Every now and then I am asked, “What is the best preparation to go internally?” “
And my answer is: ever heard of the term “bar junkie”?
Otherwise, it is a term to describe a lawyer who is very involved in bar associations, which are non-profit organizations for lawyers.
And as a young lawyer, that was certainly an accurate description of me.
I’ve been a member of the Dallas Bar Association, the Dallas Asian American Bar Association, the Dallas Young Lawyers Association, and the Dallas Women Lawyers Association. The organization I was most involved in was the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers – as a first-year lawyer, serving on a committee my first year and co-chairing committees in my second year, being accepted into their graduate program. leadership class and elected to their board shortly thereafter, rising through the ranks and eventually serving as president in 2014.
During my presidency, there were 2,500 paid members and there were approximately 25 committees. And I’m sharing all of this not to brag but to give you an idea of what I mean by “involved”. I was not just a paid member who attended events from time to time, but rather someone who had invested eight years of being a young lawyer.
For context, when I first joined, I was in a small law firm (being the only partner for two partners) with no minimum billing and I was pretty lonely, looking for other young people. lawyers to compare my experiences with. And by the time I was president in 2014, I was in Biglaw and my non-billable hours were almost 400, despite having to bill 1900 hours as well.
I don’t think you have to do all of this to be internally prepared in any way (a lot of people have different backgrounds and paths), but I have to answer the internally preparedness question honestly – and honestly, bar association leadership was hands down the best ‘training’ I have ever been able to get and here’s why: the ability to lead (and fail and grow in leadership) helped me develop the non-exclusively legal skills that I use daily today. I use “not exclusively legal” because I don’t like the word “soft skills” because it makes those skills less important when I deem them crucial for success internally.
For example, being on a committee taught me to listen and work with others, to develop my EQ and to develop relationships. Leading a committee allowed me to practice being empathetic and understanding the different whys of people to make sure their committee experience met their whys and also a little bit about conflict resolution (consider a lot of personalities type A who all believe their way is the best way). It also allowed me to practice project management, and to work on prioritization and organization and communication. Leading an entire 2,500 member organization has allowed me to hone my skills on how to influence, motivate and inspire others informally to work essentially for free towards a common goal.
Some of the best things about all this “training” was that it was basically free (not counting membership fees and time invested, of course) and it was a safe space to experiment with different styles of leadership, learn by learning. trial and error, to fail and grow, and also a place to learn how to make others grow. It’s one thing to read leadership books, but it’s another to be able to practice without huge consequences for your career. This is why bar association service was the best thing I did unintentionally to prepare for becoming a corporate lawyer.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is an intern at Toyota Motor North America. His passions include mentoring, membership advocacy, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew it was going to happen: her opinions are hers alone.