Members Only: Which Professional Organizations to Join?

which professional organizations to join2016 Update: We still stand by this advice on which professional organizations to join (and the advice nuggets in the comments are awesome!) but you may also want to check out our newer discussion with tips on finding and joining professional organizations

Today, reader D wonders which professional organizations to join for the biggest bang for her buck in terms of time and energy:

My firm expects/requires us to join a professional organization, which presumably leads to networking which eventually leads to clients. Some attorneys are members of the Bar Association relevant to their practice area. The top female attorney in my group is in the Junior League. Another is a member of the city’s business development group. I’m not sure how to find what organizations are out there, and what the right way to evaluate those options is. Whether to go for a more women-centric one? A practice group focused one? Help! I wonder what other Corporette followers are part of.

This is a great question on so many levels.  First, just wondering which professional organizations to join is an excellent networking question — this author’s tactic when I was really junior was to send a brief email to everyone I admired and ask which organizations they had found to be worth their time.  I wound up e-mailing 4 or 5 people individually (mostly superiors at the office), but this is also a great opportunity to ask former professors, former classmates, and perhaps even alums from your school.  It’s a simple, brief e-mail to write, and it shows a bunch of different good things about you:  first, that you’re ambitious; second, that you admire them/trust their opinion (in an ever-so-slight, non-fawning way), and three, if you’re smart in how you phrase the e-mail, it puts you on their radar as being particularly interested in “X” and being willing to spend non-office time on it.  For me it was First Amendment and intellectual property issues; for you it may be women’s issues or something like that.  A tip: Be sure to ask both about which organizations to join, as well as if there are any special groups within the organization worth focusing on.  (Another great question for this crowd:  What are they reading, professionally?)

After you get some suggestions, weigh the different options. Is the time commitment doable?  Is there a fee to join, and  a) will you company reimburse you, and if not, b) can you otherwise write it off as a networking (or charity) expense, or c) can you otherwise swing it? Will you feel like your time and money is being well spent — will you be doing good works?  Listening to great seminars?  Having really intellectual discussions?  Once you do join, we’d suggest reassessing those factors fairly often — there are a lot of groups to join, and limited time to spend on networking.  (And, we’d suggest repeating the initial exercise once you’ve joined — ask people from the organization you joined what other organizations they’ve been a part of.  It’s a great ice-breaker question.)

Readers, which organizations are you a part of?  What factors led you to join them? What is your advice for the reader on which professional organizations to join?

Pictured above: 3D Reality Handshake, originally uploaded to Flickr by lumaxart

A reader wondered: which professional organizations to join if she wants the best bang for her buck in terms of time and energy? GREAT advice in the comments!



  1. Aside from your various bar associations, join AAUW (used to be called American Association of University Women). You will network with women of all ages who have status in the community, and you will obtain clients and make lifelong friendships. It will not make a big demand on your time unless you want it to.

    Soroptimist is a wonderful organization, too, but demands a lot of time for community service and for meetings.

  2. One suggestion is to make sure anyone from whom you solicit suggestions is someone that won’t take it personally if you don’t join “their” organization.

    I am pretty sure I really someone by not joining the Junior League (I went to one intro meeting and knew almost instantly it was NOT for me).

    • The missing word between “really” and “someone” was supposed to be “offended”.

      • newassociate :

        what made you decide the junior league was not for you? i know nothing about it so i’m curious.

        • I would counter that the Junior League is REALLY different depending on where you join. It has its roots in the South, and it was very “society” focused (as in upper class), but it’s for everyone nowadays…to a point. In some places it’s a community service group mainly for stay-at-home moms, some places are more inclusive to working women. In all cases, the Junior League purports to be about charity, but in the chapter(s) in which I belonged, you could _literally_ pay your way out of doing community service for a “donation”. Not too authentically charitable.

          The one place I LOVED the Junior League was in London. It’s the League’s only foreign chapter, and it was particularly full of working ladies, and they even held meetings at night AND during the day to accommodate both SAHMs and working women. It was a really diverse group of Expats, and a great way to plug in to new friends if you had just moved to London.

          • Junior League was founded in NYC.

          • Yep, by Mary Harriman. The daughter of the women who donated the land for Harriman State Park.

          • Also the Junior League has many foreign chapters, the first of which was in Canada. I wonder if MJ is referring to something else.

        • Original Anon here – I agree with the other posters – from talking with people who belong to the Junior League in a variety of cities, the organization varies greatly from place to place. I could tell almost instantly that the chapter in my city was not my cup of tea, but others may have a very different experience based on what they are looking for and where they are.

    • This is a great point! If you don’t join an organization after inquiring, you might be seen as too cheap to spend the money or not caring about a cause that “everyone” should care about (like breast cancer research). You may end up having to make a small contribution to smooth ruffled feathers in those instances.

    • I think Junior Leagues vary greatly from city to city, but the one in mine is very much the “ladies who lunch.” It is run by a bunch of older wealthy non-working women who complain about the lack of up and coming young women, but refused to change anything about their organization to accomodate the young professional women they claim to desire.

    • Junior League chapters do vary greatly the nation, from those that are strictly “ladies who lunch” to those that are focused on education and volunteerism. As a member of the League for 3 years now, here’s my advice for those interested:
      1) The info meetings are NOT the best reflection of a chapter. They are designed to get information out and attract as many people as possible. If you really want to get a true assessment of a league, got to the first couple of meetings and talk to other members who aren’t part of the New Member group.
      2) Every League has niches. Again, it’s often the Social girls that are in the forefront, simply because that’s their style. It took me about a year before I really found a group of women that I enjoy hanging out with. We all come from different walks of life and professions, but we have similar values and goals, and it’s a wonderful bond we’ve built.

      Oh and for those comments about buying your way out of service – you’re always going to have those in any League. Regardless of where it’s progressing to, every League has a group that want it to be “like the old times” and money still matter.

      • As a working Junior Leaguer, I sometimes wish that I could buy my way out of some of my obligations. ;) However, my city doesn’t permit that.

  3. Junior Chamber of Commerce, or chamber of commerce are good groups. Also, sometimes there are professional organizations that are associated with art museums, libraries, etc. Another good way to find organizations in your area is to go to a young lawyers’ association meeting (usually a sub-section of your local bar association) and ask around there what other organizations those people are involved in.

    Also–are you requird to join an organization that another attorney is not already a member of? If not, it might actually be good for you to join one that a partner is a member of (i.e. the top female attorney is in Junior League–if you are on good terms with her you could tell her about your interest in their committment to service, etc., and ask her if she would sponsor you). That would be good for your networking WITHIN the firm as well.

  4. I asked a few (mainly female) partners that I respected for suggestions. One got me on a junior board for a organization. Becoming involved in that group opened other doors for me re: useful local groups.

    I also do the women’s bar section, which has been very good professionally and a young lawyers section of the ABA.

  5. Joining your professional society is a must – whether its your local society of CPAs, or law section etc. — This is where the continuing ed for your profession happens, so sooner or later, everyone passes through, so this way you get to meet them.

    Beyond that, think about what you’re passionate about, or at least can see yourself devoting a couple evenings a month to talking about. I work with Dress for Success ( because I’m passionate about bridging the wage gender gap, and Dress For Success helps women enter the work force successfully. I encourage anyone who is interested in this issue to check out the national website at — I’ve met some great professionals while working with them, and its an opportunity have a real effect on both small and large scales.

  6. Legally Brunette :

    This is why I love Corporette so much — my girlfriends and I have been discussing this same question!

    As of now, I’m a member of two state bar associations but nothing else, and I’m not really involved in those associations. I’m also a member of the Asian Bar Association in my city, which has been fairly good for networking purposes, but I probably need to go to more events.

    I really like the idea of reaching out to partners within my firm. I also look forward to hearing other people’s suggestions.

  7. I’ve found that it’s been helpful to get involved in two different types of organizations: (1) a local community organization with a mission that’s important to me; and (2) a national professional organization focused on my practice area. For me, that’s been the local YWCA and the DRI committee serving my area of practice. I limit myself to only these two. Otherwise I find that my time and resources are simply spread too thin to participate fully and make an impact.

    • I agree with your national and local assessment, although I have not limited myself to two!

      I think it’s important to be a member of your state and local bar associations, and to try to be active in at least one committee if you can. It’s important to get to know other attorneys in your area, as they are good sources of referrals. For me, the commitment ends up being one or two lunch meetings a month.

      I’m also a member of DRI, including a couple committees that are pertinent to my practice. The commitment could be a seminar and a fly-in meeting a year.

      I’m a member of my local Inn of Court – very good networking for litigators if your area has one. This is a monthly dinner and work putting on one program a year.

      I do volunteer work for my local YWCA, through a committee for one of its fundraising events, and volunteer work for another local non-profit in the same way. These take up time.

      Depending upon where you are and what you do, some involvement in politics – in particular judicial races – may be important to “getting to know” the judges.

      I do think that you should consider (a) whether you can make the time commitment necessary, (b) whether you can handle the responsibility you are taking on, (c) whether it’s something you care about and want to do. If you aren’t willing to put in the time, can’t handle the responsibility, or just don’t care, those things are going to show. I get good and bad impressions from people in organizations I’m involved in – both stay with me for years. If you are the associate who bails on a committee because you can’t get up early enough to make an 8:00 a.m. meeting (despite the fact that you are a single woman, and I’m able to get there despite having twin toddlers and a 45-minute commute), I’m going to remember that and NEVER send you referrals.

      • Isn’t that a little judgey? I don’t know the circumstances of this particular case, but not all “single women” necessarily have lots more time than women with children — though that is probably the case most of the time, everyone has their own issues and responsibilities. This “single woman” who couldn’t make the early morning meetings could have (1) work that got too busy, (2) a chronic illness, (3) a family member’s chronic illness, or (4) other family care-taking responsibilities. I guess this is an issue I’m sensitive about, but it seems like too many people are quick to judge in general, and I especially don’t like the childless vs. children judgment being made here.

        • I experienced it as a little judgy too. And as the lawyer mother of two little ones, I personally give all of the rest of you a pass not to feel guilty if you do not actively participate in five professional organizations and do volunteer work for at least another two. This may be a very praiseworthy way to live, but it is certainly exceptional. Aside from the minimum I need for professional development (presenting at some conferences — I’ve never found professional organizations all that useful for business development), I’ve decided I can be a more civically committed person when my kids are old enough to find me embarrassing rather than fun.

        • I agree with you 100 percent, and I have a kid. Mornings are hell for me and always have been, since way before I was a parent. I am good working until 2 a.m., but before 9 a.m., I have a tough time thinking straight. It takes all kinds to make a world, and some people are just not going to commit to something if it requires them to be “on” at a time of day when they are generally at their worst. Me included.

        • Fair point. I know the single woman at issue. She works in my building. She did not have any other issues that would have negated it, and her message was that she couldn’t get up that early – period. It is an organization that she sat on the board of, and she had obligations. And, really, you shouldn’t commit to any organization that you can’t dedicate the necessary time to – whatever the reason, it’s going to look bad when you don’t do what you commit to do. I have a lot going on in my life, and I still managed to handle my commitments and hers. We are all busy at work. We all have responsibilities outside of work.

          • Also want to point out that my point was not that she should have commited to this organization or to “X” number of organizations. The point is that she DID commit, and then she didn’t do what she agreed to do. So, my point is that if your purpose or one of your purposes in joining groups is to become known in your community in a positive way and as a leader, you need to do the tasks you commit to do. How is that a bad point? It looks bad to your clients when you say you are going to do something and don’t. It looks bad to your coworkers. It looks bad to people you serve on organizations with. It’s really easy to NOT volunteer yourself if you can’t make the commitment, and that was my point. Be sure you are committed before you volunteer. Whether you like my attitude or not, I can assure you that it would be shared by many. I’m in a position to refer work, and I won’t refer to that woman – not because she doesn’t have kids or does have kids, etc. but because she didn’t do what she agreed to do, and that made a lot of other busy women’s lives more difficult.

          • My apologies for using the word “point” way too many times in that last post!

          • But why is her singleness an issue at all? This is what irks me. The attitude of “Well, if she had kids, I’d understand it if she flaked out, but she’s single and she has no kids – what’s her excuse?” We do have lives, you know, and our unexpected “issues” are no less important than yours.

            And if I could count how many times I’ve been told “Well, I have to go home to my kids, but you can stay and finish this” – well – I’d get really depressed. Somehow, my relationships, my life, and the people who are important to me just don’t count to the mommies.

          • LM, this particular mommy has never left her single coworkers to finish up projects. The bottom line is that I know this woman was just flaky and didn’t want to get up early (and honestly, I would probably not be understanding if she had kids either). It wasn’t just one time or while she was going through a rough patch.

            And I’ve been a single lawyer, married without kids lawyer, and a married with twins lawyer. I know which parts of my career were easier time-wise. Certainly, everyone has things going on in their lives, but an 8:00 a.m. meeting is a feat of great effort for me now, with kids, and I.Am.Still.There. I’m sorry if I offended you, but I still think it’s good advice to remember that your volunteer activities can make you look good or bad depending upon how you perform.

          • Rachel-
            You say that you know which parts of your career are easier time-wise, implying that it was easier / had more time before you had kids — and I’m sure that was true — for you. The point is just that it’s different for everyone. I’ve had chronic depression and at times when it’s gotten worse, I sincerely believe that it is harder to deal with and more time-consuming than even having children. This isn’t to discount the difficulties that working mothers have, but just to say that there are other problems that someone may be struggling with that may not be apparent. I haven’t ever used my illness as an excuse or even told anyone (though I’m sure it’s been apparent at times), and it’s been rare when I’ve had to go back on a commitment — but there have been those times, and this (not keeping up commitments) is a common problem/symptom of depression. It’s not an excuse but rather a true reflection of the effects of a mental illness (though of course I realize that many people still do not believe this and perhaps never will).
            Sorry for the rant, it’s just that my experiences in recent years have made me more aware of the problem of unseen disabilities and the assumptions that people make. I would have made the same assumptions as you and everyone else a few years ago, but (I hope) not anymore.
            Thanks for reading.

    • Agree — Frankly, I think its mandatory for anyone in a career that requires continuing education (either formal credits or an ongoing update of knowledge to be employable – which should cover all professions), to belong to a professional society. Then think about what you’re interested in on a personal level – breast cancer research, ending homelessness, increasing literacy, etc… If you’re actually going to help you have to be interested in it

  8. I’m in the Junior League, my state bar association, and on the board of a favorite non-profit. Parodoxically, I get many more professional contacts from Junior League and my non-profit board than I do from the bar association.

    • Anonymous :

      That makes sense, because when the non-lawyers you meet from Junior League need or know someone who needs a lawyer, they probably think of you and just a couple of other people. Whereas the people you’ve met through the bar association know hundreds of lawyers to recommend.

      That said, I have been told that getting really involved in a bar association committee and being very active is a good way to get yourself known among lawyers as someone who is really tops in your field. That can lead to referrals also, but it takes longer.

      • Being active in bar associations is also a good way to keep your ears open for any possible positions elsewhere if you decide you want to move on with your career to a different firm

  9. Jill’s advice is great – join one professional org, and one charitable. There’s a “power” charitable organization for women professionals in every city – in some cities, it’s the Junior League, in others, it’s something else (in my city, it’s the United Way). Very honestly, you will make the best networking contacts for your career in the organizations that are mostly populated with fellow professionals, vs. ones mostly filled with “ladies who lunch.” In large charitable orgs like United Way, there are often special “women’s” or “young professionals” committees you can join that put you in contact with good people to know.

    As far as professional organizations – I am not a lawyer, so I can’t speak to that. For marketing/communications people or finance people, for example, there are often multiple organizations in one city for those professionals, and some are better than others. I joined one organization about 10 years ago, when I was just starting out, that was more or less exclusively run by older “ladies who lunch” who dabbled in the profession on the side. It just wasn’t the right fit for me at all, but I had made commitments that it took some time for me to extricate myself from. Go to a couple of meetings before you commit to actually joining something – it can save you a lot of hassle. Mixers are actually great “first encounters” for professional orgs because you can see who comes to things (just bear in mind there are people who show up to mixers who don’t go to anything else) and whether they’re “your crowd.” I don’t think, for example, that organizations populated by elderly professionals close to retirement, or those run by ex-frat boys who are interested in setting up events so they have an excuse to drink, are good organizations for young professional women to join. Although you can make good contacts through unexpected people, be careful about how you commit your time. I do recommend, once you join a group, getting involved in some way beyond just going to lunch meetings – get on a committee or work on a special project. That’s the best way to meet people and develop a reputation for yourself.

    Don’t forget to join groups on LinkedIn also. A great way to get your name and accomplishments in front of a wide variety of people you may not even live close to.

    • Yes, second the “Join Groups on LinkedIn” tip.

      I recently attended a “How to Network” event put on by my b-school alma mater in Silicon Valley, and the LinkedIn rep specifically mentioned that the more groups you join, the better, because then, even if you are not directly connected to someone, they can contact you (presumably about a job, etc.) for FREE, which is not always the case with LinkedIn. It’s a great way to expand your virtual network. The presenter then also cautioned NOT to be the annoying one who spams the weekly LinkedIn digest inappropriately, constantly (and you know who you are Forte Foundation Group Members!).

  10. I want to put in a plug for the American Inns of Court. I joined an Inn at the beginning of my second year and I really think it’s one of the best things I’ve done for my career. Once a month, I get face time with a wide swath of the best lawyers in my practice area in the city (since my Inn is focused on a particular practice area) and have gotten to know several of the member judges. And a lot of Inns have formal mentoring groups, which give you a chance to learn from partners outside of your firm. Especially in this day and age, it never hurts to know (and have the chance to impress) people beyond the walls of your firm.

    • Seconded. It’s great to network with other litigators and judges (who compose my Inn) in your community.

    • thirded.

      • what is this group?

        • There are actually a lot of groups, all organized under the general Inns umbrella:

          • Legally Brunette :

            But don’t you need to be recommended to join by an existing member? My understanding is that you cannot join on your own.

  11. Your city’s Chamber of Commerce group can have numerous off-shoots that focus on specific initiatives, such as Women’s Leadershuip. Also, there is a list on Pink’s website of professional orgs that may jump start your search. Perhaps a professional association that is a more parallel endeavor from a practice perspective. I second the reach out and ask the men and women at your firm- if you’re not comfortable with that, check their Linked In profiles for groups. Also, I would look at your Trustees or Board members and see what orgs they have listed in their bios.

  12. For professional, I joined the local bar. I don’t live in a city, so the local bar association is really much better for professional networking for me, and they always need help with CLE, netowrking events, etc. so I can usually be a speaker, a chair, or some other fairly high profile position at least once a year.

    I also joined the local young professionals organization. It isn’t a place that most lawyers/bankers typically look, but there are many, many young entreprenuers involved and we have basically grown professionally together so when legal things come up, they come to me now. If you’re in a smaller area, you might also look at local Chambers of Commerce type events for networking–I know ours has a variety of great opportunities.

