November 2020

Extend your (virtual) hand to new lawyers

One of the things I enjoy most about being involved in professional organizations like the MSBA is the opportunity they provide to interact with a wide variety of people I would not otherwise encounter in my practice, and get to know them on a personal level. It is fascinating to learn where people come from, why they became lawyers, and how their careers developed; I also enjoy hearing about their lives outside the law. Often the most interesting tidbits of information surface while huddled around the coffee counter in the 15 minutes before a meeting is scheduled to start. 

Unfortunately, the opportunity to interact informally with our colleagues and friends is yet another casualty of covid-19. To be sure, while our new “virtual reality” has (thankfully) enabled most of us to continue to work and to be active in professional organizations, it can have a tremendous negative impact on our ability to make and cultivate personal connections. Things that have happened organically in the past now require more intentionality and effort. And, if I—a more “seasoned” member of the bar—feel this way, can you even imagine how a new lawyer who does not already have established connections in the bar must feel?

By the time this column is in print, I will have had the honor of welcoming the newest members of the bar to the legal profession. For quite some time I have been mulling over what to share with the new lawyers at their swearing-in ceremony on October 30, 2020. I will proudly congratulate them on their achievement and tell them that they are entering a profession that values trustworthiness, civility, and hard work. I will also tell them that as a member of this profession they have a duty to uphold the ideals of equal justice, access to justice, and the rule of law.   

But I know I also need to acknowledge the tremendous obstacles these newest members of the bar have already encountered, and will likely continue to face, as they embark on their professional lives. From taking the bar examination while wearing a mask and social distancing to securing employment at a time when many law firms are laying off attorneys rather than hiring new ones, these new lawyers are navigating a world full of challenges that many of us never faced or even imagined. 

While the MSBA is not able to eradicate many of the challenges facing new lawyers, we can certainly help lessen one of them—the challenge of cultivating professional relationships. Even in a “remote” world, the MSBA can provide opportunities to make the personal connections that are so vital to a successful and meaningful legal career. And, just so it is clear, when I say the MSBA can do this, I mean you—our members. 

I ask each of you to reflect on what it was like when you were first admitted to the bar and to think about what would have helped you at that time to feel welcomed into the profession. Then be creative on how you can strive to provide those opportunities to new lawyers at a time when there is very little ability to strike up a casual conversation while grabbing a cup of coffee and waiting for a meeting to start. 

This is not a significant ask. It is actually very simple. Invite a newly admitted lawyer in your firm to attend a virtual MSBA committee or section meeting with you. Watch for announcements of new lawyers joining firms or hanging out their own shingle in your community, and offer to meet them for coffee or lunch (socially distanced, of course). If you see a new name on a committee list, make a phone call to introduce yourself and get to know the new person. I can say with the utmost confidence that even the smallest effort by you as a member of MSBA to reach out to a new lawyer will be well-received. Based on my own experience, I believe you, in turn, will also personally benefit from making this connection. 

Together, let’s model the MSBA’s commitment to civility by reaching out to welcome and get to know our new colleagues and share with them the value and importance of membership that we have all enjoyed. Our future depends on it. 

Dyan Ebert is a partner at the central Minnesota firm of Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., where she served as CEO from 2003-2010 and 2014-2019. She also served on the board of directors of Minnesota CLE from 2012-2019. 

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