BY ALLISON R. FOREMAN
The Washington State Bar Association makes its home at 1325 4th Avenue in Seattle. Its leadership regularly sends forth calls for volunteers from that address: serve on a committee, run for a seat on the Board of Governors, lead a section, teach a seminar live at WSBA headquarters. Absent an overactive spam filter, I bet you get those emails just as frequently as I do. And if you live outside the greater Seattle area like me, you probably also delete them.
I understand why. Without traffic, it’s about a 2 1/2-hour drive from 1325 4th Avenue to my office in Wenatchee; a 1 1/2-hour drive on I-5 to get to Bellingham; almost three hours in the other direction on I-5 to make it to Vancouver; about four hours to reach Spokane or Walla Walla; and three hours (plus a ferry ride) to Friday Harbor. From Republic, in the northeast corner of the state, steel yourself for a soul-crushing 5 1/2-hour drive to the WSBA, bathroom breaks not included. These times assume no traffic—and there is always traffic.
Attorneys who practice outside the Puget Sound area are all too aware of these distances. No wonder they are not rushing to volunteer for the WSBA. If live attendance is required, accepting a volunteer position may require multiple hours of driving or even overnight travel on a regular basis. This is costly—not just in terms of travel expenses, which the WSBA does reimburse, but also considering lost billable hours, environmental impacts, and time away from family and friends. It all adds up to a price heavier than most volunteers are willing to pay. And so, the emails keep being deleted and volunteer opportunities linger untaken.
That could be the end of the article right there. But from my perch, 150 miles to the east of WSBA headquarters, I have found ways to overcome these obstacles and both effectively and efficiently volunteer my time to the Bar Association. What follows are five ways that attorneys can meaningfully contribute to the WSBA without leaving their hometowns. If you want to help but also want to avoid driving the I-5 corridor, sit back, keep your car in the garage, and read on.
1. Join a Section Committee
A great way to put your toe into the water of volunteering is to join a section committee. The WSBA boasts a grand total of 29 sections—there really is something for everyone. Many of these sections have executive committees and subcommittees focused on special topics within the broader subject matter of the section. Most—if not all—of these committees meet remotely. The Family Law Section Executive Committee, for example, meets by video conference only. So too does the Estate and Gift Tax Committee of the Taxation Section: one Friday a month at noon on Microsoft Teams. Do any litigators reading this have the second Thursday free from 1 to 2 p.m.? If so, you could volunteer for the Litigation Section Executive Committee. It conducts all of its meetings by telephone conference at that time. No commuting required; volunteering from Ephrata is just as easy as volunteering from Seattle. Consider joining a section committee in your area of practice if this sounds like the right time commitment.
2. Write an Article for Bar News
If you have video conference fatigue from the pandemic, fear not—there are other ways to volunteer your time remotely. One that involves zero on-screen time is writing a piece for the very publication you are reading now. The editorial staff of the magazine welcome articles for consideration submitted sua sponte by the WSBA membership, regardless of the topic. Analysis of a new statute? An explanation of your favorite area of substantive law? Book reviews? Reflections on new challenges or issues in your legal practice? Letters to the editor? All are appreciated and valued. Your opinions and knowledge about the practice of law and the administration of justice could help readers struggling with similar issues in their legal careers, a valuable volunteer service that requires no facetime at all. An added bonus for these volunteer authors? A new publication on their CV. If volunteering with the written word is more appealing than face-to-face volunteering, go ahead and submit an article to Bar News at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Teach a Remote CLE
Another option for remote volunteering is teaching an online CLE seminar. The WSBA and many of its sections offer wholly remote CLE programming that is designed to be accessible to all of their members, near or far. This means that faculty for that programming can also be near or far. An attorney on Bainbridge Island might be learning estate planning from a volunteer faculty member in Ritzville, for example, and never know the difference. All you need is a good Zoom background, a decent internet connection, and a solid understanding of your topic. WSBA staff and section volunteers handle all the rest, including the logistics, technology, marketing, audience questions, live chat monitoring, and reviews. If you are lucky enough to have one of the CLE Education Programs Leads guide you through the presenting process, they will also keep you on track with deadlines for your seminar title, written materials, and multimedia support tools (i.e., slides) and walk you through how to use the presenting portal. It could not be easier. If you have a penchant for teaching and mentorship, consider volunteering to join the faculty of a remote CLE the next time a WSBA call for volunteers lands in your inbox. Just watch out for the cat filter.
4. Join a WSBA Committee
This next volunteer option is a bit tricky. Many statewide WSBA commitments require in-person attendance: it might be difficult to serve on the Board of Governors, for example, without attending most meetings live. Granted, those meetings do rotate around the state, but if regular travel is out of the question, that eliminates some statewide volunteer opportunities. Nevertheless, there are statewide WSBA committees that meet remotely. The Access to Justice Board, for instance, meets once a month from 10 a.m. to noon exclusively by videoconference; the Editorial Advisory Committee, which stewards the publication of Bar News, meets remotely in the afternoons; and the Small Town and Rural Committee, which boasts members from literally all four corners of Washington and everywhere in between, meets entirely by Zoom. These committees may have in-person events and meetings from time to time, but such occasions are the exception, not the rule, so it is possible to meaningfully participate without the commute. And with nearly 40 statewide committees to choose from, one is bound to match your strengths as a volunteer.
5. Vote in WSBA Elections
I saved the lowest-hanging fruit on this list for last: voting in WSBA elections. As of this writing, four seats on the WSBA Board of Governors are up for election this year, representing Congressional Districts 6 and 8, along with elections for Governor At-Large and President-Elect. If you want to put your name forward for one of those positions, go for it—a term on the Board of Governors is an incredibly generous act of volunteer service for the WSBA. But if multiday board meetings in Yakima, Vancouver, Richland, and Spokane over the next six months are too much, then please volunteer your time by researching the candidates, becoming familiar with their positions, and making an informed decision when you vote in the next WSBA election. The leadership of the WSBA has a huge impact on the experience of practicing law and the direction of the Bar throughout the state, so contributing your voice to its selection is important. It only takes a few minutes of your time, but the effect can be big if everyone does it—and it still counts as volunteering in my book.
A Final Note
Volunteering does not have to be solely with the WSBA to have a meaningful impact on the legal community. Leading your local bar association, volunteering for your county’s legal aid services, or participating in remote volunteer opportunities hosted by other legal organizations like Northwest Justice Project can be effective ways to volunteer without travel obligations. Hopefully the ideas discussed in this article inspire you to volunteer your time and talents to the WSBA or the community at large as you are able, where you are able, within your time and geographic constraints. If we all did that, we might soon replace our shortage of volunteers with a surplus, one drawn from the full breadth of Washington and the full strength of our Bar Association. I hope you will join me in coming forward to bridge this gap from afar.