    And I got involved with the local opera because I love arts. I’ve sort of cycled through the local arts boards now, and it’s given me a lot of contacts in an area I love.

  13. I do ERISA/employee benefits…any suggestions as to organizations where I can meet HR/benefits people?

    • I would do a search for HR professional groups – if you live in a city this will probably be easier, but there should still be some options outside of big cities. If not, consider joining a business owners’ group – many of them have the same benefits concerns/issues albeit on a smaller scale

    • A colleague who does ERISA/benefits work is involved with the Employers Counsel on Flexible Compensation. Here’s a link to the website:

    • Check to see if there’s a WEB in your area (Worldwide Employee Benefits). They have good, subtantive meetings monce a month and networking events.

    • Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM)

  14. I belong to a national bar association for my specialty, but have been told to shy away from the local bar because they are steeped in politics and I cannot afford to be painted with their rabid advocacy on certain issues. (It’s quite a shame because I absolutely agree with their politics but ….). I third the American Inn of Courts and suggest Young Benefactors of the Smithsonian for anyone in the DC Metro area. I love Junior League but that can be like a second job with all of it’s obligations. I’m already working 60-70 hours / week, I cannot take on the mandatory (er voluntary) community service. I’m often asked about my community involvement.

  15. North Shore :

    Oh, so glad I work for the federal government. Nobody expects me to join anything. I’m not even a member of the ABA. I’ll speak at functions when I’m asked to do so, and I’m very involved in my local community (trustee of the public library, etc.) but I’m not in it for the professional networking. Actually, it seems like if you reach a certain age (40s) and you have been moderately involved in your profession and community, you’re getting asked to join just about everything out there. I think a lot of organizations are looking for professional women to serve on their boards.

    • This is absolutely true. If I said “yes” to every organization that asked me to do something, it would be the equivalent of a full-time job, or more. I actually dropped out of some of the less “dear-to-my-heart” organizations when my son was born almost four years ago, and I still get pestered to re-join, serve on this committee or that one, etc. That is one thing people should keep in mind – many organizations lack competent, motivated volunteers, so when they find one, they jump on that person like a duck on a junebug. It may be necessary to learn the fine art of the “nice no” in order to avoid becoming overcommitted.

      And just so newbies understand – the reason why professional women are in such demand for nonprofit boards is because we provide links to corporate/business structures that can donate money to the organization. In fact, in most cases, when you join a board, you will agree to raise a certain amount of money for the organization (either through personal donations, a contribution from your employer, or a mixture of both), sell tickets or program advertisements for events, or otherwise contribute financially. I know that I was personally taken aback the first time an executive director asked me if I could approach my boss about buying a table for one of the nonprofit’s events – but it’s just part of being on a board. If you’re uncomfortable with that kind of thing, it may be best to skip board membership and find another way to contribute.

  16. I found that it helps to belong to organizations that you actually care about and are interested in working for, rather than just joining because you are expected to. It may sound obvious, but I encountered on many occasions “dead weight” members of the boards who are there merely to pad their resumes. It’s frustrating for the member, because he or she obviously has little interest in the organization, and it’s frustrating as hell for the other members on the board.

    I belong to a couple of cultural/ international non profit groups where I am pretty active. At times, it takes a lot of my time, but it’s worth it for me. I attend some events organized by a local young professionals chapter, but find that frequently, it is either full of people blatantly wanting to sell you something, or people looking for hook-ups, so i choose my events sparingly.

    After several years of practice, I finally got involved in a couple of committees for the two sections of the state bar which are within my practice area. So I am finally getting around to networking with other lawyers!

    One advice that I got from more seasoned lawyers on how to develop clients is to avoid spending too much time with professional organizations whose members do the same work as you (e.g., for a tax attorney to participate in a tax section of the bar) because people you will meet there are going to be, most likely, your competitors, and will probably not send you work, unless there is a conflict. Instead, the advice was to join organizations that your clients belong to. I do not necessarily follow this advice, but I do think it has some merit.

    • That makes sense, but there are some areas of the law in which referrals among lawyers in the same specialty are very common – e.g. one lawyer represents the company and refers the client to other lawyers to represent individuals. Also at BigLaw, conflicts are so common now that we often have to refer our clients to other firms when we are approached because we can’t do it. So depending on the area and type of practice you’re in, knowing other lawyers can be helpful, but it’s best to be doing something that establishes yourself as an expert in your field. Most lawyers will not jeopardize their credibility by referring a client to another lawyer based on nothing but a general positive impression from meeting you.

  17. Grrr. Sorry, but it really bugs me that people join nonprofit boards for social/networking reasons. They end up being the people that show up at meetings, say a lot of really self-important things to make themselves sound better, and then are never there to help when its time to actually do something.

