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Vol. 43, No. 2

Upcoming Benchmarks publication offers deep dive into membership trends

by Marilyn Cavicchia

You or someone else at your bar has most likely received a few emails about the ABA Division for Bar Services publication 2018 State & Local Bar Benchmarks: Membership, Administration, and Finance. Watch your inbox, and the DBS publications page, for news about the release of this report, which is based on survey data from bars across the country.

In the meantime, here is a quick preview of some of the raw data on membership increases and decreases, as discussed in “Knocking on all the doors and rethinking everything: New approaches to bar membership” (also in this issue). The full report will contain helpful analysis and comparison between this year’s data and that of years past, as well as an in-depth look at any dues breaks, special programs, and other offerings that bars use to attract specific segments of members. Please note that the dues data below is still preliminary and may not be identical to what will appear in the final report.

Many bar professionals and experts interviewed for our article indicated decreased or flat overall membership numbers, and this seems to be borne out by the survey data as well.

Among the 16 voluntary state bars that responded to this question, 31 percent said their total membership number had stayed about the same since the last membership cycle; 6 percent said it was up by 10 percent or more; 44 percent reported a decrease of 1 to 3 percent; 13 percent were down by 4 to 6 percent; and 6 percent reported a decrease between 7 and 10 percent.

This same question received responses from 33 unified state bars. As one might expect, the picture is very different from that of voluntary state bars: Among unified state bars, 45 percent indicated relatively flat membership; 52 percent said they had an increase of 1 to 3 percent; and 3 percent said they were up by 10 percent or more. No one reported a decrease that was more than 1 percent.

Out of 95 local bars that answered this question, 39 percent indicated no significant change; 19 percent were up by 1 to 3 percent; 3 percent had an increase between 4 and 6 percent; 2 percent were up by 7 to 10 percent; another 2 percent said they were up by 10 percent or more; 26 percent reported a decrease between 1 and 3 percent; 4 percent said they were down by 4 to 6 percent; and another 4 percent said they had decreased by 7 to 10 percent.