ABA Young Lawyers Division spring conference 2019
Each year, two members of the Junior Lawyers Division executive committee attend the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division spring conference to maintain strong international links and represent the interests of the JLD and its members. Amy Clowrey, JLD chair, and Charlotte Parkinson, vice chair, share their thoughts on the May 2019 conference.
The ABA Young Lawyers Division is the home for young American lawyers. With over 150,000 members and 300 affiliated groups, the ABA YLD is the largest young lawyer organisation in the world.
Individual membership is open to those under 36 years old or admitted to practice for five years or less.
The 2019 spring conference was held in Washington DC from 2 to 4 May. Arriving into Washington DC, the city felt so open, bright and warm (a change from rainy England).
The conference officially started on 2 May in the conference centre of the Marriott Georgetown. The first event was an extremely insightful visit to the Supreme Court with Supreme Court clerk Scott Harris as our host.
It was so exciting to actually sit in the chamber of this court and to hear from some of the other delegates after the tour that they had actually worked on cases that had reached this court!
On the Thursday evening, we attended local ‘dine arounds’.
A term generally unfamiliar to the British, the ‘dine around’ consisted of small groups attending different restaurants together to network and make connections prior to the main conference kicking off. There were several ‘dine arounds’ taking place across the city.
Friday morning began bright and early with a fireside chat with former US attorney general Alberto Gonzales.
The talk was (of course) very political with lots of discussion about the former AG’s career, working so closely to President George W Bush and difficult decisions that he had to make in relation to enhanced interrogation.
David Law of Above the Law followed with his thoughts on the future of legal education.
Interestingly, David talked about legal education in other jurisdictions and referenced the huge benefit of the training contract in England Wales, whereby trainee solicitors gain supervised experience in different areas of law before becoming qualified.
All the delegates we spoke to about this said how helpful this sounded and how they wished their system offered such experience.
We took this opportunity to educate our American counterparts about the impending changes to training in England and Wales with the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) due to commence in 2021 and how the onus would be on the student to source their ‘work experience’.
Training contracts, it seems, may become a thing of the past.
For lunch, we joined a small number of delegates for a ticketed event entitled ‘Breaking Barriers: Claiming a Seat at the Table’ with Judge Diane Humetewa.
She spoke to delegates about her journey into law and how she was confirmed as the first Native American woman and enrolled tribal member to serve as a federal judge in 2014.
This event was particularly moving as we heard everything the judge had overcome in terms of adversity being Native American, a woman, the first of her family to go into a legal career and law school.
It was humbling and inspiring, not to mention an absolute privilege, to be present at this session.
Friday evening’s dinner was at the US Library of Congress. We’ll leave the photos to speak for themselves on how amazing this building was!
Saturday’s programme was full of skills sessions. In particular, we enjoyed hearing from a three-judge panel on what judges want from junior lawyers – preparation, conciseness and a conversation.
After hearing how important it is to truly listen to a judge’s questions in court, we were then taught the ‘Art of Public Speaking’ by Professor Robert Lehrman.
Taking a simple sentence from the national anthem – “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light” – volunteers took it in turns to deliver the saying with emphasis and effect on different parts of the sentence to deliver a different message or feeling each time.
What really shone through in this session was how confident the American delegates were in public speaking.
Advocacy and presentation are such big parts of their education at law school, as well as their daily careers (due to the role of a lawyer in America being that of both solicitor and barrister).
Finally, as a close to an amazing weekend, the focus was handed over to the international guests to talk about what they were doing in their jurisdictions.
Amy Clowrey for the JLD, Xavier Costa of AIJA (International Association of Young Lawyers), Adam Norget of the Canadian Bar Association and Jonathan Pierre-Étienne of the Young Bar of Montreal all gave an overview.
What rang loud and clear from this session was how much junior lawyers are doing to better their profession and also the similarities of the junior lawyer issues around the world.
Mental health and wellbeing is something the JLD has focused on significantly over the past few years and this message and focus now seems to have reached our friends across the pond.
We hope to be able to work collaboratively with our network to improve the mental health and wellbeing of junior lawyers world-wide.
Our next international junior lawyer event is the annual International Weekend, which will take place in London from 27 to 29 September.
We look forward to welcoming Logan Murphy, who will by then be the president of the ABA YLD. We hope we will also see you there!
Amy Clowrey and Charlotte Parkinson are chair and vice chair of the JLD respectively.