    • I think networking is a valid reason to join most any organization. However, for my 2 cents, I suggest joining something that you are interested in and would participate in regardless of the networking and business-generating opportunities. If you serve on a board for the sole purpose of nabbing clients, people are probably going to see through to your real motivation, and it could backfire, alienate you, and waste your time.

    • Sorry, I think I came accross a little harsher than I meant. I was really talking about people who join JUST for the networking. Obviously, networking occurs and everyone in nonprofits understand this – but I’ve definitely worked with people who come in to the nonprofit with the attitude of “what can you do for me?” rather than the other way around, and it is incredibly frustrating.

    • No, that’s only the people who join an organization for networking purposes and then network badly; the ones who do it well you don’t suss out.

  18. I’d ask my favorite clients about the nonprofits where they volunteer or serve on boards. Sometimes when you work with a client in a volunteer setting completely apart from your regular professional work, that person gets to know you, sees your strengths, and feels comfortable referring their colleagues to you. I get many more referrals from clients than I do from other lawyers.

  19. I have been told that if you have political aspirations (inc. running for a state judgeship, let’s say), it’s good to join the local political clubs that tend to do those nominations.

  20. This topic reminds me of a question I’ve been meaning to post on a Weekend Open Thread: at what kinds of venues, organizations, etc. have you ladies found it easy (or possible, for that matter) to make actual _friends_ outside the context of professional networking?

    My few close friends in my city and I have found it rather difficult to forge friendships that transcend the purpose of the activity (e.g. ABA, DAR, church, volunteering, work, classes at gym, book club, and the list goes on).

    While we all consider ourselves very involved in our professions and communities, our college friends don’t live nearby, our law school chums have scattered across the country, and we’ve begun to find activities like the ones I listed above a bit unfulfilling in terms of making friends.

    Does anyone else have this issue? Has anyone overcome it??

    • I do, and I haven’t. It’s hard to make new good friends as an adult out of school! Fortunately I got to know one very social, gregarious friend through people I knew when I moved here, and she has single-handedly created a group of single women friends (even though she’s married) who spend time together.

      The one thing I’ve learned from her is to stick your neck out and suggest things, and be very open about the fact that you like someone and are excited about getting to know them better. That seems to be how she has made her millions of friends.

    • Yes – definitely challenging — I occasionally take classes ‘just for fun’ and at those (which are not related to my job) I do meet interesting people some of whom I have become friends with… it is hard!

    • Nevadamtnbear :

      Yes, I know what you mean, and it’s incredibly frustrating. And, no, I haven’t found a good solution.

      I think in part, it’s personality driven. As posted by Karen, if you have an outgoing personality, it’s less of a challenge. If you’re more introverted in a social aspect, it’s more challenging.

      Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve made most of my friends through my husband’s running. But, what I find challenging is that I have a very low tolerance for catty conversations and conversations which evolve about status/social standing. For me, many of the people I’ve encountered professionally, regardless of gender, lean heavily on the status/social standing/personal significance in the community theme. And, admittedly, it’s me, but if that’s the vibe I get from the first impression, I’m not interested in digging a lot deeper to try to find common interests and ground.

      So, I find my biggest challenge is finding people with similar interests – and it feels as though my interests and perspectives are not common – but, when I find people whom I connect with, we connect well and those are good friendships. Those friendships have come out of arena’s completely unrelated to my profession (does anyone else not particularly enjoy hanging out with other attorneys?). The closest friends I have came out of a online community message board for women who were due the same month when my son was born and a couple women who are ultra distance runners and run with my husband occasionally and hang with the same group of people.

      I dream of someday finding a group of ladies that give a rats a** about what other people thing, who might or might not have kids (if they do, they are the same kind go parents who tell the kids to toughen up unless they’re bleeding – ;o) ), enjoy drinking a beer or glass of wine (ore more) while sitting around someone’s kitchen snacking or in the backyard just having unguarded conversation about life and what the next adventure will be. I’ve found finding these people harder to come by than I would have though, instead conversations revert to how *wonderful* their lives are, how *perfect* their kids are, how *ideal* their marriage is, bla bla bla.

      Yes, I know it makes me look like a judgment twit – but really, I’m a lot less judgment when people are genuine than when they try to put on a front of Utopian existence. We all have issues, and I don’t see it as a fault to admit it.

      • Yes! The kind of friends that remain are those who are genuine. The other people are social acquaintances. Each of these are worthwhile but the one that makes the real world day to day mental health difference is the “genuine” group. When I traveled all the time for work I had only the acquaintance folks after I had moved to my sister’s location after a divorce and then she shortly thereafter had to move because of her job situation. It was tough.
        You are not a judgmental twit *at all.* You go girl.

    • I’ve met close friends serving on a non-profit board and also as a member at the Junior League. Because Junior League has many social components, it’s pretty easy to make friends.

