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Trimble: Do alternative legal communities challenge traditional bars?

April 3, 2019

TrimbleAlmost every day I have to remind myself that I have the implicit biases and attitudes of a sixty-something white guy. In our rapidly changing legal profession, there is no shortage of change that is heading-spinning for most senior lawyers. If we don’t open our minds and embrace change, our profession will pass us by.

The rise of so-called alternative legal communities is one such example. With a mere five minutes of online research, lawyers of all ages, gender, race, or other descriptors can find an e-community to join. Moreover, these e-communities are a cornucopia of resources for like-minded lawyers.

One prominent alternative legal community is LawyerSmack.com. Its founder, Keith Lee of “Above the Law,” bills it as “the leading private community for lawyers.” The site boasts more than 15,000 messages a week. Lawyers who join are immediately introduced to a fast-paced communication vehicle that allows them to ask questions, make comments, and participate in conversations on legal issues of every description. Participants can participate in more than 100 channels and can network, create a personal brand and market themselves to a national and international array of lawyers. LawyerSmack politely, but forcefully, contends that traditional bar associations have too many “old white guys,” and that lawyers should prefer to obtain their resources without having to hang out at in-person bar meetings and committees. (This older white guy finds this hard to swallow, but I get it.)

Another leading online group is Ms. JD (www.ms-jd.com). This innovative nonprofit group is “dedicated to the success of aspiring and early career women lawyers.” Further, it is “[a] forum for dialogue and networking among women lawyers and law students.” In its 12 years of existence, it has built an impressive following of women who blog, speak and work on about any issue of common interest. Ms. JD has evolved to the point of holding an in-person annual conference and events around the country with growing crowds of enthusiastic women. For women who are interested in leadership, Ms. JD is all about it.

If you are thinking that these two exemplars of change sound like bar associations, you are correct. They provide many of the resources and opportunities of traditional bar associations. However, they can be “attended” from the comfort of home or office or the local coffee shop without having to don a business suit or pay for a plate lunch. They provide human interaction without face to face “small c” confrontation that can be uncomfortable for increasing numbers of new lawyers who don’t like it or feel they don’t have the time.

Despite my bias for traditional bar associations, I see incredible merit and opportunity in alternative legal communities. I also see opportunity for bar associations who grasp this change and reshape their own e-communities and offerings. We have learned from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and bar-affiliated e-groups that social media connections can be fun and good for business.

To my younger lawyer friends, take a moment and examine your own thirty-something implicit biases, and understand that there is still much to be gained from traditional bar associations. Don’t desert them; join them, lead them and transform them. You will be enriched by the experience.

To my older lawyer friends, you need to take a look at alternative legal communities. If you are refusing to join in the social media movement, you are missing out. If you are not active in the e-communities of your bar associations, you should be. However, you should also be supporting and encouraging your young lawyers to be active in traditional bar associations. Lawyers in particular need social skills and social intelligence. There is no safer and better place to hone those skills than in our bar associations.

One thing that none of us can do is to stay behind a computer screen and participate in nothing. Opportunity abounds for those who seek it! Dogs don’t bark at parked cars! #WillYouBeThere?•

John C. Trimble (@indytrims) is a senior partner at the Indianapolis firm of Lewis Wagner LLP. He is a self-described bar association “junkie” who admits that he spends an inordinate amount of time on law practice management, judicial independence and legal profession issues. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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