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Leadership and Service- How to Juggle Volunteer Work
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You at Work

Service to the Profession: Juggling a Volunteer Leadership Role

Best practices to make the experience as rewarding as possible.

By Mike Arias and Elise Sanguinetti

Service to the legal community — whether as a volunteer for a nonprofit organization or bar association — not only helps advance our core values, but it also provides immeasurable benefits to individual lawyers and their firms.

You may think that you’re too busy or too stressed to commit to such an undertaking. But the key to success lies in learning to adapt.

We speak from experience: Elise is the president of the American Association for Justice. Mike serves as president of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles and will soon take the helm at Consumer Attorneys of California — the first to hold both titles concurrently.

We’d like to share some of our best practices to encourage others to serve in leadership positions and to make their experience a rewarding one. Here are some of the lessons we have learned.

Expect Lots of Travel

Whether it’s more flights across the country or congestion-filled commutes across town, your volunteer leadership role will require you to attend meetings and conferences in person.

Plan your travel wisely (or better yet, delegate the planning) by leaving yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going. While it may be tempting to maximize efficiency in your scheduling, you’ll be sorry later when an unexpected delay derails your plan and you arrive late and frazzled.

Read these strategies for staying healthy while traveling from Attorney at Work contributor Jamie Spannhake, who is a certified health coach in addition to being a lawyer.

If you are new to volunteer bar work, be sure to ask the organization about its  travel reimbursement policy — which can range from generous to zero — and to clear added expenses with your firm.

Learn to Budget Your Time

With more things on your plate, you’ll need to get really good at planning your daily schedule and sticking to it.

Make to-do lists that spell out how much time you’re going to devote to each of the day’s priorities. Set aside certain times of the day to check email. That way you won’t get distracted by each new email as it arrives in your inbox. Set expectations with your clients and colleagues, giving them an alternate way to reach you in case of a true emergency.

Check out these time management tips for busy lawyers from Attorney at Work contributor David Ackert, a mentor to high-achieving professionals.

Also, don’t forget to make time for exercise, family activities and other pursuits to keep yourself healthy and happy.

Delegate and Build Strong Committees

Serving in a leadership role with a nonprofit or bar association is a great opportunity to hone your delegation skills. When chairing a board or committee, you’ll achieve more by spreading the work around to those on the team who are best-suited to the task. Think of yourself as a quarterback, clearly spelling out the play to your team members and helping them execute.

The same goes for building relationships with association staff. Just as you might delegate brief writing to an associate and sign off on the final document, don’t be afraid to put your faith in the professionals who work full-time for the organization for operational tasks. That way, you can stay focused on the big picture.

Here’s a quiz from Mindtools to figure out your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to delegating, so you know where to improve. And here are tips for delegating to junior employees.

Keep Your Priorities Straight

Your clients and your personal life are the top priorities. Be realistic about the amount of time you can devote to this new endeavor. Ask good questions of former leaders and staff about what to expect and how to set boundaries.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the extra responsibility, ask for some help from the organization staff and other volunteers. And don’t feel embarrassed. It happens to the best of us.

Lean on the other people in your life — whether it’s a law firm partner, an association professional or your family members — to help get you through the time crunch.

Reap the Rewards of Being a Volunteer

Don’t forget why you took on this challenge in the first place. While the reasons will vary from person to person, we all want to make the world a better place and to grow as leaders in our law firms and our communities.

We work at a firm that expects each of our attorneys to set aside time for volunteer service at a nonprofit or bar association. We have worked hard to set the best example and to support colleagues pursuing similar service projects. We aren’t a large firm, but we’re proud that our dedication to service far exceeds our numbers.

Mike Arias is founder and managing partner of Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos LLP, where he primarily handles complex class action, multiparty, mass tort, major personal injury, employment and business litigation matters. He is 2018-2019 president of both the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles and Consumer Attorneys of California. Follow him on Twitter @MikeArias1.

Elise Sanguinetti is a founding partner at Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos and current president of American Association for Justice. Her practice focuses on serious injury, wrongful death cases, civil appeals and legal malpractice. She exclusively represents plaintiffs in civil litigation. Follow her on Twitter @elisesang.

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