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Law Practice Today

June 2024

Why Ignoring Your Bar Association is a Mistake

Christopher Hix Colee


  • Building a network with other lawyers is a chance to connect with potential clients via referrals.
  • Bar associations significantly benefit new and experienced attorneys through formal and informal mentoring opportunities.
  • When you join a bar association, there are numerous opportunities for leadership positions that could allow you to play a significant role in shaping the legal profession's future.
Why Ignoring Your Bar Association is a Mistake

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I was working as a prosecutor when I first decided that I wanted to hang my own shingle. Before I even started, I had a million questions. After I got my practice up and running, I had two million more questions. One thing I quickly realized was that there were plenty of other solo and small firms out there with as many or more questions. I vividly remember discussing a complicated practice issue with two other lawyers when I suggested that we ask the state bar. The conversation stopped, and they looked at me as if I had suggested jumping off a bridge.

Many moons ago, while I was in law school, I only had a handful of interactions with the state bar staff. They told me that they were there to serve their members. I just took them at their word. It didn’t occur to me that others did not. I have recently started my third year working for my state bar association, and unfortunately, I have met many attorneys who feel like the only reason the state bar exists is to take your money and find a reason to disbar you. In my job capacity, I have had many opportunities to meet and work with employees from other state bars and the American Bar Association (ABA). Not only are bar associations not just out to get you, but trust me when I tell you that if you are ignoring or actively avoiding, your state and local bar associations, as well as the ABA, you are missing out on tremendous benefits.


Bar associations are always working to plan and provide a steady stream of events for their members. Maybe hanging out with other lawyers is not your first choice for spending your free time. If that’s the case, consider attending such events as improving your network because it can. Building a network with other lawyers is a chance to connect with potential clients via referrals. Referrals can come not only from these lawyers, but networking with attorneys brings you into contact with other professionals, such as other lawyers, accountants, or business consultants as well. An added benefit from this is the ability to learn from these other lawyers and professionals, which can help you stay updated on trends and new developments in their fields.


Most bar associations have groups within the association, usually called sections or groups. These sections or groups are smaller subsets of the membership focused on a particular area of the law. Not only do these groups provide more networking opportunities, but they also offer a tremendous corpus of legal knowledge pertaining to that area of law. The ABA has 39 groups. From Solo, Small Firm, and General Practice to Tort Trial & Insurance Practice and from Senior Lawyers to Young Lawyers, the ABA’s groups produce practical content such as magazines, podcasts, and events that keep you informed on the latest developments in these areas as well as provide you with practical tools and advice on how to implement them into your practice.


Are you a new attorney wanting to make sure you are doing it “right”? Are you a seasoned attorney not spending as much time actively practicing as you used to, or are you just interested in sharing your knowledge and experience? Bar associations offer a significant benefit for new and experienced attorneys through formal and informal mentoring opportunities. Seasoned attorneys can offer guidance, support, and practical advice based on their wealth of experience. The newer lawyers can benefit from help navigating the complexities of the practice of law, developing their professional skills, and building new networks. The more experienced attorneys may find it rewarding and satisfying to stay connected with emerging trends and fresh perspectives while giving back to the profession and helping to shape the next generation of legal practitioners.

Member Discounts

Who doesn’t love a discount? In addition to the ABA, most state bars and some local bar associations offer discounts on many goods and services. Some of these discounts can add up to significant discounts not only for your practice but also for you and your family. Members can enjoy reduced prices or free access to live video conferences and recorded CLE programming. As a member of the Law Practice Division (LP), I can attest that there is an abundance of free law practice management CLEs that provide practical skills that practitioners need. Additionally, members can enjoy savings on legal publications, practice management software, and insurance. Many associations also negotiate discounts for travel, computer and office hardware, office supplies, and other goods and services, making it more affordable for attorneys to run their practices efficiently. Some other discounts commonly offered by associations include discounts on health and wellness programs, financial services, gym memberships, and postage and shipping.


If you’ve put off joining a voluntary bar association, or maybe you write your check every year to a mandatory association and think, “Why do I have to pay this every year when I don’t even like how they do things?” When you join a bar association, there are numerous opportunities for leadership positions that could allow you to play a significant role in shaping the legal profession's future. By joining committees, task forces, and boards of governors or bar commissioners, attorneys can influence policies, advocate for reforms, and contribute to the development of rules and practices within the legal profession. In addition to enhancing your professional profile, your participation in these leadership roles can foster meaningful change and drive initiatives that reflect your values and thoughts about our profession. In turn, you can strengthen your network, enhance your reputation, and gain invaluable experience in governance and advocacy.

Make the World a Better Place

Okay, I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Many bar associations have become more focused than ever on efforts to assist lawyers with substance abuse problems, mental health issues, stress, and burnout, for good reason. The statistics on addiction and suicides by lawyers and law students are shocking. Lawyer assistance programs offer counseling, peer support groups, educational workshops, and referrals to specialized treatment providers. Attorneys can utilize these services without fear of stigma or repercussions, ensuring they receive the help they need. Several state bars’ have provisions that relieve assisting attorneys from the requirement of reporting misconduct. Bar associations are committed to their members' holistic health and success, and you can be a part of that.

Bar associations are implementing and supporting a variety of initiatives aimed at increasing access to justice. From pro bono programs that encourage attorneys to volunteer their time to legal clinics and hotlines where the public can receive free legal advice on many topics, associations help to bridge the gap between legal services and underserved communities. Many volunteer bar programs collaborate with community organizations to provide education and assistance. Bar associations advocate for legal reforms and support policies promoting fairness and equity.

Bar associations are working to enhance the careers of both new and seasoned attorneys. You owe it to yourself to take advantage of the wealth of resources, opportunities, and support that they offer. From fostering professional growth through networking and mentorship to providing valuable discounts and leadership opportunities, bar associations want you to succeed. Moreover, their commitment to member well-being and access to justice initiatives underscores these organizations' essential role in the legal community. Be actively engaged with state and local bar associations and the ABA. Not only will they contribute to your professional development, but they can help you contribute to the collective advancement of the legal profession.