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Membership, Leadership and Belonging — by Carey R. Dunne

It will come as news to no one that being a member of the legal profession is not the secure vocation it used to be. While those in previous generations had a reasonable expectation of working for years, if not their whole careers, at the same firm, today such a scenario is more the exception than the rule.

That’s why membership in a professional organization like the New York City Bar Association is more important than ever. In this era of digitization, globalization and disintermediation (that’s Latin for cutting out the middle man), the City Bar can be your professional home or, if need be, your port in a career storm.

Among the City Bar’s 24,000 members are lawyers of every stripe, from law students to Supreme Court Justices, and the House of the Association in midtown Manhattan is where they cross paths. It’s a forum for networking of the highest order. At the City Bar, you never know for whom you’ll hold the door (or vice versa), let alone whom you’ll meet at a panel in the Meeting Hall or in the CLE Center, or at a reception following an event. Where else can you see a judge strike up a conversation with a junior associate at a buffet?

For law students, recent graduates and young associates, the City Bar offers the kind of wide-ranging career development workshops that can make a difference in getting hired or promoted in a tough market. A number of these programs provide CLE credits. There are also regularly scheduled social events like ‘Speed Networking’ that can yield surprising career results.

All City Bar members can apply to join one of its committees, which is where the important public-interest work of the Association takes place. Some 3,500 members serve on over 150 committees, producing hundreds of reports and events annually on almost every legal topic imaginable. Mathematically, not all members can serve at the same time, and not everyone can get on their first choice of committee, but persistence is usually rewarded with a committee slot. If you get on a committee, you’ll find yourself working with experienced lawyers from diverse backgrounds in writing reports and amicus briefs, planning programs and doing public service activities. Incidentally, now is the best time of the year to apply for committee membership, so check here for more information and an application if interested.

If you take advantage of what the City Bar Justice Center has to offer, you’ll find yourself among the thousands of attorneys trained each year to provide pro bono legal services to low-income individuals. Beyond the satisfaction of helping others and fulfilling your obligation as an attorney to help ensure access to justice for all, you may get hands-on experience and skills not available to you in your day job.

By becoming a member of the bar association in the legal capital of the world, you are well positioned to become a leader of the legal profession. Above all, beyond whatever personal or professional benefits the Association may offer, it is an opportunity to serve the public and participate in today’s legal, moral and ethical debates as a steward of the profession. It was the fight against corruption and for a working justice system that brought together this Association’s founding members in 1870, and the City Bar’s mission and activities have been continually refined by successive generations as they considered and spoke out on the issues of their day. It’s your turn.

Carey R. Dunne is President of the New York City Bar Association.

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