That’s the biggest change during my 15-year journey from newbie to CAALA president
I just completed a big anniversary, and it’s hard for me to believe it all happened 15 years ago. The year was 2003, and as I look back, nearly every important milestone in my legal career came within a six-month period. I graduated from law school, passed the California state bar exam, got my first job as a lawyer – and I joined CAALA.
I’m not going to tell you which of those events is the most important to me, they all mean a lot; but I will tell you that becoming part of the CAALA community has shaped my legal career, and more than any one thing, has helped me become the lawyer and the person I am today. My most recent milestone, of course, came last month when I was installed as CAALA’s 70th President. When I joined CAALA as a new attorney in 2003 I never imagined that the association would play such an important role in my life, both professionally and personally.
You’ll have to ask people who knew me then, but I don’t think I’ve changed all that much in the past 15 years. Yes, I’m 15 years older and I have a family that includes my wife and four great children, but I’m still pretty much the same person today as I was then. I’m still a big sports fan, a lover of all kinds of music and someone who cares a lot about my friends and family.
As a lawyer, however, it’s a completely different story. Fifteen years ago, I knew almost nothing about what it would take for me to become a trial lawyer, let alone a successful one. That’s where CAALA came in. Nearly all my professional growth came from the things I learned from CAALA and from the members who are part of this outstanding association.
As I begin my term as CAALA’s President, I see the association from a unique perspective. I wasn’t just a passive member, I was an active member who took advantage of everything that CAALA offered. And now that I’ve had time to look back, I realize that the CAALA of today has changed dramatically. In my opinion, it has changed for the better.
If I had to describe that change in one word that word would be inclusion. CAALA has grown and thrived since 2003 and in my opinion it’s because the CAALA community is much more inclusive today than it was then.
CAALA is more diverse today, with more female attorneys and people of color; but our total membership also consists of nearly 600 legal staff professionals, 350 law student members and more than 200 affiliate members. Those members make CAALA a much stronger association.
I can also speak firsthand about how CAALA is doing a much better job reaching out to and including new lawyers. In 2003, the CAALA new lawyers program held periodic meetings in a small conference room in Amy Solomon’s office and CAALA offered very few resources, events or programs for new lawyers. Today, more than 25 percent of CAALA’s members are attorneys who have been in practice 10 years or less. The dedicated New Lawyers List Serve has nearly 1,000 subscribers, the online CAALA document bank has more than 3,000 documents available and New Lawyers meetings are held monthly in the CAALA office conference center, often attracting more than 100 attendees.
I can assure you that CAALA does more for its new lawyers than any similar legal bar association and I can also assure you that including new lawyers as active members will make us stronger and more viable in the future.
The more I think about it, nearly everything that CAALA does makes us more inclusive. This even starts with the new CAALA office, which we moved into last January. The new office conference facility can accommodate 150 people for events and meetings. We can now invite general members to attend our Board of Governors meetings, and they do. We also encourage members to use our conference rooms and meeting spaces. Many of them do and this exposure leads more members to seek opportunities to volunteer and participate in CAALA.
Our education and membership events are also more inclusive than ever before. Attendance at education seminars or membership roundtables always includes new attendees who are taking advantage of what CAALA offers for the first time. This year we will expand our web casting capability so members who don’t choose to come to our office in person can still participate in our events and programs.
Our signature event, CAALA Vegas, is another example of how CAALA strives to be more inclusive. Many of the attendees are not CAALA members, but once they experience CAALA Vegas they often join. Many people tell me they first experienced CAALA by attending the convention and that’s when they decided to become active members.
If you are a new CAALA member, first, let me welcome you. Second, let me personally invite you to take advantage of the resources that CAALA offers and to attend our events and programs, most of which are included with your membership dues. I suggest you start by visiting CAALA’s web site (www.caala.org) and picking a program or event so you can learn for yourself what CAALA has to offer and how inclusive we are.
Shawn McCann is a partner at Banafsheh, Danesh & Javid. He graduated from Loyola Law School in 2003. Shawn handles a broad variety of cases regarding personal injury and product liability. He serves on the Board of Governors for Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles and Consumer Attorneys of California and was recently admitted into American Board of Trial Advocates. He currently serves as CAALA President.
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