I’ve been asked many times why I volunteer for the Indianapolis Bar Association, and I have given lots of reasons over the years. In fact, the reasons I belong and I volunteer have changed through the years.
I have been a member of the IndyBar since I was admitted to the practice of law. I joined, primarily, because at that time, it’s what you did. The IBA—as we called it then—had monthly lunch meetings and they were a lot of fun. There were no continuing legal education requirements, so I didn’t join for the CLE, which is why many members join.
My IndyBar membership developed into a networking tool when I started practicing law with Mike Hebenstreit and I needed to bring in some business. Everyone wants to see young lawyers succeed, so after a monthly luncheon I usually had a few new clients.
A couple of years later, in 1986, CLE became mandatory in Indiana. I’m honestly not sure there were many CLEs until Julie Armstrong was hired 25 years ago to organize CLEs for the bar. The brown bag CLEs for which the bar association is well known became another reason I was a member. They were a cheap and easy way to get all of the credit I needed.
Then I started thinking about wanting to be a judge. I wanted to develop some credibility, so I volunteered to present at some of the seminars. I thought speaking publicly on a legal topic would get my name out there and establish me as a credible candidate for judge among the legal community. I guess it worked because I was elected.
That’s when the real volunteering started. I went to the then-president of the association, Judge Gary Miller, and asked if he could do something about the lack of pro bono lawyers available to serve. You guessed it, I was appointed chair of the Pro Bono Standing Committee. I also found that my job as a judge was very isolating. I hadn’t expected that since I saw lawyers all the time in the City County Building. But lawyers don’t call judges to chat, and they rarely stop by just to say hi. So, my volunteer time began to fill my need for casual social interactions.
Once you seriously volunteer for the IndyBar, you’re hooked. The staff support was so good, I found the time I spent volunteering was reasonable and the efforts of the committee translated into great programs by the talented staff. Since my first serious volunteering job turned out so worthwhile, I thought I’d put my name in to serve on the Board of Directors. That was really fun. I became good friends with so many lawyers whom I would have never gotten to know. I chaired more committees and volunteered to serve food at the Ronald McDonald House, sort food at Gleaners, put on a holiday party for the kids at Coburn Place, and lots of other one-off volunteer activities. These were all great chances to make friends and make a difference at the same time.
As the years went by, I continued to enjoy my bar activities and reap indirect rewards. As a result, my purpose in volunteering has changed. I feel more isolated than ever before in my job. The federal courthouse has locks on chambers and you need to buzz past a judicial assistant just to chat with a colleague. So, I enjoy the camaraderie the bar offers. Young lawyers need a mentor more than ever. They don’t join large firms as much as they used to, so they need someone to answer questions and give candid advice. I like being able to help out a young lawyer occasionally.
The practice of law is changing in ways that aren’t easy to identify and the bar association is very good at offering tools for success. Lawyers have always needed a unified voice on matters that directly affect the practice of law and with all of the changes happening, it’s more important to me than ever before that the IndyBar provide that thoughtful discussion and provide needed commentary to community leaders.
There are hundreds of ways to be involved in the bar association and infinite reasons to do it. If you want to meet friends, make connections and have fun, I hope you’ll come to the holiday party on Dec. 8 at 5 p.m. at Meridian Hills or any one of the many section holiday parties. If you want or need CLE, the IndyBar has lots of live seminars and more video replays than I can count in December. If your heart calls you to do something for a person in need, The Women and the Law Division are hosting their annual Holiday Party at Coburn Place for the children there. The Indianapolis Bar Foundation is hosting a fun Trivia Night at Bent Rail on Dec. 13. The funds raised there will support the good work of the Foundation in 2017. Or just make a year-end donation to the Foundation. All of the sections and committees are reconstituting now for next year, so reach out to a section chair or a staff person at the IndyBar if you want to be actively involved in the substantive work of a section or to speak at a seminar.
The IndyBar can be whatever you want or need, wherever you are in your career. There’s a chance, though, that you might not get a personal ask, as I did, to be a bigger part of the work of the association. If there’s something we’re not doing, let us know. The association is here to serve you—your wants, your needs, whatever might help you succeed in your practice and in our profession.