President of the American Bar Association (ABA) Patricia Refo paid a virtual visit to Texas A&M university School of Law in early April. Refo participated on a panel with other bar association leaders who discussed the role and importance of bar associations and bar association membership with students.

Joining Refo on the panel were Emily B. Taylor, past president of the Texas Aggie Bar Association; Aaron Tobin, president of the Dallas Bar Association; and Gary Medlin, president of the Tarrant County Bar Association. Texas A&M Law Professor Aric Short moderated the discussion.

In her opening remarks, Refo described the vast scope of the largest voluntary bar association in the world, saying, “If it exists in the law, the ABA is working on it.”

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Clockwise from top left, Emily B. Taylor, Gary Medlin, Aaron Tobin, Patricia Refo, Aric Short,

The panelists focused on the importance of getting an early start on bar membership and engagement. “It’s about much more than just getting a job,” Taylor said. “You’re building important relationships and connections that will serve you well throughout your career.”

Tobin agreed that even as a student, bar association involvement was an important part of building pathways for the future. “It provides opportunities to meet people who open doors you wouldn’t have even considered. Build as many relationships with as many lawyers as you can.”

Medlin pointed out that being involved in a bar association can be a valuable career discernment tool for students and young lawyers by giving them a window into various areas of practice and the practical realities of the business of practicing law.

pro tips from bar presidents to Make the most of your student years:

  • Join early, engage often.
  • Visit the bar sections that deal with various areas of practice to learn more and discern which area might be the best fit for you.
  • Invite members to speak to your student group.
  • Investigate and visit bar associations in other locations (many associations are still meeting virtually); connect with the bar in your dream destination.
  • Even though your immediate need may employment, focus on building relationships and exploring options; the opportunities will come.
  • Get over your fear of being the youngest person in the room. Take advantage of your youth.

Refo noted that a study conducted by the New York Bar found that one of the most common barriers law students and young lawyers encounter when considering bar association involvement is their own sense of apprehension about their youth or lack of experience. “They fear being the youngest person in the room,” Refo said.

All the panelists agreed on the best solution to this dilemma: embrace it. “I was almost always the youngest when I first got involved,” Refo remembered. “I stuck out. It was a terrific opportunity. I got to work with national giants in our profession.”

Refo illustrated the point with one particular memory from when she was just a few years into practice. “I was sitting with a former attorney general of the United States, chatting as the sun set over a golf course in California because we were at the same bar association meeting….how cool is that?”

Each of the panelists drew attention to the multiple practical tools that bar associations provide and encouraged students to take full advantage of programs designed specifically for students and young attorneys.

 Resources for Law Students and Young Attorneys


Refo’s parting words reminded students of their greater purpose. “You are joining a learned profession. You are being called to the bar. There are obligations and responsibilities that go with that,” she said, noting the importance of self governance.

“Every single one of these bar associations, in one way or another, is about the self governance of our profession.”