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January 2020

A Look at Cultural Competency


I had the opportunity to participate in a Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) seminar during a recent American Bar Association conference in New Orleans. The CLE was titled “Be a Culturally Competent Colleague!” The training focused on competency regarding LGBTQ clients and colleagues. The seminar was particularly informative because it addressed learning strategies for appropriately addressing LGBT discrimination, oppression, bias and indifference in the workplace.

Cultural competency is more than simply embracing diversity and promoting inclusion. Cultural competency requires the ability to adapt, work, and manage successfully in new and unfamiliar cultural settings where assumptions, values, and traditions differ from person to person.

Awareness is one of the biggest factors of success in implementing such competency. Awareness requires a self-examination of biases, feelings, assumptions, and stereotypes and a realization that preconceived opinions hinder our abilities to effectively and competently coordinate with others and provide legal services. Awareness also involves adverse racism and the recognition of racial microaggressions. The term, racial microaggressions, refers to brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.

Three forms of microaggressions can be identified: microassault, microinsult, and microinvalidation. 1) Microassaults are the conscious and intentional actions or slurs, such as using racial epithets, displaying swastikas or deliberately serving a white person before a person of color in a restaurant. 2) Microinsults involve the verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person's racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a colleague of color how she got her job, implying she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system and 3) Microinvalidations involve communications that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, white people often ask Asian-Americans where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land.

Microaggressions hold their power because they are invisible and, therefore, they do not allow people to see how their actions and attitudes may be discriminatory. Assuming identities is a form of microaggression, thus it is important to make space for all persons to self-identify their sexual orientation and gender identities when necessary to provide competent legal services. Awareness and knowledge make the invisible visible, thereby, allowing people to become culturally competent and drive positive change in behavior. It is critical to understand that needs and terminology are constantly changing, and our awareness must change accordingly.

Angela Baldwin

The Miller Law Firm PC

Rochester, MI

If You Can’t Find a Seat at the Table, Make Sure You Place a Reservation!


The phrase “a seat at the table” is commonly used to denote an opportunity to be heard and to potentially make a difference. Articles have been written regarding the term, various professional organizations use it, and is a widely used expression. For us as young lawyers, we often wait for such an opportunity to sit at this proverbial table: to know our opinion matters and we contribute in a significant way to the profession. However, what does this really mean? And if we find ourselves just outside of achieving the ability to secure a place, what does this mean for our future chances of success?

Concerning the first question, I think the answer lies within each of us individually. At some point, we each determine what our measure of success looks like and how we can be fulfilled. There are many reasons to pursue the legal profession as a career choice. While some are moved for altruistic reasons, some for financial gain, some for academic purposes, or another reason altogether (or combination thereof!), we individually carve our own path forward as young lawyers. Therefore, our goals and purpose of our career path are varied. 

That being said, many of us want to feel useful, be active, contribute, and valued in our professional journey. In our field, longevity is key and the importance of a good reputation is paramount. While we may not measure success the same or aspire to achieve similar goals, the feelings described above may be more common among us. 

This leads to the second question posed above. As young lawyers, our opinion and ability to contribute may feel like a waiting game. While we define ourselves and our careers, sometimes we may feel overlooked for opportunities and recognition. As such, I want to take this moment to encourage you to stay the course and continue to work hard. The art of lawyering is not predicated about personal gain but rather who we serve in our capacity. If we continue to pursue our career solely for the purpose of self gain and success, I believe we will end up being disappointed. However, if we continue to hone our skills and work for the betterment of the constituents we serve, we can find great value. 

I encourage you to participate in activities and professional organizations that matter to you. If recognition does not occur instantly, you will still be involved in opportunities you are genuinely interested in. Keep fighting for your voice to be heard and to provide input and insight.  While the seat at the table may be taken at the moment, do not hesitate to put your name on the reservation list so you can contribute even more fully in the future. 

Kristina Bilowus

Kizy Law

Novi, MI

Considering law school? Here's some advice from someone who has been in your shoes.


Every day I feel blessed to have my legal education and to be able to practice law. I am blessed that I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer for a long time (and that I was actually right.) I learned a lot along the way – from great choices and horrible mistakes - and I’d like to share five quick pieces of advice I have for those who are considering going to law school.


