Put a Ring on It—Engage Your Professional Association
Have we all been here? When I began my journey with NACM, it was so intimidating to engage and connect with fellow members. Do you see the long-standing friendships in the organization and the clear professional relationships? This organization is full of members who have worked and networked together for years and enjoy connecting as a way to catch up, as well as share professional experiences and best practices. For early career professionals, especially those of us who are introverts (ahem . . . me), it is intimidating to get going. But, if you find your niche, it is one of the most rewarding professional experiences you will find that will help you to build your career. Engagement with your professional association as an Early Career Professional (ECP) is a key piece to success in your career as a court or justice-related professional.
The Benefits of NACM
Before we dive into how to engage with NACM and ECP, we should take a moment to understand what our professional association promises to bring us. In 2016 NACM revised its three-year strategic plan extensively, hoping to inform its members about the concrete and tangible goals of the organization to align those goals with member values.
NACM strives to educate court professionals, provide community, share information, and advocate in favor of important court and justice system topics. NACM aspires to be a preferred source of education and learning about innovative practices while ensuring it is a leading voice in advocating for the court management profession as a whole.
What Is ECP?
ECP works to create a network of similarly situated colleagues to share experiences and provide a forum to learn from the larger group of experienced court professionals in NACM. Members should consider the ECP Subcommittee. Membership in the ECP Subcommittee requires very little of you. You must be under 40 years of age OR within your first 10 years of your career in a justice-related field. The goal of the ECP Subcommittee is to identify those that would benefit from additional career advancement opportunities. ECP allows us to celebrate our successes and work through our challenges and opportunities together. You have friendship, fellowship, and help in ECP. (The ECP Subcommittee is a subcommittee of the Membership Services Committee. You can read more about the role and changes of the Membership Services Committee, as well as the ECP Subcommittee, in the NACM Operations and Procedures Manual.)
This Is Great, but so What?
Sounds good doesn’t it? Will it be helpful to your career? Consider that you are a successful person who has already accomplished so much on your own. Joining a professional association and becoming engaged in that group allows you to develop synergy with your colleagues and to connect with a coalition of resources to which you otherwise would not have access. Stepping out of your jurisdiction and learning about similar and not-so-similar challenges and innovative solutions occurring elsewhere can encourage solutions you otherwise would not have considered. Engaging in your professional association provides you with a network of peers and mentors that you can call on when you are stumped or just to see if there are any better ideas out there for the problem du jour in the courthouse. I have called on my colleagues for guidance with management techniques, questions about specific programs, and help with work/life balance. NACM friends may be states away, but are always available with valuable insight.
Engagement as a Career Enhancement Tool
Let’s circle back to that feeling of intimidation in the opening. Remember, I did not feel comfortable engaging with my peers when I began this work. But I realized early on that my membership would have so much more value if I would just force myself out of my comfort zone and engage. I purposely began attending all networking events and required myself to get to know my colleagues. Eventually I plunged into Board service and became the chair of the Membership Committee. Can you imagine chairing the Membership Committee as an introvert? Then-President, Michele Oken, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, that is for sure. (This deserves a thank you here. Thanks, Michele!) This was the single most valuable experience that NACM has provided to me for career growth. It required me to meet the members of the organization. To connect with them. To create bonds and friendships. And I did all of that by creating an army of individuals that will vouch for my credentials and that I similarly will vouch for theirs.
When we think of our membership association, we naturally think of conferences, networking, and advocacy. NACM provides all those things. But a study by Abila, Member Engagement Study: Aligning Organization Strategy with What Matters Most to Members, noted that people just starting out in their careers are most interested in their professional association’s ability to provide them with career-advancing skills and opportunities. We want training designed to help educate us for the road ahead and that gives us credentials to display and earn us promotion opportunities. We want our association to arm us with the tools to make the justice sector a sustainable career. We need to avail ourselves of these opportunities and tools.
