Inside Perspective: the best bar association for you

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc.  He is also President Elect of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.

I have been a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel since 1996, the year I took my first in-house position.  Prior to membership in ACC, I belonged to the American Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association.  The best of the bunch for me has been the ACC.

Each bar associations serves a noble purpose.  Each is relevant to a particular group of lawyers.  For example, the ISBA seems to be the association of choice for smaller firms outside of Cook County and the CBA is a great way for Chicago law firm lawyers to connect with each other.  There are bar associations based on ethnicity and race and religion.  For the in-house lawyer you can’t beat the ACC.

Like most anything else, what you get out of a bar association is directly related to what you put into it.  In my experience, there is not much required of you to get an awful lot back. Over the course of my 14 year stint with ACC, I have been active to various degrees depending on the demands of work, home etc.  I found that as I became more involved, I started to reap more benefits and I have trumpeted the benefits of membership from hill and dale.  I am sure my proselytizing has converted some, and annoyed others (maybe even you as you read this).  The fact is that membership in ACC has been a wonderful experience for me, both professionally and personally, as I have made many new friends directly as a result of my involvement.  I can’t say enough about  the many benefits I have enjoyed as an active participant in ACC.

ACC’s mission is not dissimilar from the other bar associations in general scope:  to promote “the common professional and business interests of in-house counsel who work for corporations, associations and other private-sector organizations through information, education, networking opportunities, and advocacy initiatives.”  Notable in the statement (other than the core group being in-house counsel) is the acknowledgement that ACC serves the business interests of it’s membership, not only the legal interests.  ACC really and truly recognizes that the in-house counsel is a business person as well as a lawyer.

Each of the associations works its mission by providing resources to help save time, money and effort and by offering continuing legal education, professional development advice as well as terrific networking opportunities. Each association claims robust membership numbers.  ISBA for example claims 30,000 members.  ACC has impressive global numbers – over 25,000 active members and the local Chicago Chapter boasts more than 1,550 members.

If you are not a member of a bar association, become one.  And more importantly become active in the association.  You will reap rewards much greater than the relatively nominal fee to join.  You will have the benefit of sharing a knowledge base with many seasoned attorneys and developing your professional network – priceless.

Now, for an unabashed plug:  One of the best benefits of membership in ACC is the opportunity to attend the Chicago Annual In-House Celebration Dinner.  On Sept. 23, Malcolm Gladwell, The New York Times best-selling author of “Outliers,” “Blink,” “Tipping Point” and “What The Dog Saw”  and a contemporary thinker and writer for The New Yorker will speak to a group of over 700 people from the Chicago legal community (both in-house and law firm lawyers and judges).  There will be a book signing and photo opportunities as well.  If you are a member of ACC – I urge you to attend this free event.  If you are not a member – join now and attend.  If you are associated with a law firm, take a look at what ACC offers by way of sponsorships, get involved and create relationships with the in-house legal community that serves as the bread and butter for your practices.  This event is truly a load of fun and a great opportunity to mix it up with old and new friends.

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