November 2011 President's Column
The Numbers (of Lawyers) Keep Coming In
By Robert C. Dortch, Jr.
The Mecklenburg County Bar has about 4,400 members, folks who have passed the North Carolina Bar Exam and who are practicing law in Mecklenburg County. (That number does not include attorneys who are not licensed in North Carolina but are employed as corporate counsel.) Our ranks continue to grow. At the September Swearing-In Ceremony another 120-plus successful bar applicants took the oath and were welcomed to our Bar. It was a proud moment for the recent graduates and their family and friends in attendance. In many cases, however, their excitement was tempered by the reality of a difficult economic environment, limited job opportunities and significant undergraduate and law school debt. Many of the newly licensed attorneys were introduced by their sponsors as "looking for work in the public sector", "excited about the opportunity to work in criminal defense", "wants to work in family law", etc. In other words, many of our new Bar members are looking for work. And we know they're not alone.
Experience tells us that many of the new attorneys will end up practicing law in small firms-- firms with 10 or fewer members. Roughly 40 percent of the MCB's members already work in small firms. Experience also tells us that many of the new attorneys will hang out their own shingle and practice as a solo practitioner or pair up with another newly licensed attorney and begin practicing law. The Bar's Solo Practitioner/Small Firm Section (Chaired by N. Renee Hughes) is here to help. The Section's seasoned members have experience in setting up and maintaining solo and small firms during these trying times. Monthly meeting topics include financial management, best hiring practices, employee benefits, communications and marketing. We encourage the new admittees to get involved and join the Solo Practitioner/Small Firm Section. It also provides a great opportunity to network with like-minded practitioners.
Is the MCB doing anything else to help transition from law student to lawyer? Lina E. James and Christian P. Cherry co-chair Linking Lawyers -- A Mentoring Initiative of the MCB Professionalism, Lawyer Life and Culture Committee. The program is designed to be a resource for networking and guidance on issues of professional conduct and career perspective, as well as to provide an introduction into diverse areas of the law. While it is not aimed exclusively at newly licensed attorneys, the program provides the opportunity to discuss your new career with a volunteer mentor. Last year's program was a great success due in large part to Lina and Christian's efforts. This year, they want to double that success. The MCB is recruiting 100 mentors and mentees in celebration of our upcoming centennial anniversary. I encourage the "seasoned" attorneys in the Bar to volunteer as mentors and share with our new members the wisdom that comes with your years of experience. And to the new attorneys, there is no better way to learn about the day to day practice of law and maintaining a law office. Please sign up for the Linking Lawyer Program at www.MeckBar.org.
The MCB also helped prepare the new admittees by successfully presenting the New Admittee Professionalism Program after the recent Swearing-In Ceremony. It may come as news to some of our members that all active members admitted to the NC State Bar after January 1, 2011 are required to take the NC Bar New Admittee Professionalism Program in the year the new member is first required to meet the Continuing Legal Education requirements. Several of our attorneys and judges volunteered their time to speak to the new admittees on a Friday and Saturday about a variety of topics to assist them in the transition to practicing attorney.
Yes, our ranks continue to grow. Despite the economic doldrums we are mired in at the moment, it is doubtful that our growth will slow significantly, if at all, in the future. We have the new dynamic of a local law school that is graduating substantial numbers of students, many of whom have chosen to practice law in Mecklenburg County. There will be an increasing need for the MCB to assist in the transition of the new admittees to the profession of practicing law. Thanks to all of you who have volunteered your time and resources. If you havent already volunteered to be a mentor for the Linking Lawyer Program, please consider doing so. To the new admittees- welcome to the Bar. We encourage you to get involved as well - join a committee or section, and please take advantage of the Linking Lawyer Program.