Do you participate in your county, district or municipal bar group?
If not, you might be missing out on a golden opportunity to improve your Law Life.
“Bar associations are the heartbeat of the legal profession,” writes New York attorney Adrienne B. Koch, a self-confessed voluntary bar group junkie, in the ABA Journal. “It’s hard for me to get enough. I love the camaraderie, the opportunity to meet and work with lawyers from all walks of the profession, and the feeling that we do sometimes make a difference.”
But it’s clear not everyone shares Koch’s passion. Membership rolls at voluntary associations are shrinking. Dues revenues are plummeting. Lawyers say the benefits aren’t worth the cost, or they lack the time to participate. Some see voluntary bar groups as old-school relics from a pre-digital era.
Bar associations are feeling the pinch. In light of financial woes, the venerable New York County Bar Association is trying to sell or rent its 87 year-old headquarters in the heart of the World Financial District. Other state and local associations are casting about for creative ways – free CLE, online resources, mentoring programs – to attract and keep members.
“It wasn’t always like this,” says Koch. “When I first began practicing law nearly 30 years ago, joining a voluntary bar association was what you did. There was almost no need to justify it or even to think about why; the only question was which one (or which ones) to join. It was part of being a lawyer. Now, not so much.”
9 Benefits of Getting Involved With Your Bar Group
Like everything else in life, what you get out of a voluntary bar association depends on what you put into it. There is the social aspect, of course. You get to hang out with your peers in a relaxed, non-adversarial setting. But there are also marketing, educational and civic benefits as well. Here are some of them:
- To see old friends and make new ones. Face-to-face beats Facebook by a mile.
- To make a difference. Lawyers belong to a “learned calling for the public good.” Voluntary associations – particularly those at the grass-roots level – are a way to honor that calling.
- To do pro bono work. Who better to know the legal needs of a neighborhood than the lawyers who live there? Voluntary bar groups can take the lead in providing legal service for those who can’t afford it, and access to justice to those who most need it.
- To get referrals. Does this sound crass? It shouldn’t. What better place to make fruitful connections than a gathering of professionals who share your line of work? Just make sure it isn’t one-sided. When you ask another lawyer for business, offer to send referrals their way – not as quid pro quo, but because it’s the right thing to do.
- To get out of your office. Everyone needs a break. “There is something voluntary bar associations provide that is unique, irreplaceable and vital to every lawyer’s practice: the opportunity to meet, know and work collectively with a community of lawyers and judges beyond the walls of one’s own office,” writes Koch. “This is how we truly participate in the profession of law.”
- To educate the public and each other on emerging issues. Knowledge shared is knowledge gained.
- To welcome new blood. “[M]ake more room in the practice of law for today’s lawyers to participate in bar associations,” says Koch. “The billable hour expectations for many young lawyers, for example, can leave little room for anything else outside of work. Even in areas of the profession where the time demands are considered less onerous, they are still significant. I believe it is up to those of us who are further along in our careers to help younger lawyers hold space for bar association involvement. This will mean both encouraging them to get involved and taking real, concrete action that allows it to happen—including not only mentorship and sponsorship, but also giving credit for bar association work as part of an associate’s performance evaluations.”
- To improve your professional reputation. Join a committee or become an officer. You’ll have something new to add to your resume. It’s doing well by doing good.
- To have fun. Who can’t use a little more of that?
Do you participate in your state or local voluntary bar association? Why or why not?