The saying, “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person” definitely holds true for the leaders of the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers. During the past two years, its board members — who are all busy attorneys — launched new educational offerings, partnered with other organizations on events and increased networking opportunities.
WAAL President-Elect Kristen Hardy, who is the compliance counsel at Rockwell Automation in Milwaukee, said those initiatives are part of a larger goal to show attorneys the value of their WAAL membership and seek to become more involved in the organization and community.
“We thought a lot about what can we do to make members not think twice about renewing their membership, and one area was professional development,” said Hardy, adding that WAAL has about 80 active members across Wisconsin. “We have partnered with some other organizations, including FUEL Milwaukee, on programs. It gets crazy-busy, but it is all good.”
WAAL was previously known for networking and an annual scholarship dinner. While those items remain, the organization is expanding its reach.
The new program offerings are both informative and educational. For example, WAAL co-hosted a panel discussion with Reinhart Boerner Van Dueren and the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association that looked at immigration in the context of the 2016 election. WAAL also held two legal education seminars on “Diversifying the Law: Moving Beyond the Diversity and Inclusion Statement,” which provided insight to employers and attorneys on how to improve hiring and retaining diverse attorneys in their workplaces.
“We are always looking for ways to partner with other organizations, which plays into the themes of diversity and inclusion,” said Hardy, adding that nearly all of WAAL’s 11 board members sit on boards or committees at other legal groups, which helps build connections.
WAAL members are active in the community, meeting with different student groups, for example, to talk about legal careers.
On the social front, WAAL is active as well, partnering with other local African-American professional groups as well as organizations from other racial and gender backgrounds.
WAAL also hosts an annual scholarship dinner and a fall social that connects law students from Marquette University Law School and the University of Wisconsin School of Law. Law school students can join the organization for free.
“We give them an intro to WAAL — this is who we are and why you want to get involved,” said Hardy, who first joined the group as a law school student in 2011. “WAAL offers networking opportunities and connections for law students looking for internships and jobs.”
Hardy said WAAL is active beyond the legal community, providing support to community projects such as the upcoming Black Nativity performed at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
Hardy said WAAL brings together attorneys of all ages.
“We have a lot to learn from each other, but what really gets me excited is the leadership opportunities provided by WAAL to young attorneys,” she said.