Why Should I Renew My Bar Association Membership?

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I just received my state and local bar membership dues invoice, and I’m staring at the $528 price tag wondering whether I ought to renew.

I used to renew mainly because the bar-sponsored Fastcase membership paid for itself. But I’m doing transactional work, now, and rarely need to look up case law.

I’ve been involved with several bar sections and committees over the years, but I’m not sure they have delivered much benefit to me, to the profession, or to the public. Networking is always one of the justifications that I hear about, but most of the committees I have been involved with been poorly attended — although, in fairness, those who have attended have been worth knowing.

So I’m pretty sure bar membership is not something I need, at least not at this point in my career. The $528 itself isn’t a big deal (although my wife might disagree). I’m just not sure I’m getting anything for it.

On the other hand, I feel like there must be some benefit to bar membership that I am overlooking. Maybe it’s just a sense of obligation I can’t shake. Maybe I just need to join more committees.

Are you a dues-paying member of your state or local bar association? Why or why not?

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  • Andrew

    Well, in my state, the bar association is also the arbiter of who can and can’t practice law – failure to pay dues means that you can no longer practice law in the state. Luckily, the dues are substantially lower than the dues that you’ve described here – it’s about $100 for your first year.

  • If you’re not using Fastcase, not serving on committees, not using the listserv(s), and don’t think the magazine is worth $528 per year, I suggest you let you membership drop and see if you immediately lose your lawyer mojo. I doubt it, but you can always re-join.

  • Jason

    The Real Property section has been very helpful – annual updates to the MN Title Standards (but, please note Minnesota State Bar Association – there really should be an app for that), editable and standardized conveyancing blanks, closing checklists, legislative updates, etc. In short, there has been some benefit to me.

    But I’m not sure it would be worth it if I were, for example, a criminal defense attorney.

  • I was in the same boat in April of this year. My dues for my State bar were due. All I used it for last year was a few seminars, and the group discount for car rentals on vacation. I did not renew this year. I will renew NACBA because they provide real value to members.

  • I honestly didn’t know there were states where there was no mandatory bar association. Who handles admissions to practice in MN?

    • The courts handle licensing. The bar association is its own entity.

      • Ah. In Georgia, the Bar is an entity under the Supreme Court, is mandatory to practice law, and provides Fastcase. It’s also only $315/year.

  • I wish Sam had posted this a few days ago, as yesterday I ponied up the $500 (we both practice in MN) because, for whatever reason, I felt compelled to re-up. Reading this post forced me to question why I continue to pay dues like a lawyerly lemming each year, and I reached the conclusion that bar association membership has very limited value to me. I do like the magazine, but not for $500 a year, and it may be the case that I get a discount on medical and dental insurance by virtue of my membership. If I can get the same (relatively) reasonable rate on insurance sans membership, next year I’ll probably let my membership expire and spend that money on one of those superfluous gadgets certain authors and commenters are so fond of.

  • I am a dues paying member of the bar in the state where I have an active practice/clients. As others have mentioned, it’s mandatory in my state (NC) if you’re on the docket. I view the dues as yet another bureaucratic tax and don’t even bother to look for networking or committee value, because it doesn’t exist. Having said that, paying $375.00 every year for a seat at the table is worth the price of admission.

  • Tim

    I get very little benefit from my state bar membership. The benefit I use most often is that the bar has a listserv for solos. The family law section of the state bar is another story. They put out a quarterly case synopsis service and an annual CLE that is well worth it.

    I have not been a member of my local bar because there was no benefit to it. Until recently, there were only a Law Day luncheon and a Christmas party; no other events at all. They have recently begun having more meetings and I’m thinking of rejoining.

  • Seneca

    Some might advise working within the committee structures to undo the required link between Minnesota’s state and county bar association memberships. Others might chose to affiliate with a county other than the outrageously expensive Hennepin County Bar Association as their county of practice or residence. Saves a couple hundred bucks every year.

    • No matter what state you are in, I’m not really worried about saving a couple hundred bucks. I’m worried about deriving a benefit if I do spend the money.

  • I think you hit the nail on the head about the primary *quantifiable* benefit, Sam. I use FastCase frequently for both civil litigation and criminal defense cases, and that alone makes the membership worth it. I am four blocks from the law library where they have free Westlaw/Lexis, but it isn’t worth walking four blocks every time I have to do some quick research. I also need 24-hour access to a database. So it really depends on your practice area.

    That said, I do find that the HCBA CLEs and MSBA section CLEs are often fairly priced, useful, and a big savings over other CLE providers. You can find free or dirt-cheap CLEs if you take the time to look around a lot and pay attention, but as many of the HCBA and MSBA ones are $10 or $20 a credit you can waste a lot of time trying to get to “free” instead. It’s just more efficient to have access to these at the member rate.

    After those two benefits, I think it’s hard to figure an ROI for the networking, the “being part of the group”, and things like the listserves. I still find the listserves valuable and useful, although I could get the same interaction by direct e-mails to people if I chose to do so. That isn’t as easy for newer lawyers, so the bar assoc. is a better investment when you’re starting out (and cheaper then, too). I do think our MSBA could add more value, but compared to a lot of state bars I think they have done some good work and provided a lot of benefits I appreciate. I like supporting those efforts, especially the resources they’ve made available to solos.

  • All of my work is in patents, so I don’t use Fastcase at all. That said, I am a dues paying member of the MSBA and will re-up because of two benefits that are well worth it to me. First, I’ve been really involved in the Computer & Technology Law Section (just finished my term as chair), and have attended many free CLEs by virtue of my membership in that section. Second, I get my health and dental insurance through the MSBA. I could perhaps get it elsewhere if I joined up with a firm, but as a solo, I pretty much need to go through the MSBA.

    The other state in which I am licensed, Michigan, has a unified bar. I don’t practice in Michigan, but I still maintain inactive membership. I’m considering going back to active membership, though, as I’m not really saving much money (I think less than $100) by being on inactive status, and going back to active status would allow me to advise the occasional Michigan client on matters that are not strictly patent-related.

    In any event, thanks for this timely post — it made me reevaluate my MSBA membership and conclude that, for me anyway, it’s worth the price of admission.

  • I use the bar association for member discounts on publications and CLE’s. That alone probably doesn’t pay for the membership. I do use Fastcase fairly frequently.

    The only other benefit that is important to me is the availability of group insurance for myself. Normally, that wouldn’t be a big deal for me, but quite recently, a medical issue priced me out of individual policies, and right now, at least, my firm isn’t big enough to be a group.

  • Avocats

    Washington State bar members recently voted to reduce the bar association’s budget, and thereby our dues. The rationale for the member-initiated referendum was that the bar association had experienced serious “mission creep.” As a dues-paying member of three different associations, I appreciated this development. I receive little benefit from any of the mandatory associations, and Washington has one of the least user-friendly CLE reporting systems I have encountered. At the same time, the association engages in all types of discretionary activity. I think licensing, discipline, and CLE enforcement should be the principal foci of any mandatory bar association.

  • Maryann

    As someone who works for a voluntary bar as a director, I am interested in what kind of services that members will think are relevant so that they continue to join. We send out surveys all the time and use focus groups but no one wants to get involved or answer the surveys so as members, what services can we provide you to make joining the bar relevant.