American Bar Association

ABA Board to Consider Membership Efforts at Annual Meeting

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Facing an expected membership decline of up to 4,000 lawyers this year, the ABA has hired Leo Burnett Co. to help market itself.

The advertising agency will give a presentation to the ABA Board of Governors at the annual meeting that begins this Thursday in Chicago, the National Law Journal reports. ABA President H. Thomas Wells Jr. told the publication in an interview that the ABA expects membership, which stood at 408,000 at the end of the last fiscal year, to drop by 2,000 to 4,000 people this year.

Wells said the economic downturn is part of the reason for the membership decline. Lawyers who spoke to the publication also blamed the expansion of law firms into a variety of regions, which eliminates the need for networking to get referrals; competition from state and local bar associations; and controversy over the ABA’s judicial ratings.

ABA President-elect Carolyn Lamm says the ABA needs to attract more members who are solo practitioners, young lawyers and small-firm lawyers. She told the NLJ that ABA membership isn’t growing at the same rate as the profession, and the association doesn’t even represent half of all U.S. lawyers.

She thinks the ABA can appeal to these underrepresented groups through products such as downloadable continuing legal education classes and other services on the ABA website. The ABA has already made strides in that direction, but more needs to be done, she said.

“My timetable is yesterday,” she told the NLJ. “We need to make progress now on this issue.”

The story cites a report that says dues-paying members have increased by 10,753 from last year. But two other membership categories have seen declines: new lawyers who passed the bar less than a year ago, and law student members. In all, the ABA had lost 4,431 members from the same month last year, the May report said. ABA Executive Director Henry “Hank” White Jr. told the NLJ that the drop in members won’t be as high as the May numbers because members are expected to pay their dues late in the fiscal year, which ends at the end of August.

Although the ABA has seen less money from membership dues this year, it has taken in more money from other products and services, such as CLE and publication sales, Wells told the NLJ. “People are buying [those services] more now because they feel like they need the skills that the ABA can help them attain,” he said.

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