The Basics of Membership Recruitment
By Jodi L. Cramer  
Jodi L. Cramer is an associate editor of The Affiliate and practices in the Office of General Counsel of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C.
Bar associations are only as strong as their members. The strongest bar associations have a diverse group of members who come from traditional and nontraditional law practices. To achieve this balance of diversity, it is important to expand recruiting beyond the larger law firms.
The biggest draw to a bar membership is programming, usually in the form of continuing legal education programs. If your state is a mandatory CLE state, it is important to ensure that your bar association provides sufficient opportunities for your members to obtain the CLE credits required by the state. Also, if your bar association is located close to a different jurisdiction, such as in the New York metropolitan area, you should provide programming that meets the needs of all jurisdictions. To achieve this requirement you will have to go through the extra steps of getting each program accredited by your state and neighboring states. In fact, you may have to be willing to do the extra paperwork for all states for your members.
Your programming goal has to be more then just providing CLE credit. It should include a diverse range of topics to attract a large audience. When you present a topic to attract a diverse audience, it is important to advertise your program. This can be done through advertisements in legal newspapers or through e-mail list serves, as well as by word of mouth. One way to recruit new members and show off your program and bar association might be to have a CLE program that is free for all.
Another draw to the bar association is a networking event. Although traditional private practice attorneys are drawn to these events, those in nontraditional practice areas may not be as interested. Providing smaller networking events for academic or a public sector attorneys may be more attractive. These targeted events will help draw new members into your bar association.
One of the reasons nontraditional attorneys are drawn to bar associations is to keep up with new developments in the legal profession. A bar association that can produce materials to explain new developments in a concise and non-time-consuming manner can use that to recruit new members. Using basic word processing software can allow a bar association to create its own newsletters and distribute the publication via e-mail to all of its members. Newsletters can be created for the main bar association and for smaller committees on specific issues. Advertising this service is one way to recruit new members.
For general recruitment, bar associations should consider recruiting at local law schools. Having a law student division and events for law students is a great way to get students involved so that they become lifelong bar association members.
Law students can be recruited in several ways. Networking may be the most obvious one. Most law students are interested in their careers after law school, and a bar association can create networking events to help students meet with potential employers. One potential event is a job fair, at which local legal employers can meet with law students to discuss potential opportunities.
Another way to recruit law students is to create summer internships with bar association committees. This opportunity allows law students to do research for upcoming CLE programs and newsletters, as well as present more academic papers to the committee. This type of program will help recruit new members and provide an educational experience to the next generation of attorneys.
Mentoring is another option attractive to both law students and young attorneys. This type of program allows law students to work with practicing attorneys and to learn more about both the bar association and the practice of law.
A reduced fee structure for new members is another way to recruit new members. There can be a “new member” dues. This can be for the first year with it going up slightly for the following year. In addition, it is a good idea to have reduced dues for public sector attorneys and for law students. Offering reduced fees helps provide a financial incentive for new members to join.
Recruiting new members takes effort. A bar association that wishes to undertake such an endeavor should form a committee and develop a plan, taking a few of the above ideas and implementing them. Recruiting should be a creative output and should be tailored to your organization and locale. The best recruiting plan involves showcasing the highlights of your association backed with a lot of enthusiasm.