ABA Young Lawyers Division spring conference 2018

Each year, two members of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) executive committee attend the American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division (YLD) spring conference to maintain strong international links and represent the interests of the JLD and its members. Amy Clowrey and Greg Smith share their thoughts on the May 2018 conference.

The Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the American Bar Association (ABA) represents 130,000 junior lawyers and is affiliated with 300 groups, making the YLD the largest young lawyer organisation worldwide.

Amy Clowrey and Greg Smith at the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division spring conference 2018

This year’s spring conference was held in Louisville, Kentucky – the home of Kentucky fried chicken, bourbon and the Kentucky Derby (an annual horse race event held at Churchill Down race course).

First impressions

Although the conference officially began with an evening welcome reception on Thursday 10 May, the JLD representatives (vicechair Amy Clowrey and executive committee member Greg Smith) attended the earlier YLD council meeting and introduced the JLD to representatives of each state.

In addition to this, there was a chance to attend a workshop on ‘affiliate leadership training’ which provided top tips for running a successful bar year. The workshop was very interactive with a wealth of speakers sharing their extensive leadership experience with the benefit of hindsight.

The following welcome reception allowed delegates an opportunity to network in advance of the busy conference programme. The YLD also provided a great ice-breaker: commissioning a hat-making company to come along and help attendees to customise their own hat (in advance of the Kentucky Derby-themed dinner dance at Churchill Downs on Friday evening).

Following the welcome reception, delegates attended a ‘dine-around’. Small groups dined together in several restaurants throughout Louisville in a further informal networking opportunity organised by the YLD.


On the menu

Dine-around at the ABA Young Lawyers Division spring conference 2018

The conference kicked off at 08:00 on Friday morning. The first session explored how delegates should use emotional intelligence to advance their careers. Ronda Muir, the speaker, considered how emotional perception and management can increase performance at work.

Several breakout sessions followed, including:

  • Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology: how does it work and what are the implications on the law?
  • Confronting cyber threats and the mission of the Department of Justice
  • Intimate partner violence during pregnancy: prevalence, prevention and practice
  • Beyond the school yard: harassment and bullying in the workplace
  • Pro bono in the twenty-first century: using tech to advance pro bono
  • Child abuse, elder abuse and mandatory reporting laws
  • Net neutrality: free competition or chaos?

One of the conference highlights was Matthew Stubenberg’s session on pro bono in the twenty-first century. The session was a surprise, as Matthew didn’t simply talk about legal tech but gave an overview of how he created a virtual reality mock courtroom to provide students, jurors and litigants in person with an insight into court etiquette in order to alleviate anxiety for those who had not stepped into a courtroom before. He even let delegates try out his tech!

ABA Young Lawyers Division spring conference 2018

The session on confronting cyber threats provided a useful reminder about the increasingly prevalent risks to clients, firms and even national security. Thankfully, the panel included a member of Department of Justice staff, who offered insights into the US government’s work in this area and tips to safeguard firms.

A well-attended session on bullying and harassment would have been of interest to lawyers specialising in employment issues or to anyone experiencing relevant difficulties at work. The panel led a nuanced discussion touching on the distinction between conventional bullying and bullying as a result of a protected characteristic. Attendees received advice on how to bring up awkward issues in their own practice (and how to change workplace cultures so that these are less likely to arise in the first place).

Getting involved

In the afternoon, delegates assisted the Home Safe Home Public Service by assembling kits for domestic abuse survivors staying at the Center for Women and Families in Louisville. The kits provide basic toiletries and other necessities for those who need to leave their homes quickly. It was cheering to see so many delegates knuckling down to help this cause, and soon there was a conveyor belt of workers preparing the kits.

Amy Clowrey and Greg Smith at Churchill Downs racecourse for ABA YLD conference dinner dance - May 2018

The International Oratory Competition was the final engagement of the day. Amy sat on the judging panel and Greg debated the merits of ‘Kentucky Bourbon or Canadian Whiskey’. Whilst the competition was tough, Greg used his English charm and wit to attain third place – a fantastic achievement given that he hadn’t competed previously.

Next delegates headed off to refresh and put on their finest Derby attire (including the home-made hats!) ahead of the dinner dance at Churchill Downs.

Final thoughts

Saturday morning saw further seminars which included:

  • Cardinal sins (which looked at legal issues arising out of college athletics)
  • The intersection of domestic violence and Black Lives Matter Movement – how to best advise victims in fear of the consequences of police contact
  • Of sound mind and practice: mental wellbeing for lawyers
  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (covering licensing to liability for distilleries and breweries)

The final farewell offered an opportunity for international delegates to meet and reinforce friendships made during the conference and share issues that are affecting junior lawyers in their jurisdictions. All in all, the conference was highly informative and a wonderful opportunity to strengthen relationships with our American contemporaries. We look forward to welcoming their representatives to International Weekend in September.

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS