S TRONGER TOGE THER , 50 YEARS AND COUNT I NG Have a Plan! And Other Advice from Former YLS Chair Ruben Chapa By Kaitlin King
I sat down with Ruben Chapa, a former YLS Chair, to hear how the practice of law has changed since he began practicing, to see why joining the YLS/ CBA is important, and to ask him for advice for young lawyers. Ruben currently works with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Solicitor as ERISA counsel. He has been with the Solicitor’s office for over two decades. He has been a leader in the American Bar Association, Chicago Bar Association, Chicago Bar Foundation, and the Hispanic Lawyer’s Association of Illinois. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Why did you join the CBA/YLS at the start of your legal career? “I saw aTED talk that reaffirmed my belief that I was fortunate to come across people who helped me develop personally and professionally. The talk helped me recog- nize that some of that is based on the ideas of paranoia and pronoia. Before the TED talk, I had never heard of the term pronoia. Pronoia is when people are intentionally there to help you. Upon reflection, I think some of the situations I was put in was because of who I surrounded myself with and the people I was exposed to. Those people helped move me forward. Your question about how I became involved in the CBA/YLS is in line with that idea. One of the people I first started practicing with, the head of the law firm, encouraged me to become a member of the CBA. Once I was a member, I became involved in the Social Security Disability Law Committee, because at that time, that was what I was practicing. At some point, I decided I wanted to switch my practice area, and the firm I was at was not interested in expanding into that practice area. So, I went to DePaul’s law library, my alma matter, and looked in three ring binders for job opportunities and found one I was interested in. I was told that out
Pictured: YLS Chair Ruben Chapa, 2001-02, and YLS Chair William Oberts, 2007-08
of 800 applicants, only five or six received jobs. I was fortunate enough to get one of those positions. I don’t know if there were certain people behind the scenes to help promote me. One of my current colleagues at the Department of Labor was a member of the CBA Board of Managers, and she knew that I was in the CBA and attending other events. She brought me into the Board of Managers in front of the YLS Chair and told the Chair I was an active member and go-getter and asked the YLS Chair if she could find something for me to do. Of course, the Chair said she would be happy to find something for me to do. The next year I was put into the position of a Special Projects Coordinator. I found value both in terms of camaraderie, as well as in terms of substantive knowledge, in the YLS. That’s what helped me push forward in the CBA.” Do you think you would have joined the CBA if you didn’t have that part- ner to push you to be a member? “I’d probably say that I would not have
joined the CBA, because at that time you looked at a number of different options. But, given that the partner actually paid my way, that encouraged me to become a member. When I switched to public service, I had to pay my own way. That is a disincentive, and that is why a lot of people end up dropping off. I think that the partner’s encouragement and the fact that he paid my way initially helped me to see the value and really did encourage me to remain a CBA member to this day, 25-plus years later.” You talked about being presented with many opportunities within the YLS. Can you highlight some of those? “In general, one thing attorneys don’t have a great deal of is management experience. Our practice is not really geared towards managing. I wanted to be a manager in my office; I thought that was important. I thought being involved in a leadership role through the CBA helped me understand how to manage and how to lead people.