asked me to represent his client in an action pending in the Northern District and shared his frustration in hiring a qualified associate. I recommended someone who became a successful member of his team. (I gained a new client and helped a friend in the same phone call – double whammy!). When I became Managing Partner of my firm, several bar association friends reached out to me and offered to share their experiences managing small firms. These people have become valuable resources on “the business of law.” All of these connections have contributed to my success. None of these relationships, experiences or friendships are available online.
I recognize that if you are reading this, I am preaching to the choir. If that’s the case, then please sing FCBA’s praises! You too recognize the value of FCBA membership. Share your stories with others and encourage them, as our immediate past president, Mitch Katz often says, to “get out from behind the screen.” Please send us an email and let us know your FCBA story. Did you make a connection that changed your career? Did you learn something in a CLE at just the right moment? Did you chat with a colleague at a social event and come away with a referral? Did you nearly die of fright the first time you spoke at a CLE only to discovery that you kind of like it? Did you gain leadership experience on a committee or spearheading an event? Let us know. More importantly, let your colleagues know, especially your younger ones. So much information, CLEs, professional blogs, etc. are available electronically that it can be easy to forget that experiences are just as, if not more valuable than, facts and figures. Of course FCBA offers excellent continuing education programs – all free with membership, but there is so much more. As an attorney who has clocked her working life in six-minute increments for 25 years, I am very familiar with the pressure to bill, and bar association activities take time! But consider the long view. Relationships built now can lead to career opportunities later. Public speaking experience developed at CLE presentations will prepare your associate for a client pitch down the line. Leading a committee can be the first step toward leading a practice group. Making time to get to know your colleagues at social events can turn a serviceable career into a truly successful one. Simply put, there is no substitute for human interaction.
So get out there! Interested in writing an article? Call Mike Langan. Want to increase your visibility by presenting at a CLE program? Contact Dan Rubin. Have an idea for a social event? Contact Shelly Childers. Noticed something in our local rules that’s not working as well as it could? Contact Zac Oren. Want to engage with your community? Read this newsletter’s articles about Law Week and FCBA’s Constitutional Scholars program to see if either is right for you. Join us at our upcoming Federal Criminal Trial Practice CLE, learn the ins and outs of reds and whites at our upcoming wine tasting event, or join us at City Beer Hall for a pint. We’d love to see you.
Your input is important to us. As we approach the middle of our year, our membership committee will be sending out a short survey. Look for it in your inbox and take a few minutes to tell us what you like and, and perhaps more importantly, where we can improve. We are here to serve you. Help us do our best job. As always, we want to hear any suggestions, comments or complaints. Feel free to contact Shelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or me at email@example.com. We are already preparing for our annual meeting and dinner which will be held this year in Albany on December 5th at 60 State Place. Mark your calendars. I look forwarding to seeing you soon.