Executive Director’s Report

Changes You Deserve: A historic transformation

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Photo courtesy of the Executive Director’s Office

For more than 140 years, the American Bar Association has done business in essentially the same way. It has served us well for most of that time as we became the largest association of legal professionals in the world. Yet, while standing the test of time in many ways, the Association’s leaders saw the need to remake the ABA into an organization that can serve the current and future needs of our members at a time when the profession itself faces unprecedented change. 

The first step in that transformation began May 1, when the ABA launched a number of historically significant changes to help America’s lawyers achieve success throughout their careers. The Association can now tailor the value we deliver to members, personalized to their areas of practice and interest. Our members have exclusive access to benefits that support them as they grow their practices, enhance their professional development, and engage on issues affecting the profession.

The Association has many positive attributes, including more than 400,000 members, a budget exceeding $200 million, and about $300 million in investments. We have reduced operating costs by more than $20 million over the past five years. But that’s only part of the story. 

For the past decade, associations across the country have faced losses in membership and revenues. Young professionals are reluctant to spend their time and money joining organizations unless they see that affordable, valuable, and easy-to-access benefits come with membership. 

The same trends affect the ABA. In 1977, about half of America’s lawyers were ABA members; today, fewer than one in five is a member. Over the past 10 years, we have lost an average of 5,600 attorney members annually, which contributed to almost $20 million less in yearly dues revenues by the end of that period. 

It’s time for action. In last month’s issue of the ABA Journal, President Bob Carlson detailed the new benefits of membership, which include a CLE Member Benefit Library of more than 450 courses (and growing) included with membership, sensible dues rates, and access to exclusive, members-only content targeted to areas of interest. We have developed new tools to help legal professionals. For example, on May 1, the ABA Career Center initiated an automated process powered by artificial intelligence to help members hone their interview skills and improve their resumés. 

These new member programs are just the beginning. Over the next year and into the future, we will unveil additional and upgraded benefits of ABA membership. The ABA will continue as the go-to resource for legal professionals, and that means keeping our content fresh and useful to members. 

The Association has improved how we communicate with our members. We updated the ABA website so it’s easier to navigate and is readily accessible on mobile devices. We launched a new automated email system that will reduce the number of irrelevant and unwanted ABA emails members receive while delivering curated, valuable content. We’re expanding our use of social media and online networks to promote the value of membership, particularly to young attorneys and law students.

We have also introduced a new ABA logo. Our former logo was used for more than 45 years. The new logo encourages a forward vision and signals that we are a changing organization, seeking modern and contemporary solutions facing the legal community. 

The ABA speaks on issues of importance to the entire legal profession. We are a part of the lives and livelihoods of every single lawyer, every single day—whether it’s through our Model Rules of Professional Conduct, our accreditation of law schools, our governmental advocacy, and so many other aspects of our profession and the justice system. Every lawyer in America has a potential voice in the policies set by the ABA House of Delegates, through their representatives in state, local, and specialty bars. Our voice for the legal profession is a robust and indispensable part of the nation’s culture of justice.

The practice of law is the experience of a lifetime, and the American Bar Association has a critical role to help attorneys develop their careers and advance the profession. By enhancing our benefits and tailoring the member experience more to individual needs and preferences, the ABA will continue to serve a vital role for legal professionals.



Print and initial online versions of “Changes You Deserve: A Historic Transformation,” June, should have referred to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Journal regrets the error.
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