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This week on #DearFindLaw, we're presented with the issue of joining a bar association while in law school.
There are many bar associations to choose from, and if you're a law student, you've probably got to join one eventually, right? After all, it's not a "cocktail party" if it's just you and your dog alone in your apartment.
So how can bar association memberships pay off for law students, and which one(s) are worth the annual dues? Here's what you need to know:
Thanks for your question.
Law school is a "professional" school, which means you want to go above and beyond merely joining school-sponsored academic clubs like you did at your undergraduate institution. Much of the meaningful activity of law school happens outside the school (remember, when you graduate from law school, you're not qualified to actually do anything).
Joining a professional bar association as a law student does a couple of things for you. First, it's way cheaper than joining as a practicing attorney. Second, you get invited to lots of neat events. But the most important reason is that you can network. Getting a job in the legal world is all about who you know, and if you join a bar association, you'll develop a group of lawyers and law students with whom you can mingle.
OK, but that wasn't your question. Your question was about deciding which bar association to join and why.
Bar associations come in three different varieties. There are the geographic ones; for example, if you practice in, or even around, San Francisco, you can join the Bar Association of San Francisco. There are the identity-based ones, such as those for African-American lawyers, Asian-American lawyers, LGBT lawyers, and so on. Finally, there are the practice field-based ones: entertainment law, family law, whatever.
You'll probably want to consider joining at least one geographically based bar association and one other bar association. The geographically based ones will typically be the largest, and will be fairly agnostic in terms of subject matter and points of view. (All local bar associations have committees for those who want to focus on litigation, IP, criminal, or anything else, and also a special committee open to young or newly-admitted lawyers.)
As for the other one(s), that's up to you. You should pick something you're interested in, or base your decision on whom you want to network with. If you're a female law student who wants to interact with other female lawyers, then join a women's bar association. Or if you're really into IP, then join your local IP law association. Ideally, you'll be attending events and possibly taking on leadership roles in these associations, so pick something you'll actually like doing.
And at this point in your career, you can join a bunch of different associations. Membership for students is, as I said before, cheap relative to the cost for attorneys, so join a couple and give them a test drive. (Pro tip: Now is a really good time to join, because they'll be having holiday events in November and December.)
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.