“Nobody,” says New York State Bar Association President Hank Greenberg, “is going to leave their law office to go to a state bar association pizza party,” dryly noting the disappearance of a decades-old socialization ritual for the Young Lawyers Section at the nation’s largest voluntary bar.
But in York County, Pa., “Young lawyer happy hours work for us,” says Victoria Connor, CEO of the 500-member York County Bar Association and the York County Bar Foundation. “We’re old school in many ways.”
What plays on Broadway might not play on Market Street—and vice versa—when it comes to bar programming and activities for young lawyers. But what does seem consistent is that mounting law school debt and other changes in the economy, the profession, and membership habits have raised the stakes when it comes to bars’ value propostion for young lawyers. Current estimates of the average law school debt load vary between $100,000 and $150,000—on top of whatever remains from student loans toward undergraduate studies. Adding to the problem for bars is that many big firms have long since quit automatically paying for bar memberships—and fledgling solo lawyers often find even a small membership fee (or, in integrated bar states, costs for any participation other than what is required) difficult to justify.
Over the last decade, many professional membership associations have struggled with a steady decline in younger members, combined with increased aging out of long-established members. With that reality no longer a blip, bars are increasingly arming themselves with statistics, analysis, conversation and technology in order to stay relevant—and afloat. From the seemingly simple to the somewhat complex, bars continue to look for solutions to the challenge of reaching younger lawyers. In many cases, this involves setting aside or reframing old notions (e.g., entitlement, instant gratification, and participation trophies) and helping young lawyers get more deeply and meaningfully involved with “the big bar.”