By Rosalyn Tang
As a new lawyer, I was often told to get involved in a bar association. There was an array to choose from: the Maryland State Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, the Montgomery County Bar Association, and APABA-MD, just to name a few. I believed that “getting involved” meant showing up to bar-sponsored events. At first, I attended a bar event or two, but felt like a minnow in a sea of titans. The titans gravitated towards one another. The minnows spoke to one another in the periphery, paying scant attention to the conversation.
Discouraged by this, I wondered, “How could I break new ground on relationships that were already firmly established?”
A judge once made a distinction between mentorship and sponsorship. Mentors guide and advise you. Sponsors invest in and advocate for you. Fortunately, I have been blessed with both who have encouraged me to “get involved.” Sometimes, I was asked to assist with planning a bar-sponsored program, other times I was “volun-told.” It was explained to me that getting involved was a good thing professionally and that there was a need for diversity in the bar association. Whether voluntary (or not), my bar association involvement provided a wonderful opportunity to get to know the members of the bar on a more meaningful level than before.
One involvement that was particularly meaningful was my participation in the Montgomery County Bar Association’s Leadership Development Academy. The Academy is designed to prepare young attorneys to fill leadership positions in the bar association. The fellows are tasked with developing a group project to implement during the bar year. It requires the fellows to work collaboratively, communicate, and appreciate the differences in their ideas. The fellows meet regularly throughout the bar year to listen to and participate in various presentations on leadership, team building, and networking.
I had the opportunity to speak to the current fellows at one of the recent presentations about the bar associations in Maryland. The fellows learned about APABA-MD, its growth, and its goals. We each shared tips and suggestions with the fellows who are thinking about actively participating in a bar association in the near future.
First, show up. Committing to a position within the bar is appreciated and celebrated. But when you are a regular no-show at meetings, no one (including the bar association) benefits.
Second, take your involvement in the bar association like your meals - one bite at a time. If you are not sure how much time you can commit to the bar association, start with volunteering to run the registration table or with set-up/clean-up at a particular event. If you want to do more, offer to join a committee to assist with planning one program. If you want to do to even more, chair a committee. As you grow, you will develop many new and genuine relationships with other members. After some time and before you know it, you will realize that you are no minnow.