2019-2020 ABA YLD Scholars: A Year in Review

Jonathan Bogues

Sheila Spence

By Jonathan Bogues and Sheila Spence

Each year the American Bar Association (ABA) invites young lawyers from throughout the nation to apply for the highly competitive and highly coveted Young Lawyers Division (YLD) Scholars Program. The principal objective of the YLD Scholars Program is to increase the participation of minority, solo/small firm, government, private sector, and military service attorneys in the Young Lawyers Division with hopes of increasing diversity in leadership positions within the ABA YLD. To accomplish this goal, the ABA provides YLD Scholars with funding to attend ABA conferences.

This year, the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA) YLD was fortunate to have two young attorneys selected to participate as 2019-2020 ABA YLD Scholars: Jonathan Bogues & Sheila Spence. Our YLD Scholars’ experience has been enlightening, informative, transformational, entertaining, and nothing short of amazing. The YLD Scholars’ experience also gives young attorneys the opportunity to effect change in the legal profession and their communities.

As a part of our Scholar requirements, one of our goals is to teach college and high school students about the legal profession through the signature YLD program “What Do Lawyers Do?” (WDLD). This initiative is aimed at exposing interested students to the various areas of the law and endless possibilities of legal careers. Our very first experience as YLD Scholars took place at the ABA YLD Fall Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. In New Orleans, our first event as YLD Scholars was to attend and help facilitate the “What Do Lawyers Do” event at Dillard University, a historically Black college and university. At this event, Scholars had the opportunity to engage with about 25 undergraduate students regarding careers in the legal profession and law school. We answered questions on what it was like to apply for law school, how studying for law school exams differs from college finals, and how to navigate the legal profession after college.

While also in New Orleans, we were able to attend an informative CLE on cultural competency regarding LGBTQ colleagues and clients. This effort was furthered by the introduction and passing of a resolution at the ABA YLD Midyear Assembly in Austin, Texas. The ABA YLD Assembly is the principal policy-making body of the ABA. Delegates from across the nation debate and vote on proposed resolutions from various committees. At the Midyear Assembly, Constitutional Amendment 11-5 was submitted to amend the ABA YLD’s Bylaws such that all gender binary language (she/her/hers & he/him/his) is changed to gender nonbinary terms (they/them/theirs) to help effectuate diversity within the ABA YLD. Changing gender binary language promotes sexual orientation and gender identity diversity in ABA membership by making the Bylaws non-exclusionary and more welcoming. We also had the chance to draft resolutions, such as Resolution 20-3YL, which discouraged the use of arbitration agreements by employers in the legal community. This was also debated and passed at the Assembly and will allow more employees the opportunity to appropriately address discrimination and sexual harassment cases.

As Scholars, we have also had the opportunity to participate in other initiatives to effect change in the legal profession such as the Men of Color Project. The Men of Color Project’s principal aim is to build leaders in the legal profession, encourage community service and civic engagement, facilitate support for men of color and serve as a resource for them while they are in law school and in the legal profession. We also had the opportunity to attend panels on Disaster Legal Services and the role of the legal profession in serving the community after a natural disaster occurs. Attorneys from New Orleans and other affected areas shared how best practices in the legal profession can help serve affected communities.

Additionally, we have had the opportunity to serve on various boards and committees. Jonathan was assigned to the Access to Legal Services Committee and the Civic Engagement team. With the Civic Engagement team, Jonathan was able to assist with webinars on voting rights and nonpartisan opportunities for young lawyers to serve their communities during the 2020 election cycle. Sheila was assigned to the Air and Space Law Committee and the Legal Innovation Board. Specifically, she worked with attorneys from NASA on coordinating webinars on public and government service, drafted blogs on how to get into the industry, and researched leading articles. As a member of the Legal Innovation Board, she reviewed and gathered report information for a resolution, HOD-115, which urges U.S. jurisdictions to consider adoption of regulatory innovation approaches to address the access to justice crisis in the United States.

In conclusion, the ABA YLD Scholars’ program is a great pipeline program to help one to get involved with the ABA YLD. While participating in various CLE programming, focusing on mentoring college students through the WDLD program, volunteering in the policy-making process, and collaborating with various committees and boards have shaped our experience, the true gem of the program was meeting the other outstanding scholars from all over the U.S.—from Portland, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, South Carolina, Washington D.C., New York, and so many more states!