By Troy HIllier (3L)
Gator Graduate Renee Thompson (JD 99) gives back as president of The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyer Division
As new alumni from the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law take their first steps into the legal profession, they can take comfort in knowing that a fellow Gator is there to offer insight and assistance. Renee Thompson (JD 99) is president of the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of The Florida Bar, which, among other things, gives her the responsibility of introducing young lawyers to the many benefits available through local and state bar organizations.
Thompson recalls that as a student she held a common misconception of The Bar, which is that it is serves mainly as a regulatory or disciplinary organization.
“I never understood it, at that time, to be a leadership organization or an organization that can provide education and support to an attorney,” she said. One of the YLD’s recent developments may well change that common misconception. The YLD has created and fostered the Law Student Division, now active at each of Florida’s law schools.
“The Florida Bar has so much to offer young lawyers,” Thompson said, “and I think the Law Student Division is helping students see that earlier in their careers.”
One of Thompson’s main goals during her term is to oversee and coordinate circuit representatives to the YLD throughout the state. Each circuit has elected representatives who serve on the YLD Board of Governors, and meetings are held six times a year to plan and discuss the large number of activities and programs the YLD organizes and those planned by its local affiliates statewide. Among these programs are continuing legal education, professionalism education, pro bono and outreach activities, administration of scholarships and dozens of others. With an estimated 21,000 young lawyers in Florida, it’s no easy task.
The first several years of a lawyer’s career can be especially busy, so being active in the state YLD or a local young lawyer affiliate may seem like a struggle. However, Thompson pointed out that lawyers who are able to make time for it will improve their personal and professional lives.
“If you are a young lawyer looking around your office and thinking ‘I need others to help me find a sense of belonging,’ a young-lawyer affiliate is a great way to start,” she said. “Your local affiliate can be not only a networking opportunity and help you grow as a professional, but it can really become a source of some of yourlife-long friends in your practice of law.”
Thompson understands that time-crunch better than most since she has significant statewide responsibilities as well as the demands of her own career. Luckily, she says she has found a nurturing environment at Mateer Harbert, P.A., where she works as a senior associate in the firm’s Ocala office.
“They have been the most supportive group of people you can imagine,” Thompson said. “I’m tasked with the responsibility of being in a lot of places at once, in addition to handling my case load. Even still, they’ve been not only supportive of this endeavor but encouraging as well. They know that my involvement with The Bar helps me become a better practitioner.”
While Thompson’s responsibilities with the YLD can be timeintensive, they also allow her to grow as a lawyer, which benefits her firm and her clients.
“It allows me to work with amazing attorneys all over the state,” she said, “and gives me a built-in network. As a young lawyer, you really need to be able to reach out to your peers, and, in that regard, I think I bring a strong sense of community.”
Thompson is following something of a Gator tradition in taking on this responsibility, as over half of the past YLD presidents have been UF Law alumni. Thompson, for one, is not surprised by this statistic.
“The University of Florida is an amazing institution,” she said, “and they’ve always put out some of the best graduates and the best leaders in the state and in the nation.”
One of the perks of the job is that Thompson returns to Gainesville to speak with students and help them as they embark on their careers. “I couldn’t be happier to be involved with what’s happening here at the law school,” she said. “In every opportunity I get to serve to help our students and graduates, I try to be as involved as possible.”
Thompson described part of her motivation to do so as a way of giving back. “It meant so much to me, as a student, to see the active alumni that we had and to be a part of the Gator Nation, so it’s really important to me to foster that and be a part of it now that I am a practicing attorney.”