Innumerable opportunities become available with a law degree and bar license. For this reason, law schools do not require specific degrees or specific courses unlike many other fields. Unfortunately, many people attend law school because they want to continue in school, do not want to go into “real life”, or want to put off loan repayment. I would highly caution against going to law school for these reasons. I would highly suggest you get some practical legal experience first. Even if you definitively know you want to go to law school, I would still recommend that you get a practical understanding of what it means to be a lawyer first. As a high school or college student, you may have to intern. Working in law offices or legal organizations as a legal assistant is a great way to learn about the work that lawyers do. It doesn’t have to be a practice area you’re interested in or even the practice area you’re eventually going to find yourself in – getting practical knowledge and understanding of the legal field and legal work is incredibly important to succeeding as a law student and lawyer. For this same reason, you could consider going to school to be a paralegal if you may want to pursue a career in law. Working as a paralegal can provide valuable insight into the legal profession and prepare you for a lot of the work that you will be doing as a lawyer. The legal profession is not going anywhere and any practical experience, especially in the legal field, may serve you better and help you advance faster as a lawyer than rushing straight through to start as a lawyer as young as possible. Your law school grades will surely be better with some knowledge and experience under your belt. If, while working in a law office or legal organization, you instead find out that you don’t actually want to be a lawyer, you’ve saved yourself a lot of hassle and money. Being a lawyer opens a lot of doors, but there’s a lot of doors available without a law school degree as well. 


            If you decide you want to go to law school, I would recommend attending law school where you want to practice. Many people select the law school they attend based on where will accept them that has the highest ranking. It is true that some law school degrees will open up doors anywhere you want to go based on their prestigious name alone, but for most law students, first legal jobs are often based on connections. First legal jobs are often a result of a job they worked prior to being licensed, a recommendation from a favorite professor, or an alumnus looking to hire in someone from their alma mater. Connections matter. It is much easier to land a great first job where there are many connections locally rather than ending up where no one knows who you are or anyone who recommends you. Attending law school where you want to practice and socializing with classmates, alumni, and important people in the local legal field while in law school will help you become known in the legal field earlier and help you begin to develop a network of referrals or potential employers. 


            This is an oversimplification, but law school is hard. Having the way that you’ve traditionally thought is overhauled and reworked is very challenging. The all-or-nothing approach of many courses and the hypercompetitive environment can also make law school hard academically and socially. Other dynamics may be present in law school that make the environment challenging - such as the prevalence of alcohol abuse or other unhealthy habits in the profession. The stress of the rigorous academics may not affect only you. This may affect your significant other, children, and other members of your family. It is important to not underestimate law school – it will be a harder experience in some ways than most of us have experienced before – and you should be prepared to hunker down and give it to the time and dedication it requires. You get one chance to do it right and doing it right often makes life easier down the road. 


            Encouraging you to give law school the dedication and time it requires to succeed means more than just focusing on academics – it also requires you to maintain good habits. Law school is a three-year (or more) marathon – it is not a sprint. You need to maintain your physical and mental health throughout law school if you want to succeed. It is important to continue to eat healthy when you can and continue any workout or exercise regiments you have. Stopping those habits for law school will lead to increased stress, decreased relaxation, worse time management, and possibly discontinuing these habits when you enter the profession. It is much harder to start these habits back up again while practicing as a new lawyer than it is to maintain them throughout law school. Multitasking may be required, but it is incredibly important to maintain your physical health as you continue throughout law school. Your mental health, however, is equally important. As indicated above, the rigors of law school may add additional stress or anxiety to your life and relationships. Having unaddressed mental health issues that are aggravated by the rigors of law school can make law school challenging if not impossible for you. It is important to go into law school successfully managing your mental health so that you are not adding unnecessary obstacles or risking your own health. Socializing regularly and responsibly can be an important part of maintaining a sound mind and body as well. 


