Attracting Nontraditional Bar Members
Jodi L. Cramer is an associate editor of The Affiliate and practices in the Office of General Counsel of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C.
For the most part, bar associations tend to recruit their members from local private sector law firms. Law firms generally encourage their associates to join their local bar association and even financially support their efforts by paying membership dues. But bar associations that cater to private firms tend to ignore other attorneys in government, nonprofit, academic, or nonlegal careers who could be valuable additions to a bar association. To attract nontraditional members, events and programming should include new topics that extend beyond private law firm management to a larger audience. In addition, knowing certain facts about each of these nontraditional attorney groups is useful when putting together a campaign to recruit nontraditional members. For example:
Unlike private sector attorneys, government attorneys have to attend bar functions and events on their own time. Federal attorneys, in particular, cannot use government resources including time, resources, or supplies for nongovernment functions, which includes, for example, participating in a conference call during office hours. A federal attorney would have to take vacation time for that call. In addition, federal and other government attorneys may not be able to speak on specific issues they worked on or that are ongoing as part of their organization. Federal and other government employees may also not be allowed to accept certain gifts. For example, federal gift rules may prohibit accepting an invitation to, or even attending, certain events if not paid for by the individual.
An additional subset of government attorneys is military attorneys. Many military attorneys are neither living in the jurisdiction in which they are licensed nor do they remain at the same posting for more then a few years. To accommodate these attorneys, it is helpful to offer events at which they can earn continuing legal education credit during a weekend event as opposed to an evening one. Another option would be evening phone events and allowing these attorneys to participate via e-mail and other electronic forms from their postings around the world. It is also important to remember that military attorneys can and are sent to combat zones. As a result, there are times when they may be unavailable because of deployment, so it is important to be aware and patient with their schedules.
Although nonprofit attorneys are not as restricted as government attorneys, many do not have access to the same resources as private sector attorneys. Their interests may also vary from private sector attorneys, and they may be more interested in issues facing the nonprofit community but may enjoy programming that could also attract private sector attorneys. For example, they may be more likely to attend CLE programs on all facets nonprofit organizations, such as creating and applying for tax-exempt status.
Attorneys in academia are a great resource not only as bar members but also for attracting law students to bar association functions. Bar associations should consider partnering with attorneys in academia to produce journals and other publications and to promote clinics for law students. Many different programs can be established to attract and involve academic attorneys to the bar association.
Many attorneys have left the legal field to pursue other careers. Because an attorney is nonpracticing, however, does not mean he or she would not want to maintain a connection to his or her legal roots through the bar association. Reaching out to this group may be the greatest challenge because nonpracticing attorneys are the most difficult to find and attract. Many of them went to law school to learn the law, and CLE programming that involves an in-depth look at an issue from an academic level as opposed to a practitioner’s level could help draw them in. Many academic attorneys also need CLE credits, so creating CLE programming that is not geared to practitioners is a great way to recruit nonpracticing attorneys.
What Your Organization Can Do
One thing that nontraditional bar members have in common is their disconnect with private firm lawyers. Basically, they have different needs and interests. One way to attract these attorneys is to have different fee structures. In developing different fee structures, bar organizations should be careful to charge all attorneys in one class (e.g., government attorneys) the same bar dues. Bar associations also should consider having different fee scales for government versus nonprofit attorneys.
Another way to attract nontraditional members is to form committees within your organization geared to their interests. For example, committees for law professors, for government prosecutors, or for military attorneys could be established. All of these committees could then create programming geared to these groups.
It is also important to make nontraditional bar members feel welcome. That is probably the most important thing your organization can do. Although it is nice on paper to look like you are recruiting from these alternative fields, new members will not stay long if they perceive that they are being treated like outsiders. In the same manner that it has been recognized that not every lawyer practices in a law firm and that solo practitioners are valuable members of bar associations, affiliates need to undertake a similar effort to attract nontraditional members.
Tips for Increasing Membership of Nontraditional Members
To reach out to nontraditional members, bar associations should consider the following ideas:
• Open the organization up by offering reduced fee memberships, and be open and friendly to nontraditional members.
• Create new committees geared to nontraditional bar members.
• Move away from practitioner-oriented CLE programs. Focus more on legal issues and less on rainmaking. Nontraditional attorneys are more concerned with legal issues and less concerned with billing ones.
• Create events that bring the entire legal community together. This is the organization’s opportunity to unite the entire legal community, so come up with events that interest everyone.
If a bar organization follows some of these tips, it should be able to attract nontraditional bar members whose wealth of knowledge will bring new ideas to your organization. This will also increase membership levels.