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Vol. 36, No. 3

New publication gives a detailed look at what—and how—bars are doing

The 2011 State and Local Bar Membership, Administration and Finance Survey, now available from the ABA Division for Bar Services, provides many interesting snapshots of what bars of all sizes are doing, and of some of the trends that seem to be emerging.

(Note: You might know this publication by its previous name, the State and Local Bar Dues, Fees and Member Benefits Survey.)

Here’s a look at just a few of the useful insights that can be gleaned from the data in this year’s MAF Survey.

Budgets are not being slashed.

If bars have made drastic cuts during the economic recession, they are not continuing to do so: Where there were decreases in 2011, they were relatively small. In fact, 68 percent of unified state bars and 73 percent of voluntary state bars said their budget either stayed the same or increased slightly (by 1 to 3 percent) since last year. Among local bars, 31 percent indicated that their budget had stayed the same or increased by 1 percent to 3 percent from last year. In all bar types, among those that indicated a budget decrease, the decrease was usually in the 1- to 3-percent range.

Among some bar types, more offer merit-based raises and fewer offer bonuses.

Bars have not completely put the brakes on the idea of rewarding and retaining staff by offering more money—but they do seem to be rethinking the form these rewards and raises should take.

More voluntary state bars (5 percent in 2009; 21 percent in 2011) and more local bars (22 percent in 2009; 27 percent in 2011) are providing salary increases based on merit and performance.

However, as a whole, fewer bars offered bonuses in addition to salary in 2011 than in 2009. Among unified
state bars, the percentage offering bonuses decreased from 47 percent to 33 percent; voluntary state bars offering bonuses decreased from 67 percent to 42 percent; and for local bars, the decrease was more modest, from 73 percent to 67 percent.

Voluntary bar membership has remained fairly steady.

Again, if there was a big decline because of the economy, it appears that things have since stabilized. The percentage of eligible lawyers who are members of voluntary state bars did decline, but only slightly: from 62 percent in 2010 to 59 percent in 2011. Local bar membership rates remained about the same in both years (60 percent in 2010; 61 percent in 2011). Eighty percent of all voluntary state bars and local bars reported that their membership had either stayed the same or increased since 2010.


There have been big changes in programs to attract specific membership segments.

In recent years, many bars have developed ways (other than waived or reduced dues) to try to attract and retain members within various segments, including different ages and practice settings. In some categories, comparing the data from 2010 and 2011 reveals some major shifts both in terms of the percentage of bars offering such programs and the degree of success they enjoy.

For example, from 2010 to 2011, the percentage of bars with special programs to attract solo and small-firm practitioners declined from 28 percent to 9 percent, respectively. Bars offering such programs reported about the same level of success with them in 2011 as in 2010.

The percentage of bars offering programs for young lawyers (beyond the first year) also fell, from 49 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2011. Among those that have these programs, the percentage reporting that they are “very successful” also declined, from 53 percent in 2010 to 39 percent in 2011.

The percentage of bars that offer programs for law school faculty remained small (6 percent in 2010 and 4 percent in 2011), but the reports of “very successful” results increased dramatically—from 10 percent in 2010 to 43 percent in 2011.

The corporate counsel segment declined in terms of the percentage of bars offering programs (15 percent in 2010 and 7 percent in 2011) but increased in the percentage reporting that their efforts were “very successful”—from 20 percent in 2010 to 38 percent in 2011.

But that’s not all.

There’s a lot more useful information in the 2011 State and Local Bar Membership, Administration and Finance Survey—including whether dues for the different bar types increased, decreased, or remained level. (How’s that for a teaser?) Order your copy today. BL