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Vol. 42, No. 3

Recently released 2017 State and Local Bar Benchmarks Survey report reveals declining numbers, bar associations trying new strategies

For the past few years, the legal profession and organized bar have been closely watching indicators that show a decline in the number of lawyers across the nation—and a corresponding decline in potential new members.

The 2017 State and Local Bar Benchmarks Survey: Membership, Programming and the Legal Profession, released in December 2017 by the ABA Division for Bar Services seems to lend credence to the idea that—with some variation depending on bar type—growth in both membership and the overall lawyer population has slowed, stalled, or begun to reverse itself. Below are a few data points that give a snapshot of a profession that may be shrinking and an organized bar that is trying to adapt:

  • Membership data from unified bars indicate that the growth of the legal profession is on a downward trend. While 50% of the responding unified bars indicated growth of 1%-6% in their last membership cycle in 2017, this is down from the 56% in 2016 and 80% in 2015 that reported growth of 1%-6%.
  • Voluntary state bars are experiencing a decrease in membership. Fifty-three percent indicated that their membership had declined by 1%-6%, and 5% indicated membership had declined by 7%-10%.
  • Local bars seemed to fare better than state bars, with 24% of local bars indicating that their membership had declined by 1%-6% and 6% indicating that membership had declined more than 6%.
  • Retention rates among voluntary state and local bars have been relatively stable from 2009 to 2017.
  • About one-third of voluntary state and local bars have instituted programs to attract new admittees and young lawyers (other than reduced or free dues).

The 2017 Benchmarks report also addresses, in detail, the strategies that bars of all types are using to hold on to their current members, attract new ones, and remain vital. How is technology helping bars work smarter and faster? What new ways are bars building community among their members—and helping them keep up with fast-paced change? And, along with membership numbers, are dues on a downward trend, too?

Find out by ordering the full report today. If you have questions about this publication, please contact Joanne O’Reilly.