The Work

November 3, 2008 6:20 PM

ELECTION 2008: The Young Lawyers in Obama's Corner

Posted by Tosin Sulaiman

Newmark1 Steven Newmark, a litigation associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, assumed that getting a bunch of New York attorneys to volunteer for Barack Obama's presidential campaign would be easy.

Newmark's opinion changed when only three people showed up to the first event he organized as the New York coordinator of Young Lawyers for Obama in March 2007.

"I e-mailed every single person I knew, approximately 1,200 lawyers," says Newmark, who works in Orrick's New York office. "I thought it was going to be an uphill battle."

As it turned out, once he started e-mailing, his initial instinct was correct. Young Lawyers for Obama–-with Newmark as its national coordinator--has grown to 9,500 members spread over 55 chapters in 46 states. Close to 80 per cent of those lawyers work in the private sector; the majority are between 25 and 40 years old and include law students as well as associates and junior partners from large law firms such as Skadden, Latham & Watkins, Jones Day, Cadwalader, and Cravath. Attorneys who work for non-profit organizations and for the government are also represented in the group.

The group's purpose, according to Newmark, has been to support the Obama campaign through fundraising and volunteering. YLFO has raised just under $1.5 million since March 2007, when the first two chapters in New York and Washington, D.C. were launched, both by hosting events with the senator and his wife, Michelle, and by organizing low-dollar fundraisers such as happy hours, barbeques, picnics, debate-watching parties and even 'Bowling for Barack' meetings.

During the primaries, group members made at least 600 trips to the various states and helped organize offices in some areas before the campaign arrived there, Newmark says, adding that it was one of the first groups on the ground in South Dakota. The lawyers also conduct research and draft legal memos for the campaign.

There are more than 1,000 YLFO volunteers in New York alone, thanks to a recruiting method Newmark devised at that first meeting: He asked those three initial attendees to come back with five people. The chapter grew from there. As Jesse Strauss, the current New York coordinator, describes it, "We're sort of a pyramid scheme where somebody recruited me and I recruit more people." The local chapter, which includes attorneys from almost every major New York firm, has held more than 25 recruiting events at firms since Labor Day.

Among the group's tasks in the last month of the campaign: being the largest source of volunteers for Obama's voter protection program. Newmark says that YLFO members have recruited their friends and colleagues to take part in the effort. Newmark himself spent the weekend volunteering for the campaign in Ohio and will be there through election night.

Even after the elections, YLFO's work will not be over. Newmark and Strauss recognize that among the group's members are future politicians, judges, and government lawyers whose talents need to be nurtured.

"YLFO has put together a great group of progressive minded lawyers, people who understand the importance of political activity," Strauss says. "We want to keep those people engaged. It's not lost on us that one of our members might be the next Barack Obama because Barack Obama was once a young lawyer."

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This is exactly how change takes place--one person leading to another and another. With the assistance of people like Steven, change can and will take place!!!!

Steven Newmark is a phenomenal leader who did an outstanding job organizing a group of people notorious for being difficult to organize into a cohesive unit: lawyers. The Obama campaign owes him for helping to generate excitement and commitment to the progressive movement.

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