            Law school is not for everyone because the practice of law is not for everyone. I am of the belief that almost anyone can succeed in law school and as a lawyer, but why do so if it does not make you happy? Many people feel pressured to attend law school because they’re “good at arguing,” it runs in the family, they want to be rich, or because they’ve said for years they wanted to be an attorney. The only good reason to go to law school is because you want to be a lawyer or use a law degree for something you want to do. A law degree opens lots of doors, but it is no longer the golden ticket it once was. If you go to law school, but decide you do not want to use the degree, you often have found your golden ticket to a large amount of debt instead. Everyone will have an opinion on whether or not you should go to law school, but what matters is what you want. If you’re not sure yet, don’t go to law school yet. The legal profession is not going anywhere soon - and if it is, do you really want to jump in at the end? If you know how you feel and are sure about your decision, do it. Don’t let anyone change your mind - a friend, spouse, parent, or some attorney posting on a blog. 

I hope this helps. Good luck with your decision!

What Exactly is a Young Lawyer? The definition could be changing.


            During the ABA Annual Meeting held in San Francisco, lawyers from around the country gathered in usual course for a variety of governance meetings, CLEs, and receptions — it is also the traditional time to transition leadership roles, thus, a litany of gavels are passed.  Beyond the formulaic rituals and bit of pomp and circumstance, a monumental resolution swiftly moved its way through the Young Lawyers Division’s (“YLD”) Assembly.  

For quick background, the control and administration of the ABA is vested in the House of Delegates (the “HOD”), the policy-making body of the association (consisting of nearly 600 members).  The HOD’s primary function is essentially to draft, debate and vote on resolutions; “resolutions” are actions the ABA plans to take (whether to urge, oppose, endorse, etc.). Via this process, the HOD determines what the profession — the ABA — will say to the courts, Congress, governments and bar associations.  YLD, as facilitated through its Speaker and the Assembly process, has the ability to create and otherwise approve resolutions that would ultimately go to the HOD for final vetting and voting. 

At the 2019 Annual Assembly, the marquee item on the agenda was YLD Resolution 19-YL.  After months of collaboration among YLD leadership and multiple state bar young lawyers sections, the Assembly voted and approved this resolution.  The discourse was intense over this hotly debated issue. And without recapping the various iterations of the resolution that were put up for consideration, in the end, it was actually an amended version from the floor that passed (by only a few votes).  Subsequent to YLD’s approval of this resolution, the HOD ratified the decision and made it official. In short, the cemented YLD Resolution 19-YL amends the definition of a young lawyer as follows: a lawyer who has been admitted to practice in their first bar year within the past ten (10) yearsorwho is less than thirty-six (36) years old.  For context, the prior longstanding rule was a lawyer within their first five years of practice or under thirty-six years old.

So what does all of this mean?  First, this resolution is a step in the direction of balancing a myriad of competing interests, including, but not limited to: the average age of law students consistently increasing; desire for advanced bar leadership roles from “non-traditional” lawyers with less time in the Division; hope to preserve the concept of a “young lawyer”; and so on and so forth.  Second, because the ABA has officially approved this resolution (expected to take effect in a little over a year) and given its considerable influence on the profession as a whole, we can anticipate that many state bars will either follow suit or make similar changes. To that end, the SBM Young Lawyers Section has routinely adhered to whatever precedent the ABA sets for defining a young lawyer.

That said, this sea change comes at a time when local young lawyers sections and divisions are evaluating their own meaning.  Basically, there is a seesaw effect between expanding inclusivity and honing in on true target constituents. Indeed, many groups are considering whether they should be called “New Lawyers” rather than “Young Lawyers”; of course, however, this notion begs several questions at the heart of the discussion.  Is it really a young lawyers group if people can join within their early years of practice even though they are of a more advanced age?  Are new lawyers necessarily young lawyers?  And if a new lawyermovement is underway, at what point is one no longer deemed “new” to the practice?

A multitude of inquiries abound.  The picture of a “young lawyer” is presently somewhat hazy; and it may continue to evolve over time.  We cannot clearly predict what this definition will be in 10, 20, or 30 years — or if there will be one at all.  Yet it is safe to say that engaging in thoughtful, intentional, and meaningful conversation in an open-minded forum is key to developing a well-balanced approach, as appropriate at both the local and national levels.

Jerome Crawford

Horizon Global Corporation

Novi, MI