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Chinn: A New Section, If You Can Keep It

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iba-chinn-scottIt falls upon me to make the happy announcement that the Board of Directors of the Indianapolis Bar Association has approved the creation of a new section of the bar — the Indy Attorneys Network. This new section will be a structural part of the bar like any other substantive section. But unlike other sections, it is not devoted to a particular area of law, but rather to promoting membership-driven networking opportunities. Membership in the section is open to any member of the IndyBar and can be joined like any other section — by adding it to your section membership list on your dues statement upon renewing your membership for 2013, or at any other time by contacting the bar to join the section or updating your member profile online at www.indybar.org.

The Indy Attorneys Network is not a top-down creation of bar leadership based on a national trend among metropolitan bars or to minister to a specific strategic planning objective of the Board. Indeed, we think it is likely a unique section among our peer bars. Instead, the idea came from a grass roots effort initiated by IndyBar members Liz Shuster and Chuck Schmal. Like so many, they had a desire to meet and network with attorneys outside of their practice area of intellectual property, but weren’t sure how to go about it outside of randomly approaching other attorneys at events. That isn’t an inherently bad way to network, but it also isn’t always the most natural or comfortable thing to do for many. Therefore, they posited that there might be a better way. Ultimately, their vision was to create a group solely for networking that would facilitate informal networking connections between attorneys.

One of the best things about a networking section is that its purpose is crystal clear, so participants don’t have to feel awkward about meeting new people or actually actively working to network with other attorneys. Everyone knows the purpose of the gatherings, so there’s nothing weird about handing out business cards or working to build relationships. “Networking” is always pushed as such an essential part of the practice, but for most of us it can be abstract. We say we need to do it, but we don’t always have a good infrastructure for success — especially for getting outside our comfort zones. The social events the bar offers, while a great opportunity for networking, typically are hosted through substantive sections, which means there are inherent limitations on the breadth of attendees, i.e., those with different areas of practice than the core reach of the section.

This new section will permit its members to naturally form connections based on what they need from networking — whether that is referrals, someone to turn to for help and advice or for just purely social interactions. The organizers imagine, for example, that subgroups will arise out of the section, based on non-legal demographics, like members who realize they have children of the same ages. They are focused on enabling members to get whatever they need or want out of the group, recognizing that will be different for everyone.

The initial planning meeting brought together a large group representing very different practice areas and practice types (from solos to big firms to corporations), ages and personal backgrounds, which we think is a testament to the need and desire for a group like this. Everyone had different backgrounds, but all were excited to work together to get the group off the ground. Not only are they working on how the group will function and what kind of events will be held, but they’re also considering resources that will help members really wrap their heads around how to actually be a good networker.

At the same time we celebrate the creation of the Indy Attorneys Network, let us observe two important points. First, this networking section is not intended to replace the myriad networking events and opportunities that come from IndyBar membership generally, activity in the substantive legal sections, and the work of the divisions and committees of the bar. You don’t have to be a member of the Indy Attorneys Network to do what you’ve always done or what you want to do to stay engaged and meet new people in the IndyBar. And this section’s activities won’t usurp or undermine the networking events and activities that sections, divisions, and committees organize.

Second, we should recognize this effort as an experiment — one that rewards the initiative of the lawyers who conceived it. It has a great chance to succeed, but we’ll make sure to review its progress over the next couple years and make honest assessments about its contribution to the health of the IndyBar. It is reported that upon exiting Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin’s factual reply carried with it an admonition: “A Republic, if you can keep it.” The establishment of the Indy Attorneys Network is admittedly a less weighty endeavor than forming our federal Constitution. But for the founders of the section, and those who might have an interest in making this an exciting and permanent facet of the IndyBar, Dr. Franklin’s admonition likewise applies. Let us see if we can keep it.•

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