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Young Lawyers Conference

A Conference of the Virginia State Bar.

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Five Critically Important Career-Building Lessons

By Nate Olson

 

It is hard to believe that my tenure as President of the Young Lawyers Conference (YLC) is nearing an end. When I turn over the reins in June 2016, I will be two months shy of having spent 10 years working with the YLC. As I reflect on this near-decade of involvement, I cannot help but think about some of the lessons that I have learned over the years. It is only fitting that for my last President’s Message I pass on some of these lessons to our 10,000 members. I hope that some or all of these lessons will help you, whether you are just starting your career as a Virginia lawyer or whether you have reached a leadership position within the Virginia State Bar or other organization.

 

Lesson No. 1 - Listen at First

When you join a new committee or program or take on a leadership position, listening can be your greatest asset. As lawyers, we are all accomplished individuals; but as trained advocates, we have a tendency to speak first and listen second. Listening, however, often provides more benefits.

 

When I joined the YLC Board, I did not have a complete understanding of how it worked and what roles people played. I knew about the projects I managed, but I did not know how they fit into the bigger picture. So for the first two to three meetings, I sat back and listened. Sure, I asked some questions and provided some input, but by and large, I observed and took notes. By doing so, I did not put my foot in my mouth or commit to doing something that I did not understand. I also was able to identify individuals with whom I wanted to work and from whom I could learn. This leads me to my second lesson.

 

Lesson No. 2 - Partner with Someone

No matter how accomplished you are, you can always learn something by shadowing someone more experienced and teaming with them. You may be skilled at organizing a program but less inclined to write a Docket Call article about that event or use social media to promote the event. You may have significant connections, but are unsure how to best use them. You may have great ideas for new projects but be stumped on how to actually execute those programs. By focusing on listening, you can help identify those people who have skills that you may be lacking or those who seem like they would be open to collaboration. When I studied for the Virginia Bar Exam, I joined a three-person study group. I had a good grasp on the essay topics but found the multi-state portion to be challenging. My other study partner was a wizard at multiple-choice questions. Our third partner was good, but not great, at both sections. He provided the sense of calm that I certainly needed during those long study days. The three of us all brought a skill to the table, and we each learned from each other as the summer progressed.

 

Lesson No. 3 - Be Open to Different Ways of Doing Things

This lesson can be difficult to implement because it involves being critical of your own work. As you progress in your career, or in your volunteer activities, you will likely take on leadership roles. You might even receive praise and awards for your accomplishments. Appreciate success, but embrace change.

 

During my second and third years on the YLC Board, I oversaw the Professional Development Conference (PDC). In my first two years in this role, the PDC saw an increase in interest, attendance, and positive feedback. I made some minor improvements and received praise for the work that I had put into revamping this program. During my third year in this role, a new Board member approached me about expanding the program to different locations and linking the locations through teleconferencing. Initially, I thought that we should not mess with a good system. I was, and am, technologically challenged, so the thought of adding teleconferencing overwhelmed me. I just was not sure how, and if, it would work. To his credit, this Board member persisted and presented his idea in a concise and logical way. To my credit, I listened to him. From that point, the PDC has expanded to multiple locations and has successfully used teleconferencing to enhance the program experience. Moreover, the Professional Development Series was born from the PDC and these two programs continue to be YLC points of pride.

 

Lesson No. 4 - Delegate

When you reach leadership positions, whether in the YLC or in your job, this tip will be a valuable one. My natural tendency is to just do assignments and projects myself. I can trust myself, I know how I work, and I know the task will get done. However, you can only take that mentality so far. When you reach leadership positions, your role is not just to get the task done. You also need to focus on how it gets done and who learns from the process. By delegating, you are not only saving yourself time and stress, but you are also teaching someone and providing them resources for the future. Delegation provides members of your team an ownership interest in the activity. If they are invested in the task, they are more likely to help create a polished finished product.

 

 

I could write an entire article about this topic, but suffice it to say that, as YLC President, I have had to delegate more than I was comfortable doing. With that said, I have fantastic Board members there to help me, and they have certainly done a wonderful job in taking on tasks that I was unable to do. Conveniently enough, this leads into my fifth and final lesson.

 

Lesson No. 5 - Acknowledge Those Who Have Helped You

If you have made it this far in my President’s Message, thank you for reading. See, acknowledgement is easy, right? Well, maybe not. I have found that most of us think about acknowledging others, but oftentimes forget to do so. We all need help along the way. Whether it is in the form of advice, task implementation, or just moral support, we cannot have successful careers without selfless acts by friends, family, and colleagues. As you progress through your career, take time out to think about those people who have helped you reach each career milestone. Send them an email, tag them in a social media post, mention them in a speech, send them a card, or better yet, thank them in person.

 

So, at this point, I am going to take some of my own advice and end this President’s Message by thanking each and every current member of the YLC Board of Governors for all of their help and support this year. You cannot lead a group of 10,000 members without an intelligent, hard-working, and diligent supporting cast.

 

I want to give a special thanks to Maureen Stengel, Maureen Danker, and Dean Lhospital for promptly answering all of my e-mails and phone calls during the past 10 months. I am fortunate to work with such a great group of people.