The Colorado Lawyer
Vol. 42, No. 12 [Page 5]
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In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members
Guest Author: Building Confidence, Camaraderie, and Community—A Matter of Involvement
by Emma Garrison
Attention readers: Having worked with many excellent attorneys and judges throughout my career, I decided to deviate periodically from the traditional monthly President’s Message. I have invited a few of my colleagues to share some of their views about the legal profession and about topics of import and meaning to them. Emma Garrison, who is the chair of the CBA Young Lawyers Division, has graciously accepted the invitation to write this month’s article. She speaks thoughtfully about the beginning of her professional career and the role the bar association has played in it.
—W. Terry Ruckriegle
About the Author
Emma Garrison is the 2013–14 Chair of the CBA Young Lawyers Division. She is Staff Counsel at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell. She loves talking to fellow young lawyers about how to get more involved in the bar, and can be reached at email@example.com.
"It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us
as the confident knowledge that they will help us."
—Epicurus, philosopher (ca. 341–270 BCE)
During my time as chair of the CBA Young Lawyers Division, I’ve had many opportunities to encourage young lawyers to "get involved." Participating in law-related activities outside work—and especially while looking for a job—can go a long way toward jump-starting and defining your legal career. The bar association is a great way to get involved and stay involved.
But what exactly does this mean? Where do you start? How do you do it? How do you keep it up?
As a tried-and-true introvert who has always considered herself shy, I like to share my story because I suspect there are others like me out there. I am not from Colorado, I did not go to school here, and when I moved to Denver in 2008, I did not know a soul. I joined the CBA in 2009, and have managed to reach this amorphous goal of "getting involved." And if I can do it, anyone can!
When Judge Ruckriegle asked me to write as a guest author in his President’s Message space, I decided I would use this opportunity to share some tips and mantras that have helped me get involved and stay involved. I thank Judge Ruckriegle for giving me this opportunity.
Showing Up is 80% of Life
Every journey has to begin somewhere, and an obvious first step is simply to start showing up at bar association events. You may be surprised how welcomed you will feel!
If you are a fairly recent law school graduate, the transition from law school to practice can be quite an adjustment. It is normal to feel overwhelmed when figuring out how to practice law and manage expectations at work, and then how to balance your work life with other obligations and interests. Adding bar association involvement to this mix may be the last thing on your mind. However, a moment may arise when you start to feel ready to take on something new. When that happens, the bar association is here for you and provides many opportunities for you to connect with lawyers outside work and engage in activities involving professional development.
Once you become familiar with the bar association and feel ready to venture beyond simply attending events, start looking and asking around for ways you can become more active and involved. Volunteering is an organic process; chances are good that taking on one volunteer opportunity will lead to another, and things will grow naturally from there. Also, look for CLE programs that interest you, and check out CBA committees and sections as a way to meet people with similar professional interests.
When You Feel Lost, Don’t Hide
If you have not been able to land a permanent legal job, you are not alone. I was in that predicament for most of 2010. Even so, as embarrassed as I felt to be unemployed, and as much as I wanted to hide under my pillow and wallow, I forced myself to attend networking events and CLEs, and to invite lawyers out for coffee. I kept a note on my bulletin board at home that said, "Talking to people you don’t know is good for you!" And it was. My involvement in the bar association kept me from being isolated. By taking it slowly, one day at a time, I emerged from my rough patch and found work. I also found a niche for myself in the bar association by joining the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) Executive Council.
Don’t Let a Desire to be Perfect
Interfere With Practice
Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a "phenom" or to achieve greatness along the lines of Peyton Manning or Oprah Winfrey. To become "proficient," "very good," or even an "expert" takes much less time—but in all cases, it takes practice.
A friend recently confided in me over lunch that she thought she would never succeed at anything that would require her to be social, attend events, and meet a lot of people. Five years ago, I felt exactly this way, but now I am convinced that everyone is capable of this sort of interaction.
The first memo you wrote in your legal research and writing class as a 1L was not perfect, nor would anyone expect it to be. For years, I let my perfectionism hold me back from engaging with other professionals outside work because I was afraid it would be awkward or that I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say.
Then, rather than attaching monumental significance to every event, I started to regard each event as an opportunity to practice simple interaction and communication with my colleagues. As it turned out, all I really needed to do was show up, chat, ask questions, listen, and be myself. If you force yourself to push through whatever nervousness or awkwardness you feel the first several times, you will become more comfortable interacting and it will get easier. I recently attended a dinner at a conference where I knew several people, but I purposefully chose to sit at a table where I didn’t recognize anyone. I thought to myself, why not practice my networking skills and meet some new people? In addition to having interesting conversations with nice people, I felt a renewed sense of confidence. Believe me, that is something I never would have done five years ago!
