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Expanding My Horizons With the D.C. Bar Law Student Community

February 06, 2024

By Angela Mackie-Rutledge

Several years ago I embarked on my law school journey in London. Law school in the United Kingdom is a fascinating experience that I’d definitely recommend, but it is also very different than the law school experience I’ve had here in the United States. Maybe it was because I was a part-time student then, but I felt disconnected from other students and student organizations.

At Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, where I am currently pursuing an LLM degree, I was excited to discover a myriad of student groups for every interest. Yes, it is a veritable smorgasbord for an eager legal mind. This go-round, I was determined to immerse myself in the vibrant law school community even though I was working and raising a family.

Three things that I was also all too aware of: (1) my time was finite, (2) my budget was limited, and (3) I very much wanted to network with other students, professors, and attorneys — something I didn’t do while studying law in the UK.

Time can feel extremely long when reading through a case book, yet zip by in the blink of an eye once you finish your first semester. Recognizing this paradox, I was intent on being selective with my involvement, seeking to contribute meaningfully without overextending myself.

In law school, professors and administrators push students to network, but they don’t tell you exactly how to do this. In some scenarios, I’m a natural-born networker, but in others, I struggle. During office hours with my evidence class professor, I asked her, “How, as an introvert, should I approach networking?” She recommended that I start by joining local bar associations. It was a lightbulb moment.

Although I was vaguely aware that joining a voluntary bar was something one could do, I assumed you had to have passed the bar first. I didn’t realize you could join as a student, and that there were student communities behind some of these groups. Thus, like my classmates, I didn’t initially consider joining a bar association.

That month, after speaking with my evidence professor, I joined three bar associations as a student: the ABA, the Lancaster Bar Association (I live in Pennsylvania), and the D.C. Bar. Joining the D.C. Bar Law Student Community two years ago resonated with me, especially because I had already attended one of the Bar’s CLE courses and planned to take the D.C. bar exam.

Procedurally, joining the D.C. Bar Law Student Community was straightforward. I went to the Community’s webpage, filled out the form, and paid the $25 membership fee. As a student on a budget, I did take a moment to ponder if joining was worth the fee. When considering the different bar associations’ student memberships, they all had different fees ranging from free to $30. Both the ABA and the D.C. Bar, comparatively, were on the high side, but they both offered activities and benefits that had the potential to outweigh the costs.

For instance, the D.C. Bar opens doors to engaging CLE programs and networking events, which are not just informative but also free to members — a bonus I missed out on initially. In my second month of law school, I signed up for a CLE session focused on the procedures of gaining admission to the D.C. Bar as an attorney, which included a detailed discussion on addressing character and fitness evaluations. As a newcomer to law school in the United States, I found the insights from the CLE immensely valuable. However, I paid the full price ($79) for this enriching experience, when Communities membership would have granted me complimentary access.

The D.C. Bar CLEs were a magnet for me, but it was my professor’s advice that prompted me to join the Law Student Community. The $25 investment paid off instantly with access not only to CLEs, but also Lunch and Learns and opportunities like hosting a podcast, applying for fellowships, and even the Writers in Residence Program — for which I was ultimately selected.

I am particularly fond of the Lunch and Learn presentations that are presented via Zoom. The three most helpful for me were:

•           “Lead Generation: How to Build a Steady Pipeline of New Clients”

•           “Dealing With Law School Debt”

•           “Freelance Lawyer Freedom”

Last month I also attended my first in-person networking event at the D.C. Bar, a holiday reception honoring Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. It was a well-catered affair with tasty desserts that any law student can appreciate. I enjoyed the evening and felt it went particularly well because I broke out of my inherent shyness and engaged with politicians, attorneys, and other students. To me, this was a personal triumph.

Of course, law students each have their own reasons for joining. Jaden Cloobeck, a 1L at George Washington University Law School, has a keen interest in delving into various legal fields, including administrative, copyright, and urban planning law as well as legal journalism. His commitment to professional growth and community engagement led him to become a member of the D.C. Bar Law Student Community.

“I joined the D.C. Bar as a student member so I can build community, learn from attorneys, and explore different practice areas,” says Cloobeck.

The D.C. Bar opens doors for both student and attorney members, offering exposure to diverse practice areas and the chance to network with professionals active in those fields. While joining school-based organizations is certainly beneficial, I highly recommend that students seeking to broaden their horizons consider exploring the D.C. Bar Law Student Community. For me, each interaction and learning experience with the D.C. Bar has been enriching, leaving me with just one wish — to have joined sooner.

Angela Mackie-Rutledge, a student at George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, is a D.C. Bar writer in residence for 2023–2024.