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In an era of smartphones, this device was decidedly dumb, a relic from the digital Stone Age. And yet it mesmerized me, this shiny electronic bauble in the palm of my hand.
I had never owned a cellphone. Never saw the need. I am, after all, a public defender. My clients know where to find me. Or, more precisely, I know where to find them. So being connected 24/7 has never been an imperative.
Still, I was impressed by this little black device, its small screensaver adorned by mountains bathed in purple hues and tiny, indecipherable icons. And I was sure my family would be, too.
Until my 19-year-old son got a load of it.
“A flip phone? You gotta be kidding me. Where’d you get that? e-Bay?” he asked, the incredulity dripping from his voice. “Nobody has them anymore. Whatever you do, do not use that burner in public. Not around me. I will not be humiliated like that.”
I had been given the phone by my employer. I had been bumped upstairs to Trenton recently, to central management, and the feeling was that I had to be reachable at all hours of the day and night, even though I rarely ventured beyond the confines of my office. However, in a concession to my perceived hostility to technology, the agency’s IT department was instructed to “just get him something that takes calls, something cheap.” Hence, the flip phone, which, judging from the reactions it evokes, many people assumed had been relegated to the technological dustbin of history.
Why do I mention this? Because during my recent visit to the ABA’s Bar Leadership Institute in Chicago I was bombarded with this message: To survive, bar associations must incorporate social media into their operations. For three days, the other registrants and I were told, by one speaker after another, that today’s young people, lawyers included, do not socialize the same way we do, that they are far more technologically savvy than we are and that Facebook and Twitter — as opposed to, say, the Indian Spring Country Club — serve as their preferred platforms for social interaction. Get with the digital program, we were warned. Establish a presence on social media. Or die.
So since my installation in June, I have been wondering, am I really the person to lead the Burlington County Bar Association into the social-media revolution? Can someone who only acquired a cellphone four months ago — and whose ham-handed efforts at texting are limited to “yes,” “no,” “OK” — assist the association in incorporating social media into its organizational dynamics?
And the modest answer I have reached is, “Yes, of course.”
One reason I can say that with confidence is that I fully intend to leave to our executive director, Kara Edens, all this social-media stuff. She is part of that younger generation. She “gets it,” as they say. Kara has already established a presence for the association on social-media sites and is committed to expanding it.
Secondly, although my colleagues in Trenton consider me a Luddite, I have incorporated technological advances into my life. In my off-hours, I fiddle with some pretty sophisticated audio and video software programs. I just don’t like yakking on the phone. So I understand the need for our association to stay on the cutting edge.
At the same time, I believe that the value of social media can be overstated. The law fundamentally helps us negotiate our relations with one another. It serves as a guidepost to human interaction. And ours is an interactive profession. We can post our feats on Facebook, but we can’t negotiate a deal by trading tweets. Our advocacy is accomplished in the crucible of a courtroom, our deals cut in the real — not virtual — world of cramped conference rooms or courthouse corridors, where we have the ability to eyeball our adversaries and take their full measure. And the bonds we share with the members of our profession, the most enduring ones, are those created when we pocket our cellphones and break bread with our colleagues.
So, if you are attuned to social media, by all means, follow us Facebook. We are definitely there.
But if you want to enjoy the collegiality that has become the hallmark of our association, come to State Bar Night on September 16 and share a meal with us. We have young lawyers who can suggest the latest legal app for your smartphone. But we also have some silver-haired warriors who can share with you the county’s rich legal traditions — and, yes, a few war stories — and make you feel pretty proud about being part of the legal profession.
One final note: At the suggestion of General Equity co-chair Harold Cohen, the Board of Trustees has revived the tradition of inviting area law students to our two annual dinners. We hope to have six students, three from Rutgers-Camden and three from Widener, join us on State Bar Night. The idea is to introduce the next generation to the culture of the bar association. So please make sure you say “hello” and spend some time with these aspiring lawyers.
See you September 16.