    • It is really hard and something my husband and I struggled with. One thing we’ve found is that A. as people move on from jobs, sometimes it becomes easier to be friends, because it becomes less about work and more about what else you have in common. My closest friends in our city now are people I worked with in a job I left 7 years ago. B. Now that we have our son, it’s a lot easier to make friends. There are probably two reasons for that – parenting is tough and it’s an automatic thing-in-common with other parents, and also, people mellow out a lot after they have kids, or at least that’s been our experience. I.e., people aren’t as hung up about political, religious, economic, and career differences, that were deal-breakers before the kids came along. I realize that’s not helpful if people aren’t planning to have children at some point. :)

      One thing we concluded about five years after we graduated from college is that it may not be possible to have the same kind of close friendships with our adult friends as we did with our high school and college friends. People’s lifestyles are totally different (less time to hang out, no more communal living, no more bonding over a tough class or bad professor, etc.), and their priorities are different. Also, there’s just something about people being there in the formative-experience times that forges a bond that’s hard to replicate later. Regardless of what TV shows, we don’t know many people who have the “constantly hanging-out” type of friendships – people generally do that with relatives if they do it at all. We started making friends easier when we realized that by necessity, the nature of the friendship would be different than what we were used to. It may be about adjusting expectations of what a “friendship” is and recognizing that friendships will be different in adulthood than they were in earlier times of life.

  21. This seems like a really sneaky way to get you to do more work outside the office for which you will not be paid. Not that extracurricular activities aren’t great ways to spend your time, but I don’t think your firm should make you do this.

    • No offense, but anyone who is a lawyer needs to think like a business owner and make client opportunities happen. For associates, it may seem like you are always going to get plenty of work from partners when you are working your butt off 60-70 hours a week, but eventually, most lawyers at firms are expected to bring in business. That requires you knowing people and being known. Law in a firm is not a 9-5 job. I guess the firm could not ask you to do it, but regardless the people who don’t do it are the people who will be wondering why they didn’t make partner 7 years down the road. And most associates are paid far more than they are worth for precisely this reason.

      • I don’t see why law firms in this respect are any different from accounting firms, banks, etc. Why can’t practicing law in a firm ever be a 9-5 job? And why does someone who is a lawyer need to think like a business owner, more so than people in other professions? I think there is a certain model in existence that is not necessarily the only one or the best one — I’m referring to the pyramid, up-or-out, etc, whatever you want to call it, the model that biglaw firms use. Why are law firms like this when other companies are not?

        • I don’t know that accounting firms are different. Lawyers sell themselves. Not a product. Services, yes, but mostly lawyers sell themselves. And you will only be funneled work for so long before you have to find it yourself. I think you used to be able to work around this, but now it’s just hardly possible. There are exceptions for certain practice niches, but for most of us it’s essential to market and network.

  22. Think strategically! If your firm expects you to become a rainmaker, think about joining an industry group that will expose you to non-lawyers and potential clients. Lots of such organizations love to have attorney members who can help with legal issues that arise and can provide free assistance. It’s a great opportunity to showcase your legal skills, and to get to know movers and shakers without overtly pressing them for new business. There may be a small business group, charity (think wealthy donors!), or civic group (movers and shakers!) that accepts new members and would allow you to “work” the meetings and get great face time; these encounters lead to lunches, that can lead to new business for you and your firm.

  23. Agree w/ Liz above!

    I also can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that there’s some small of sexism at work here. There are an awful lot of women’s professional groups devoted to “volunteerism” and comunity service in general, and I think that promotes the stereotypes that (1) women are the ones who have the time to do volunteer work (b/c their time is worth less?), and (2) women should enjoy helping out others, whereas men can focus entirely on, say, making money, without being asked about his “civic involvement” by other men.

    Obviously this sexism is not always present (counterexamples can include men’s groups focused on volunteering, and women’s groups focused solely on networking), and to the extent it exists, it is probably reinforced just as much by woman as by men… but I would hate for other people to assume that I should be involved in community service types of women’s groups when a man in my position would be more likely/expected to go for the group (if any) that promotes networking and bringing in business — i.e. focuses on him and his career. Both genders should be free to choose either option, or both, but seems like there are much higher expectations for women’s professional and civic involvement…

    Anyone agree/disagree?

    • I posted something on this after Forbes Woman ran a piece claiming that women have difficulty being seen as professionals because its counter intuitive to society’s view of women for women to want to be paid instead of caring out of the goodness of their hearts…

    • “I think that promotes the stereotypes that (1) women are the ones who have the time to do volunteer work (b/c their time is worth less?)”

      I think Suze Orman addressed that in one of her books, it is a very sexist notion.

  24. I am not an attorney but work in marketing for a professional services firm in the midwest. I am active in Rotary.. .for those of you in smaller communities -this is an excellent way to get connected with business leaders in your community. Since Rotary is international.. it’s a great way to connect with a larger international cause but network on a local level. If you are under 30, some communities have Rotaract clubs for those just beginning their careers.

