President's Column

President’s Column

The Business Case for Good Bar Service

J. William Manuel

Article by J. William Manuel 2018 – 2019 CABA President


I’m sure many of you have already dismissed this column: “Why do I care how quickly a bartender delivers Will an Old Fashioned?” While I could write many paragraphs on that touchy subject, I am instead talking about participation in Bar activities. Over the last few years, I have heard Firm Management Types, Millennials, and even old friends state their belief that service to a Bar organization is wasted time or not effective for business development. Not only does that statement bug me, in my humble opinion, it is patently wrong for numerous reasons.

Bar Service IS Good Business Development

The talking head business consultants will tell you that there are numerous principles to developing business. Networking. Building Your Reputation/Brand. Interaction with Sources Outside Your Comfort Zone. All of these are also core activities in serving in a Bar Association. If you are on a committee, you will network every time you meet. If you do a good job on a committee project, you are building your brand as a reliable and effective leader. Because most Bar entities are made up of all sorts of different practices, you will meet sources outside your comfort zone. I can safely say that I have received NUMEROUS referrals due to relationships I made through service with JYL, YLD, MS Bar Association and CABA. In addition, if you win the leadership lottery and become an officer of one of these organizations, you become known to a large group of people. And known as someone who is trusted to lead an organization.

In addition, clients and potential clients these days are very interested in lawyers who are involved in community service. I see more and more Requests for Proposals that have questions asking about a firm’s community activities. I’ve had clients send me individual notes congratulating me on different positions I’ve had in Bar Organizations. Several have noted their past service in similar organizations. There’s an instant connection.

Bar Service Provides a Unique Opportunity to Interact with Judges Outside the Courtroom

As a younger lawyer, I was very intimidated by the robed figures behind the bench. However, I was fascinated to learn that there were Bar functions where you actually got to rub shoulders with these men and women when they weren’t swinging a gavel. Bar functions and Bar service give lawyers the opportunity to learn about the personal side of our judges. While they obviously will not sway the issuing of justice simply because they met you at the Christmas party, the next time you appear in front of them, you may feel more comfortable.

In addition, judges have told me that they admire lawyers who choose to give their time to Bar service. They recognize that we all have limited hours in a day and they respect the fact that a lawyer is volunteering to try and better the profession. No one, even the Firm Management Types, can possibly feel that having a judge admire you is a bad thing.

Bar Service Is Just the Right Thing to Do

Even though we may not feel it every day, being a lawyer is a very respected profession. And, usually, it is a fairly well-compensated job. We should all be grateful that our hard academic work paid off in a law license. But with this good job comes a responsibility to give back to the community and the profession. Pro bono service through one of our fantastic Bar organizations is a great way to contribute. So is serving on a Committee that engages in a project to help those less fortunate, through food drives, education seminars or other activities. We also owe a debt to the younger lawyers coming behind us. Plus, it just feels good to give back.

You meet lawyers that you would never run into otherwise (See Point 1). You get to do something besides drafting discovery or checking titles. You make a difference. Isn’t that one of the reasons we all became lawyers?

So, the next time you hear someone dismissing the idea of Bar Service, I hope one of these reasons comes to mind and you encourage that lawyer to try a CABA committee or a MS Bar activity. I can almost guarantee they will find it rewarding. As for the other type of Good Bar Service, I hope to see all of you at one of our next CABA social functions so we can raise a glass to being involved in the Bar.