Post-Bar Blues? Join a Bar Committee!

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on August 12, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Well, the bar exam is over, and you have nothing else to do except look for gainful employment, get a post-bar fellowship, and fret about whether or not you passed. While you're doing all that, you might as well do some networking. Is there something beyond law school alumni functions and bar association happy hours?

I'm glad you asked, because yes, there is: bar association committees!

New lawyers and lawyers-to-be often overlook the simple elegance of the bar association committee. It has everything you could ever want: leadership possibilities, networking with lawyers in your practice area, and a lovely bunch of stuff you can put on your resume.

Start Locally

If you're a recent grad, but you never joined your local bar association, then tsk, tsk. You gave up years of opportunities (and a much cheaper annual fee). But the past is in the past, so join now (even before you get licensed, because the annual dues go way up).

Once you join, then look for a committee -- and there may be a lot of them. For example, the New York City Bar Association boasts more than 150 different committees that write reports, draft amicus briefs in cases of interest, and prepare legislation. Interested in AIDS issues? There's a committee for that. Small firms? Government ethics? Women in the courts? Seriously, there's a committee for every conceivable practice area and interest (except for interests beginning with "Q" or "X").

Going solo out of school? Spend more time developing practice skills and leave the marketing work for the experts.

How to Apply to a Bar Committee

The application process is relatively straightforward: You fill out an application; they call you. For young lawyers, this is great. Since most people don't know about committees, the committees are always looking for new members. For not-quite-lawyers, you may be able to join a committee as an "at large" member or as a law student. Your mileage may vary.

Your state's bar association will also have a plethora of committees, but the application process may be more regimented. In California, there's one master application and the deadline for that application is in February, so you've missed out on your chance for this year.

But don't worry, you can try again! State bar committees do lots of the same things that local ones do, except on the state level. Depending on how your state selects judges, there may even be a special committee for selecting judges. (Word of advice, though: the higher you go, the more qualified -- and notable -- you'll have to be, so recent graduates and young lawyers should start at the local/city/county level.)

What's the Point?

The point of joining a committee is to make yourself known in the community, not necessarily to look for direct referrals. Committee members are staffed by members of their field, so if you're looking for a job in environmental law, there's no better place to strut your stuff than on a committee populated by environmental lawyers.

Joining a committee is more of a long game, though, so don't expect immediate returns. But accepting responsibility and doing a good job goes a lot further than just telling people how responsible and "driven" you are. Ultimately, you're building a relationship with like-minded attorneys so that when a job opens up, someone says, "Hey, I know a really good candidate for that ..."

Editor's Note, August 11, 2015: This post was first published in August 2014. It has since been updated.

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