    On a more personal level… I love libraries so I also serve as a Trustee on our local library board. It’s a government board in my community so I had to apply through the county. I love my work there.

    I am incredibly blessed to work in an environment that expects our employees to be engaged in non-profit work… my firm supports (financially and with paid time off for service) for those organizations where are our employees are involved. It’s the community that made us successful so we have a duty to support it.

    • I am a lawyer, and I too serve as a trustee on our local library board. My fellow trustees are business people, bankers, and small business owners. I have learned a lot about local politics and who wields the real influence in our county and beyond. We manage 7 different branch locations and have a multi-million dollar budget. It’s been a real joy to be able to make the kind of business decisions that I normally have to leave up to my clients. As for the social aspects of the job, I am a terrible “networker” but a great “worker.” As a trustee, I get to do work I believe in with the side — and effortless — benefit of networking with some really interesting folks.

  25. I find the comments about this being some kind of sexist plot to get people to work for free incredibly short sighted. There is a certain amount of paying your dues both figuratively and literally in your early years in any professional organization. Yes, your involvement reflects well on your firm, but I’m assuming most of you hope to be in a position to benefit from that in the future. As a 50+ year old physician, I have participated in my specialty society since I started in practice. I have had the opportunity to serve on national committees that set practice standards and my national specialty society president will take my calls at home. Same with my state insurance commissioner. I would not hire a younger associate of either gender who is unable to appreciate the professional benefits, both to his/her own career and to the practice, of this sort of involvement.

    There are times in all of our professional lives when personal/family responsibilities preclude spending a lot of time after hours. Organizations need to better accomodate the needs of young parents. That said, it is clear to me that those who have the most power, respect and influence within a profession are very involved in specialty societies and philanthropic activities. The connections made result in increased referrals, professional and ultimatelty, financial success.

  26. I’m a VP at a technology company, so not at all connected to law. Your requirements may vary widely from mine because of that.

    I never, ever join groups specifically for women. Sorry. I find that they have a different feel and very easily turn into something other than their stated mission. Besides, I really like working with men. And I detest “networking.”

    Join associations from which you can learn something useful. Professional associations a great way to stay on top of trends in your industry/profession. Go to conferences, and as you mature in your profession, speak at them. Meet peers and develop relationships with mentors. Figure out what YOU want to get out of joining a group, join the group that best meets those needs, then spin the group to the company.

  27. I love this topic, and I suggest doing something you’re passionate about. I am involved in arts organizations, and I chose the arts way back in high school. It such a diverse community, clients will choose to go to an arts event over a rotary club lunch any day, and it is a worthy cause. Social services help people live, and the arts give us reasons to.

  28. Nevadamtnbear :

    I’m fortunate, as at my current firm, community involvement isn’t pushed or expected, and given the area of law we practice, networking for client referrals is not necessary.

    However, that doesn’t stop me from being involved in the community, I just do it because I want to and I have a genuine interest in the organizations I’m involved in. I sit on two boards of directors for local non-profits, and they are organizations that I firmly believe in the missions they are seeking to achieve.

    I’m a member of my local bar not for networking purposes, but because it provides access to some CLE’s and provides some other professional benefits.

    My dad keeps asking me if I want to become involved in Rotary (he’s long time Rotarian and very involved), and I’ve told him, I’m not in a position that I feel like I want to make the financial commitment to be a part of the organization. I know that as a Rotarian, you’re contributions and expenses associated with membership can be significant. Sure, it’s a good way to connect and network, but those are issues for me, and I’m not willing to “pay” for it at this point in time.

    • Nevadamtnbear :

      No, I cannot think clearly this morning. I do generally know the difference between “your” and “you’re.” However, without coffee, my composition skills are significantly deficient and proof reading skills utterly unavailable.

  29. I only joined the local insert-ethnic-identification-here bar association, and purely for social reasons (they throw GREAT parties). I am a litigator in a Big Firm, and The Firm does not encourage networking, because mixers and happy hours and networking events are not billable!

  30. You will during your career (and should) belong to many professional organizations. There is no “one” organization that is going to provide you with all the contacts, tools, information, role models, skills, insights which you will need at any one point in time. Some organizations you’ll stay in longer – others for shorter periods of time. Some you’ll actively contribute to and others you’ll be a passive observer/active listener. Determine what you need now (information or guidance or mentors) what you aspire to (contacts, role models, leadership opportunities) – then research and seek out groups to join.
    And you should join these groups REGARDLESS of whether your firm encourages you to or is neutral or discourages you from networking/making client contacts. This is about your career, your professional ambitions and the career ladder you intend to climb. No firm is going to hand you your career – and you’ll short-change your opportunities by not constantly maintaining and building your professional network.

  31. Soma Sengupta :

    Very helpful post. Thank you.

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