By Manny Herceg, Lewis & Kappes
The number of Millennials joining and participating in bar associations is declining. John Trimble, Terrance Tharpe and others have previously touted the benefits of joining and participating in bar associations, but this guest column (thanks to John for the invitation) is different. This column specifically goes out to my fellow Millennials. You, who have forged an independent streak. You, who have been the vanguard of major social change. You, the most racially diverse generation in America. You, the “best-educated cohort of young adults in American history.” You, who time and time again, fail to show up at bar association events. By sharing my experience, I hope that will change in some small way.
There are many reasons I joined the Indianapolis Bar Association and why I stay involved. But, I will share only three: 1) you meet people; 2) you contribute; and 3) you grow. Each of these is important for different reasons.
First, relationships are integral for personal and professional development. Millennials are a “get to the point” generation, so I won’t dawdle. IndyBar involvement will help you forge long-lasting relationships and earn a living. Millennials have record levels of student loans, while 20 years ago, only half of recent graduates had college debt, and the average amount was almost half of what we are burdened with. Anything that will help build a practice is important. Perhaps you’re thinking the dues don’t seem like a worthwhile investment. They are. Look around. It is not an accident that the leaders of our profession – judges, partners, elected officials and executives – have significant and persistent bar association involvement throughout their careers. They know everyone and everyone knows them. From that, opportunity follows. But, it doesn’t happen overnight – the effect is cumulative. Just like the importance of early investment for building wealth, early involvement in the IndyBar will help increase your personal and professional capital.
I am just an immigrant kid from Vermont who happened to meet a great Hoosier girl and decided to build a life here. I knew no one and my last name wasn’t recognizable. But, through my bar association involvement, I have had the opportunity to work on issues of vital importance to our community through the Pro Bono Standing Committee and the Bar Leader Series. Along the way, I have met terrific people throughout our city and lawyers I never would have met in practice. That also includes the fantastic staff at the IndyBar who pour their hearts and souls into their work. Also, I’m not the only one with that experience. Just ask Ronan Johnson, Kate Erdel, Jane Glynn, or TaKeena Thompson. They all have four things in common: 1) they’re outstanding attorneys and people; 2) they are dedicated and active members of the IndyBar; 3) they did not have deep-rooted Indianapolis ties prior to practicing here; and 4) they’re friends I met through IndyBar.
In that light, Indianapolis has minimal “barriers to entry.” That is especially true for our legal community. It matters little where you went to school (other than in sports discourse) or what your last name is. If you have drive and aptitude, you can contribute. And it will pay off. You may already know people in your practice area, but being more involved will help expand and enhance those connections. As Terrance said in his guest column earlier this month, “[I]t was bar association service that turned [John Trimble and Jimmie McMillian] from colleagues and acquaintances into my friends. I should have been engaged from day one… .”
Second, IndyBar has provided me with opportunities to help our city. I believe it is incumbent on lawyers to give back (remember your oath?). Only about a quarter of people aged over 25 in Marion County have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. More than 20 percent live below the poverty level. As John pointed out in his last column, referencing the work of Rev. John Girton Jr. of Christ Missionary Baptist Church and others, “people living in the most troubled neighborhoods are surrounded by guns, gangs, drugs, and empty houses.” According to Rev. Girton, they have become so hopeless that “’[t]hey don’t see a better tomorrow.’” So, there is no shortage of need in our community. The Pro Bono Standing Committee has programs to address some of those needs, including: Ask a Lawyer, Legal Line, Low Asset Wills, Homeless Project, Hospice Project, and more. Also, the Bar Leader Series has been a transformative experience for me and many of my colleagues — especially by providing opportunities to help the community.
Third, IndyBar involvement fosters personal and professional growth. The Bar Leader Series and the Pro Bono Standing Committee are concrete examples of that. But, there are also countless informative and worthwhile CLEs, luncheons, fundraisers and a documents bank. Beyond these formal offerings, the people you meet will constantly inspire and challenge you to be better. It is hard not to get excited about Indianapolis, the IndyBar, and life in general after talking with Chris Hickey. I dare you to try. And, if you’re not comfortable working a room full of people, there are other options. Have you heard of the IndyBar’s Indy Attorneys Network Section? You sign up and get paired with another attorney in the area every month. You then connect and meet up.
So, what am I saying? What’s the point of dedicating an entire guest column to this? Maximizing the benefits of IndyBar participation is good for you and your community. It’s also simple. All you have to do is show up. Show up and introduce yourself to the many fine lawyers and people that are at your table, bellied up next to you at the bar, or helping organize an event. They will talk to you and suggest ways to get involved. But, more importantly, they will become your friends and they will be there for you when you need them.
We need to be active in bar associations so that our experiences and expertise will be combined with those of our more seasoned colleagues as we guide our profession forward. This profession belongs to us for the next several decades. Let’s not be remembered as the lawyers of the generation that helped get “selfie” recognized as Oxford Dictionaries’ 2013 word of the year. Let’s do and be more.
Manny Herceg is an Associate with Lewis & Kappes practicing litigation, municipal services and education law. The views expressed are his own.