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Posted on: Jun 11, 2021

Dear Abby: 2021 Bench Bar Edition

By Claire Emswiller Emswiller Williams Noland & Clarke LLC

Need advice on how to make this year’s Bench Bar Conference the best one ever? IndyBar member and longtime attendee of the Bench Bar Conference Claire Emswiller is here to answer your inquiries, dish out advice and get everyone ready to get back down to Louisville and enjoy a few days with your friends. Even though the conference is just under a week away, you can still sign up to attend at indybar.org/benchbar!

Dear Claire,

This will be my first Bench Bar and, potentially more nerve wracking, my first time around humans not related to me (and thus not bound by familial unconditional love) in more than a year. While I am excited to attend, I want to make sure I get the most of my experience while also making a good impression. Can you offer any tips or guideposts to help me have a memorable 2021 Bench Bar while easing back into groups of 50 or more?

—Nervous Novice

Dear Nervous Novice,

While I would like to say that there is no wrong way to Bench Bar, I cannot, because there are plenty of ways to do Bench Bar poorly. But to get you started off on the right foot, I have compiled a list of do’s and don’ts to help you along and ensure that while this may be your first, it will certainly not be your last:

  1. Get there early. Registration is from 2 to 5 p.m. on Thursday but do not let that seemingly leisurely amount of time fool you. You will need to park, check-in, find your room and register and none of these things will be close to one another. You will also want some time to freshen up after that drive from Indy because you shall be attending the First Time Attendee Reception at 5 p.m. Note, I said “shall” attend, not “may.”
  2. Attend the First Time Attendee Reception. Why? Because you will be assigned a Bench Bar veteran to teach you the ropes (I can only do so much in one article), meet other FTAs AND get a chance to meet all of the judicial attendees of the conference in a smaller more intimate space. It is also probably the shortest drink line of the entire conference so take advantage but note #3 below.
  3. It is a marathon, not a sprint. This is a lawyer event, so there will be booze. In fact, there is usually an open bar at every reception, dinner and post-dinner event. While it is part of the experience to relax with a few adult beverages, remember that this is still a professional conference and we are representing the Indianapolis legal community in another city. Also, we will all be swapping stories the morning about those who took off a little too quick out of the gate the night before. It also makes for a rough morning and Friday is a full and long day. You do not want to be the woman wearing sunglasses inside (me), swigging a bottle of Pedialyte (also me) and vowing to never drink again (several people, including me.)
  4. Jump in. Bench Bar can appear to be the lunchroom on the first day of a new school. An endless sea of people who seemingly already know each other and wear the same Cabi jumpsuit (it DOES look good on everyone!) But I can say with confidence that if you walk up to any group of people standing at a reception or sitting at a meal and introduce yourself and say you are a first time attendee, you will immediately be welcomed into the circle, roped into joining a trivia team and then dragged around to meet five new people. If not, come find me and I will.  

Dear Claire,

I have looked in all of the material, but I cannot seem to find a dress code, what do I wear?

—Ready to Lose the Sweatpants

Dear Ready to Lose the Sweatpants,

I get this question every year but that does not to say I always give the same answer. This year we are in the lovely city of Louisville, which tends to be similar to Indianapolis but is usually a bit warmer.

In terms of formality, just remember that you are not at the office. Unless you are presenting you will be upset if you show up in a suit and tie or in your court heels. During the day you will be in windowless hotel conference rooms, so dress casually but bring an extra layer because those rooms can be frigid. Some like to dress up a bit more for the receptions and dinners, think sundresses, rompers and button-down shirts. But you will not feel out of place if you come down in jeans. There are several fitness opportunities this year including a running group and morning yoga so make sure to pack your running shoes or yoga mat. Also, do not forget your bathing suit! There is a rooftop pool at this new venue that you will want to take advantage of after your CLEs sessions.

The most important fashion tip is to please remember to wear your nametag with your name side clearly visible; it is less awkward for everyone.  

Dear Claire,

I have attended Bench Bar in the past, but it has been a while, anything new I should know about?

—Taking My Seat Back at the Bar

Dear Taking My Seat Back at the Bar,

While there will still be the beloved traditions of golf, trivia, the raffle and CLEs, there are plenty of ways that this year will be different. First, we have a brand-new venue, the Omni Louisville. While it is still within walking distance of 4th Street and Louisville’s many bourbon experiences, it also has a rooftop pool where there will be a dessert reception after dinner on Thursday night.

Second, the CLEs are always new and you have variety to choose from. This is the one time I usually take a CLE completely out of my practice area. It is refreshing to see what other areas are discussing and it is a great way to cross-network with attorneys and judges you would not typically interact with in your own day to day practice.

Finally, the most notable new opportunity at Bench Bar this year is on Saturday morning. The concluding session for 2021 will be celebration of The Juneteenth Holiday, entitled “The Spirit of Our Journey.” The program is planned to be a two-hour dialogue featuring experience panels of attorneys from Louisville and Indianapolis. The goal of the program is to provide insight on the differing experience of Black lawyers from their white counterparts, by generation and by region. Be sure to make plans to attend.

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