Annual Meeting

New membership model will mean lower dues, free CLE and customized content for ABA members

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In her speech before the House earlier in the day, outgoing ABA President Hilarie Bass urged delegates to adopt the resolution. Photo courtesy of ABA Media Relations.

A new dues structure that starts in September 2019 was overwhelmingly approved by the ABA House of Delegates on Monday during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

In Resolution 177 and an accompanying bylaw amendment, 11-12, the House provided the approval for a new dues structure as part of a new membership model approved by the Board of Governors. The new dues will be put in place starting with Fiscal Year 2020.

Under the new structure, there will be five price points for the basic level of dues-paying membership:

• $75: For new bar admittees, paralegals and lawyers through their first four years of practice.

• $150: For solo practitioners, retirees, government attorneys, lawyers in firms with five or fewer attorneys, judges, international lawyers and lawyers who have been in practice starting with their fifth year and through their ninth year. Members currently known as “associates”—nonlawyers, legal professionals without U.S. licenses, and students—would also fall under this category, and be reclassified as “affiliated professionals.”

• $250: For lawyers in years 10 through 14 of practice.

• $350: For lawyers in years 15 through 19 of practice.

• $450: For lawyers in practice for at least 20 years.

If a member fits under multiple categories, they’ll qualify for the least expensive dues amount. For example, a solo who has practiced more than 20 years would pay $150, and a government attorney in their third year of practice would be charged $75.

Membership will continue to be free for students. Currently, new bar admittees are given a year of free membership, but that would end. Others could see increases of about $5 per year. But the majority of ABA members would end up paying less, with reductions from about $20 to more than $300.

There would continue to be additional charges for joining most individual sections and forums, but in another major change, it would be free for all members to join the Law Practice Division and the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division, colloquially known as GPSolo. Membership in these two divisions would be opt-in.

The new proposal seeks not only to lower the cost of ABA membership for most members, but also to increase the value of that membership. To that end, much of the ABA-produced material that is now publicly available will be put behind a members-only paywall. At the same time, other content that members may have had to pay additional fees for will be made available without cost, such as LPD and GPSolo materials and an increased offering of free CLE. The Center for Professional Responsibility would also make its ABA Formal Ethics Opinions freely available to members, as well as its back catalog of online CLE.

An expanded CLE marketplace is another goal of the membership model, with entities being encouraged to produce more online CLE content. Some content would be free to members, while some would be for sale.

A redesigned ABA website, which is in the process of being rolled out, will serve a key function in the association’s new membership model. In addition to partitioning content behind a metered paywall that would reserve that material for members, a major goal for the redesigned site will be to provide a personalized experience to each user.

When the ABA’s marketing consultant, Chicago-based Avenue, conducted its research into member needs, the ABA’s outdated website and the difficulty of finding information specific to an attorney’s practice was highlighted as an area for improvement.

“There is broad agreement that high-quality content drives the ABA’s value,” the agency’s report to the Board of Governors reads. “Yet there is also a consensus that our current content experience is difficult to navigate, especially for new members who are unfamiliar with the ABA section model, and it is overly reliant on traditional content forms and outdated technology.”

“While the ABA has produced content on many of these subjects, it is totally unreasonable to expect that the target audience will find it wherever posted,” the agency’s report continues. “In fact, that is a daunting and frustrating task that is increasingly at odds with the way individuals of all ages interact with digital content in all sectors.”

Under the proposal, real focus would be placed on tailoring the website for each user. Members would be able to see a dashboard with curated content relevant to their individual interests, practice areas and stage of career, rather than having to search under a specific ABA entity’s page. Some specialized content would still require entity membership, but more would be made available to the base membership, and content would be easier to find.

Resolution 177 and Bylaw Amendment 11-12 were overwhelmingly approved. Several leaders rose to speak in favor of the resolution, including ABA President Hilarie Bass, President-elect Robert Carlson, Chair of the Standing Committee on Membership Tracy Giles, and ABA past-president Robert Grey Jr.

Estelle H. Rogers, a delegate for the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, submitted a salmon slip to speak in opposition, but told the House that rather than arising to speak against the new dues structure, she wanted to communicate to her fellow delegates that a new dues structure alone would not be a complete solution to the issues facing the association. Rogers urged attendees to make sure the ABA stood for important issues. “This is not just about money, it is also about defending liberty and pursuing justice,” she said.

In her speech before the House of Delegates earlier in the day, Bass urged delegates to adopt the resolution.

“For years, we had the luxury of having baby boomers who joined our association the day they graduated law school and like clockwork paid that bill every year. But they’re now beginning to retire, and we know they’re being replaced by a group of young millennial attorneys who have a very different perspective on what they’re looking for from bar associations. For years, we have seen the research telling us what we needed to do,” Bass said. “This new model is going to be a gamechanger—as it needs to be.”

Follow along with our full coverage of the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting.

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