From Engaged to Engager—Early Career Professionals as the Engagers
As ECPs we will start out as those that need to become engaged. But, during our time as ECPs, we will become the engager. We will pay it forward on engagement. We will give back to our organization and workplace all that it gave to us in encouraging our participation and, well, engagement.
Robyn Reilly notes in the Gallup Business Journal,
[E]ngaged workers stand apart from their not engaged and actively disengaged counterparts because of the discretionary efforts they consistently bring to their roles. These employees willingly go the extra mile, work with passion, and feel a profound connection to their company. They are the people who will drive innovation and move your business forward.
As we continue practicing engagement in NACM we will live engagement in our career lives as well. We will become the people who drive innovation and move justice forward. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty awesome. I want to be included in that group.
How Do I Engage with NACM?
As an organization devoted to its members’ needs, NACM provides many opportunities to engage. NACM allows each member to choose the option or options that best fit the skills, expertise, and general preference of its members. Feel free to select one or more engagement methods from the potpourri offered! Check out the opportunities below.
Pay It Forward—Request a Mentor, then Become a Mentor
NACM members in good standing have the immediate and ongoing benefit of requesting a mentor that has specific expertise in the areas selected by the member. Are you needing specific help with budgeting, caseflow management, reengineering? How about general professional development conversations? Management challenges have you perplexed? Looking for someone who understands federal courts or who really knows what it is like to be a trial court administrator in rural Georgia? Request a mentor and indicate what you want to get out of the relationship. NACM’s subcommittee devoted to pairing mentors with mentees will check its records of volunteers to match you up with the right mentor.
If you have knowledge to give or if you’ve had a great experience as a mentee, you should absolutely volunteer your time as a mentor. Pay it forward. There are often many more people in need of guidance than there are those to guide. We need your help! Learn more about becoming a mentor or requesting a mentor here.
NACM has a number of committees, all of which operate and function with member volunteers. Every committee is looking for and accepting new volunteers. Take a few minutes to review each committee’s purpose, goals, and charges to find one that suits you. Make this your end-of-the-year goal. This is really a light lift for every member. The meetings typically occur once a month by conference call or other virtual meeting application (and there is no NACM demerit system if something comes up pulling you away from this meeting). This gives you the ability to get your feet wet in engagement. There are small one-and-done projects or points of service going on in every committee at any given moment. For those of you that have a lot to share, there are ongoing and sustained work opportunities that volunteers can complete as well. Take a look at the committee options here.
Publish or Perish
It’s not that serious, of course, but the next way to become engaged is so obvious it is right in front of your face right now—write! Write an article for the Court Manager or Court Express. The Court Express gives you the opportunity to write shorter, less formal pieces—think blog posts or op-ed contributions. The Court Manager allows you to showcase a project you’ve worked on, analyze leadership styles, and collaborate with justice-sector partners to look at a topic from a 360-degree view in a lengthier piece. The opportunities are many. Check out past issues of the Court Express and Court Manager to get an idea of what we mean.
Like, Connect, Re-Tweet
NACM is ramping up its social media presence. Join us in our online community. Like us, follow us, connect with us, tweet us. Share what you’re up to and share relevant information online with your fellow members. Engage virtually!
Connect with Our Community
The final method of engagement we’ll talk about here is one that I challenge each of you to commit to right now. This is your call-to-action moment! ECP has its own discussion forum on the NCSC Connected Communities. Join this forum. Post questions or general information in an unthreatening environment knowing that those who join are there to learn from each other without judgment. This is the promise you can take to the bank from your Early Career Professional colleagues. Navigate to http://connected.ncsc.org/home and join the NACM Early Career Professionals Community.
Let’s continue this conversation on the NACM ECP Connected Community. Take a moment in the next week to join and post a comment about what you hope to get out of your membership with NACM. Even if you’re not quite ready to put a ring on it, you can engage in the discussion!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Renee L. Danser, Esq., is deputy director of the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN), where she oversees operations of the SRLN. The SRLN connects lawyers, judges, and allied professionals who are creating innovative and evidence-based solutions so that self-represented litigants have meaningful access to the courts and get the legal help they need.