January 8, 2019

YLC: Opportunities for Professional Growth, Leadership, and Helping the Community

BY: Brian T. Wesley

On behalf of the more than 9,000 young lawyers admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, congratulations and welcome to the Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference! You have achieved a feat that not many accomplish, and that is successfully passing the bar exam and becoming a licensed Virginia lawyer. With this accomplishment comes great responsibility, great expectations, and the potential for great rewards. The Young Lawyers Conference, or the YLC, wants to help ensure you successfully enter the practice of law and excel as a new, Virginia lawyer.

First, what is the YLC? The YLC is the mandatory bar conference for all Virginia lawyers under the age of thirty-six, or who have been admitted to their first bar for less than three years. The YLC is a conference of the Virginia State Bar (VSB), the regulatory agency governing all practicing lawyers in Virginia. But the YLC is much more than just a group of young lawyers, or a mandatory conference to which you will belong. The YLC is an opportunity for professional and leadership growth as well as an opportunity to help the greater Virginia community.

The YLC can enhance your professional growth as a young lawyer. The YLC provides a multitude of programs designed to strengthen your skills as a new lawyer, including our Professional Development Conference, a day-long CLE program designed for the development of skills and subject-matter topics most commonly faced by young lawyers; our Practice Tips Series, online practical essays written by lawyers designed to analyze specific subject-matter areas of the law; or, the Professional Development Series, an online library of podcasts covering substantive legal topics facing young lawyers. Professionally, the YLC offers a multitude of programs to develop and enhance your skills as a new practitioner, while focusing on areas of law most commonly encountered by young lawyers.

The YLC is an opportunity for leadership growth. As a young lawyer, you have the mental ability to study hard and perform well. You probably have held multiple leadership positions throughout your life whether as a captain of a sports team or as a class officer. The YLC offers the chance to build your leadership skills and abilities through programs such as the Non-Profit Board Match, where a young lawyer assists and provides leadership to a local non-profit organization. There are many opportunities available from volunteering, including serving as a program chair for one of our programs, or as a district representative in your judicial district. These vacancies are frequently posted on the YLC website and give you the opportunity to champion a cause, or to even create new programs to address arising legal needs.

The YLC is an opportunity to help those in your community. The YLC has a number of programs designed to address the legal needs and issues facing Virginia communities. From the Oliver Hill & Samuel Tucker Pre-Law Institute, a week-long intensive legal program for high school students, or the Minority Pre-Law Conference, a one-day pre-law conference that exposes undergraduate students to future legal careers, the YLC strengthens diversity and inclusion in the legal profession by providing exposure to the legal profession to young people of all ages and backgrounds. Additionally, the YLC has programs like the Emergency Legal Service Committee, a committee that responds to Federal and state emergency declarations by providing access to legal services for those affected by catastrophic events; the Wills for Heroes program, which provides wills and testamentary documents to first-responders and veterans; and, the Immigrant Outreach Committee, which programs CLEs and workshops related to legal issues affecting immigrant communities. These are just a few of the many programs the YLC annually conducts to assist those with legal needs arising in our communities.

As the YLC provides opportunities for professional growth and leadership and to help local communities, the YLC also works to address the effects of increasing mental and physical demands placed on young lawyers. It has been well documented that lawyers suffer mental issues related to this profession at higher rates than many other professions. The YLC has tasked its Wellness Committee with following the charge of VSB President Len Heath and the Virginia Supreme Court in identifying the causes of mental issues within the legal profession while at the same time offering solutions to address and combat these problems. The YLC Wellness Committee has a number of upcoming programs, including CLEs focused on mental health and wellness; a Wellness month with the focus on providing activities and resources for young lawyers; and, opportunities for physical and collegial activities, such as our upcoming Wellness Hike in Charlottesville. Your mental health and wellness as a young lawyer are extremely important to your success as you take on increasing professional responsibility, time demands, and growth within the profession.

Although the YLC offers many opportunities, there are a few concepts I would suggest that you explore as a new lawyer in conjunction with the resources and opportunities offered by the YLC:

  1. Secure a Mentor(s): A mentor is the key to success for a young lawyer. They offer wisdom and knowledge that only comes with practicing law over time. Your mentor should be able to assist with questions related to your practice or specialization; offer support and encouragement; and, generally be there to assist in your growth as a young lawyer.
  2. Become Involved: We live with the harsh reality that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. However, you should spend some of that time becoming active and involved in your community or with a local/state bar association. Whether volunteering for a YLC program or working with another organization, spending time outside of the office following a passion can be key to your prolonged happiness as a practicing young lawyer.
  3. Help Others: Helping others can be truly rewarding and satisfying. There are many in our community that simply cannot afford legal services despite the need for legal assistance. I strongly encourage you to devote some of your practice to pro-bono matters. There are many resources that can help you achieve this goal, including the YLC’s Pro-Bono website, or the VSB’s virginia.freelegalanswers.org website.

As you start the practice of law and embark on a truly great and rewarding career, the YLC is here to help ensure your growth and development as a lawyer. Again, on behalf of the YLC Board of Governors and all members of the YLC, congratulations and welcome to the Virginia State Bar.

About the Author

Brian T. Wesley is the president of the Young Lawyers Conference. Brian received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2003. In 2008, Brian graduated from Howard University School of Law. He is now an associate with Reynolds | Wesley, P.C.