By Matthew Secrest
As law students, we view the local bar association as if it was in a galaxy far, far away and something we do not want to think about until we have to. This is a mistake, however, because joining your state bar early has a lot of advantages. Those advantages include networking opportunities, resume building, and, in some cases, financial incentives. The first of these advantages is networking.
Most state bar associations have sections broken down by subject area. Thus, students can meet with attorneys that practice in the students’ area of interest. For example, I have an interest in international law and went to a meeting of the Michigan State Bar International Law Section in February 2015. The meeting included a program on doing business in China as well as an opportunity to network. I found the attorneys there were more than happy to discuss their area of practice with me and were glad that I came. Many also stated that they wish more students got involved with the bar association. My experience is not unique. Many of the other sections of the bar have similar meetings and networking opportunities that students can participate in. The next advantage is resume building.
Many sections of a bar association allow students to hold board positions as student representatives. For instance, the International Law Section has representatives from Cooley and other Michigan law schools. These positions look great on a resume because the student becomes a leader in their state’s legal community. In addition, many of these positions are not known or taken by most law students and students who take advantage of them set themselves apart from others in the job market. Finally, students should join their state bar associations for financial reasons.
Some states may require that students join the bar association their first year in law school. Others, like Florida, give students a huge discount on bar fees if they sign up early. Still, others allow students to join for free or at little cost to the student. For instance, Michigan’s base fee is fifteen dollars a year in addition to the nominal fees charged by some sections. Thus, whether you save money or have to spend a little, it makes sense for students to join their state bar association for all the advantages it offers.
If students are interested in joining the State Bar of Michigan, they can go to michbar.gov, and clink on the members section. From there, you click on the section that says prospective new attorneys, law students etc., and then follow the application steps. If you are interested in other bars, just google their name, for instance “Florida bar,” and their web address should appear in the search results or contact the Career and Professional Development office for help.
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