Specialty bar associations can be great opportunities for in-house lawyers to grow their network and develop their careers. Unlike some mega bar associations, they tend to feel more intimate and collegial, even if their membership numbers are pretty large, because the members share a common interest.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the NAPABA (National Asian Pacific American Bar Association) convention in Atlanta. This organization represents the interests of over 40,000 attorneys and about 65 local bar associations. And let me tell you, they had a lot going on at their annual gathering. And I don’t just mean the after-hours partying….

Notably, the NAPABA convention had an impressive number of in-house-counsel-specific programs. (Other bar associations, take note — here are some ideas you can steal for your conventions and claim as your own!)

Executive Training. These were training sessions intended to help in-house lawyers advance in their workplaces. A session for junior in-house counsel discussed strategies for developing a “fan base” of mentors and sponsors. The theme for the more senior lawyers was “executive presence,” and about why some of us inspire confidence and others of us get knocked over in the hallway even though we were trying really hard to blend in with the wall. (Maybe we should pick clothes that match the paint more closely next time.) These sessions were given by Hyun & Associates.

One-on-One Coaching with Executive Recruiters. These were coaching sessions with recruiters who specialize in searches for higher-level attorney openings (e.g., deputy general counsel to general counsel positions). They provided one-on-one interviews to help us understand why we’d better take seriously what everyone says about soft skills if we want any chance at getting one of those coveted spots, and they also showed us why our résumés were totally pathetic. And they were really, really good at it!

Pitch Sessions. These were one-on-one sessions where law firm attorneys got a chance to pitch their services directly to in-house counsel who actually have influence in hiring outside counsel. There’s a good amount of pre-conference work to ensure that they’re matched up with firms that have appropriate experience for the type of industry, work needed, etc.

In-House Counsel/Partner Reception. This was your basic networking reception, except a little more targeted. Each law firm attorney attendee hosted a respective in-house lawyer attendee. So if you didn’t have those “soft skills” that the executive recruiter above was hounding you about, at least you had one dude at the party who was supposed to chat with you over the cocktail weenies. By the way, this event was a pretty hot ticket — from what I hear, the 150 partner slots sold out in one hour this year.

In-House Committees. NAPABA has a general In-House Counsel Committee that’s open to all in-house counsel, where all of these in-house initiatives are evaluated and attendees strategize about what more NAPABA could offer. There are also a couple of other specialized in-house committees. I’m not fabulous enough to be invited to those, but I’m not jealous. No really, I’m not.

Mentor/Mentee Program. This is the classic one-on-one mentoring program. In-house counsel mentees are assigned senior in-house mentors. My personal experience has been that these traditional types of mentoring programs are often hit or miss, depending on the pairings (say, if both participants are major slackers). But the monthly calls I’ve had with my NAPABA mentor have been so helpful — mainly because, while I’m a slacker, he’s not — we’ve stayed paired together for 3 years now.

Vivia Chen, a columnist for the Careerist, also attended the NAPABA convention, and wrote a fun article about it afterwards. I just focused on the part of the article where Vivia says that we were a “seriously good-looking crowd.” I didn’t realize that Vivia and I had run into each other there, but obviously we had! So try looking into specialty bars like NAPABA that offer a lot of benefits for your career, but please note the following disclaimer: in-house offerings and physical attractiveness may vary.


Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.


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