Young Lawyers Programs Help Build Camaraderie

There’s a litany of organizations for lawyers throughout Colorado including those that bring young lawyers together to help navigate the complex legal world.

The Colorado Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division is made up of any CBA member who is under age 37 or in the first five years of their practice. Jim Fogg, the chair of the bar’s YLD Executive Council, said the program serves as a gateway to broader bar participation, developing programming to increase knowledge of the law, while making connections between other young lawyers and more experienced members of the bar.

“A big part of what we’re trying to do this year is get back to some sort of normalcy from the pandemic and to reignite that sense of community that we strive to develop and foster within the bar association,” Fogg said.

Fogg added they want to get back to more in-person events, while also learning from the adaptations that were made during the pandemic. For example, as part of YLD’s programming, they hold monthly continuing legal education sessions, and as a result of the pandemic, they were brought all online and are held during the lunch hour. Those programs were targeted to young lawyers, but anybody can appear at those CLEs.

“Our participation just exploded in terms of people who are ready, willing and able,” Fogg said, who is also a partner at Ogborn Mihm, LLP. “We’ve maintained that online presence for those sorts of programs, even as people are more comfortable getting together in person.”

One idea the group recently came up with is having cultural appreciation dinners where lawyers can be educated on different cultures. Other past activities include yoga and fly fishing.

“Really what we’re trying to do is get people to spend the time that it takes to go [to] one of these events by making it appealing from a personal level,” Fogg said.

In April, the CBA YLD plans to work with the American Bar Association YLD to host a western states summit in Fort Collins, Colorado, providing programming to young lawyers including continuing education.

Another big item he wants to help develop is a mentoring program for young lawyers to get more involved with the bar. 

“Every new member of the bar coming straight out of law school gets one year of free CBA membership,” Fogg said. “We’ve come to realize, talking to those folks who are freshly admitted to practice in Colorado, a lot of those people have a whole lot of different things to keep track of. … We’ve kind of made the determination that we should try to provide a support system for those freshly admitted lawyers to get them more exposure to the bar. To get them a resource to try to use to understand how to navigate the bar and how to start using it as a tool in their toolbelt.”

Fogg noted the idea is to assign a cohort of those people in the first free year to a person involved in the bar for a long time who can help with networking. 

“I think young lawyers, unfortunately, face a lot of issues,” Fogg said. “It’s hard to practice law and it’s even harder to practice when you’re a young lawyer. I think there is a big difference between being a good law student and being a good lawyer. Law school does an effective job at teaching you how to do certain things and how to develop certain skill sets, but actually practicing and learning how to represent clients … is challenging.” 

Fogg added a lot of young lawyers deal with time management issues including with family and personal commitments. 

The Colorado Lawyers Committee also has a Young Lawyers Division. Mack Wilding, the chair of that group, said it’s free for lawyers and law students under age 40 or for those in practice for less than eight years.

“It’s a really excellent place for people who want to make a difference and for people who are interested in leadership in the larger Colorado Lawyers Committee, which is a pretty major contributor to pro bono work in Colorado,” Wilding said. 

Wilding added the goal is to get young lawyers interested in helping the underserved in Colorado and working with others who have a civic-minded interest.

Outside of their regular meetings the CLC YLD helps put on the CLC’s Denver Legal Night which helps underserved people get legal advice and serves about 2,000 people a year. 

“That’s really grown and continued to grow since COVID,” Wilding said, who is a senior associate at Fortis Law Partners LLC. “We’re now back in person and getting a lot of folks coming in that need help.”

Wilding is also a leader of a program that hosts a mock trial for middle and high school students involving a hypothetical student who’s committed hate crimes. 

“[It’s] really teaching students the importance of paying attention to their words and actions and knowing the larger and broader implications,” Wilding said. He added the National Lawyers Committee has shown interest in potentially expanding that project nationally. 

Another program the CLC YLD helps with is the Nonprofit Legal Audit Clinic where teams of lawyers evaluate small nonprofits for legal health and determine what they need the most help with.

Wilding said his goal for next year is to make sure these programs keep going.

“So really creating that institutional knowledge and being able to pass that on when folks leave the YLD or CLC … to make sure that they stay healthy and vibrant,” Wilding said. “One of our major goals is to just continue to grow membership in the YLD.”

Wilding noted one of the major benefits of being part of this group is feeling like a full-fledged member of the Colorado legal community “not just like a baby lawyer.” 

“There’s some level of imposter syndrome that’s pretty common amongst young lawyers and so this is a way to really empower young lawyers and give them a seat at the table,” Wilding continued. 

But what about the future of practicing law in Colorado?

“While there are those commercial aspects of the practice, there’s a variety of ways to broaden your experience beyond those strictly … business goals of any law firm,” Wilding said. “I think that is [going to] be an ongoing issue and Colorado’s pretty strong in really encouraging and demanding of their licensed attorneys that they do pro bono work.”

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