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Vol. 44, No. 2

Coming soon: 2019 State and Local Bar Benchmarks Survey: Membership, Leadership and Governance

The 2019 State and Local Bar Benchmarks Survey: Membership, Leadership and Governance, from the ABA Division for Bar Services, will be available by the end of 2019. Here’s a preview of a few key data points that emerged from this year’s nationwide survey of bars of all types and sizes.

Local bars see decline in membership

In terms of membership growth or decline, the biggest change is in the local bar category:

  • This year, 11 percent of local bar respondents said their membership number had declined by 7 to 10 percent, compared with just 4 percent giving that response last year. 
  • Similarly, this year, 10 percent of local bars noted a membership decline of 4 to 6 percent, compared with 4 percent indicating this amount of decline in last year’s survey. 
  • Overall, except for those indicating a decline of more than 10 percent (0 percent of respondents both this year and last year), a significantly higher percentage of local bar respondents noted declining membership counts than in last year's survey or in 2017's. 
  • This year, 27 percent of local bars indicated that their membership count has stayed about the same, compared with 39 percent who gave that response last year, and 45 percent in 2017.

Bars of all types consider governance changes

Many bars seem to be rethinking their governance in some way, a trend that is especially prevalent among voluntary state bars. Within that category, 24 percent of respondents said they had made changes to the composition of their governing body or governance structure in the last three years, and another 24 percent said they are planning changes in the next one to two years. Integrated state bars were not far behind, with 17 percent indicating that they had made these changes and another 17 percent saying they would in the next one to two years.

Whose dues/fees have increased most recently?

Member dues/fees seem to be the most stable among integrated state bars, with 50 percent indicating that their most recent increase was more than seven years ago. The bar category in which the highest percentage of respondents indicated a dues/fees increase in the past year was voluntary state bars, among which 41 percent gave this response. Another 35 percent of voluntary state bars said they last increased their dues/fees two to four years ago.

Want the full story?

That was only a quick snapshot. If you want the full details on all of these data points for each type of bar, and a host of others—including average percentage of membership over age 65, the percentages indicating membership growth, and the average top dues/fees amount—make sure to order the Benchmarks report. As a thank-you, bars that responded to the survey will receive a discount; chief staff executives should watch their email for a code. Questions about the survey or the discount? Email Joanne O’Reilly, educational research specialist in the Division for Bar Services.