Take the Long and Broad View
I joined the bar association in 2009 because, like many young lawyers today, I had a gap in employment and needed to find a job. I landed a position in 2010, and I started my current job in July 2013. I do think the bar association was instrumental in my becoming employed. Don’t misunderstand me: neither job offer came as a result of my walking into a bar event one day where someone offered to hire me on the spot. Rather, by attending events and volunteering for committees, my leadership skills began to develop, my self-confidence began to grow, and I began to make friends and acquaintances who wanted to see me succeed. This helped me approach job leads and interviews with more confidence and adopt an overall better attitude about what I have to offer.
I have spoken with young lawyers who feel frustrated and question whether bar association membership is worth it, because they haven’t yet found a job, or a client, or whatever it is they are looking for. Membership itself does not automatically result in getting a job or a new client. However, I am convinced that involvement in the bar will professionally and personally enrich your life in the long run, and in ways you may never have expected. Of course, as is the case with many things in life, you get out of CBA membership what you put into it.
When I started looking for my current job (after my previous law firm announced it was dissolving), I had a community of supporters to cheer me on. Of course, job searches are never easy or fun, but having a broad support network helped me stay positive and reminded me I was not alone.
Some may wonder how bar associations can stay relevant. I think it comes to down to creating and maintaining a community among members. Even in good times, the law is a tough profession. Young lawyers today face unique challenges with overwhelming debt and underwhelming job prospects. We can make it easier for ourselves by becoming part of a supporting community that understands the situation.
Honor the Value of Inactivity
Mahatma Gandhi has been quoted as saying: "I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one." In a recent session of the Denver Bar Association’s "Yoga @ the Bar,"1 Gandhi’s thought was reiterated: It is important to value inactivity and embrace balance.
I am continually inspired by and in awe of lawyers who appear to have endless time and energy to serve on committees, attend events, and succeed in their demanding jobs. This is not me, and I will let you in on a secret: these seemingly super-human lawyers probably don’t have endless time and energy either! Everyone needs an outlet, and no one can be "on" all the time.
As an introvert, it’s not hard for me to value inactivity; I want and need solitary time so I can regroup and recharge. However, I admit to experiencing flashes of guilt about this "wasted time," when there are other things I could be doing. So, I practice telling this guilt-inducing voice in my head to be quiet. For me, this time is not wasted; it allows me to give my all to my commitments. Sleep and exercise seem like easy corners to cut when I am busy, but I regularly remind myself that skipping these vital parts of life will end up costing me more time than they save. I still encourage myself to attend events or meetings when I am not feeling like it (and I usually am glad I did), but I also regularly give myself permission to skip out when my presence isn’t crucial, and if that particular day I would rather go for a run or just head home to the comfort of my sweatpants. It is important to get involved, but it’s also okay—actually, sometimes better—not to be involved every second of every day.
It’s Our Legal Community
For much of my adult life I was known as "the quiet girl with short blonde hair." Now, it is a rare day that I walk down the 16th Street Mall in Denver without running into someone I know. I believe my experience is a testament to how friendly and supportive the CBA community can be. I encourage you to "get involved," so you too may experience the meaning of "legal community" for yourself.
For those of you who are experienced members of the profession, newer attorneys need your encouragement. If you see a new attorney at an event standing alone with no one to talk to, walk over and say hello! A simple gesture such as inviting someone to take a vacant seat at a table can make a tremendous impression.
I invite you all to look for information about CBA membership and YLD events and volunteer opportunities. We have several community service events planned for the spring, such as Wee-Give, a drive for gently used baby gear for under-privileged families; "Bullyproof," an anti-bullying initiative in conjunction with the American Bar Association YLD; and our annual fundraiser, a beer-tasting and silent auction raising money for Project Worthmore, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the quality of life of Denver-area refugees from Burma by providing cultural mentorship and community supports. We also plan to host our annual "For Young Lawyers, By Young Lawyers" CLE program, as well as an open house event introducing new members of the bar to CBA’s various sections and committees. We will need volunteers for these events, and hope you will join us. If you would like to be added to the volunteer list or have any ideas or questions about the YLD, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. The Denver Bar Association offers free yoga classes, which are held weekly on Friday mornings at the bar offices. Visit dbayounglawyers.org/calendar or call (303) 860-1115 for logistics and to sign up.
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