A couple of weeks ago, I asked why I ought to renew my bar association membership. Well, July 1st was the renewal date, and I decided to let it go. Then I had breakfast with Eric Cooperstein, who is making his way up my local bar’s leadership ladder, and he tried to change my mind. His reasoning was that the bar is like the nexus of the legal community.
In a similar vein, Jim Dedman responded to my post at NC Law Blog, arguing that the bar association is a sort of last redoubt for camaraderie among lawyers:
There was, it seems, a fellowship – a camaraderie of sorts – in the profession which transcended the side of the bar on which a given attorney practiced. Sure, part of that may be the product of that wistful haze of nostalgia, but there’s some truth to the notion that lawyers knew each other better before the days we could all hide behind our monitors, iPhones, and email addresses.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten what it’s like to sit in a room in a non-adversarial setting with our potential lawyer adversaries and opposing counsel. There’s nothing wrong with socializing with the other side of the bar, talking about the state of the law, and learning from each other. It seems that in the fast paced nature of today’s practice, we’ve lost that, which is a shame, because that type of interaction could forestall petty discovery disputes that could occur in the future.
In many jurisdictions, those rosters meetings and docket calls – where so many lawyers would get to know one another – are relics of the past. Many lawyers never see the inside of a courtroom anymore. So, perhaps, membership in one’s state and local bar association might facilitate at least some of that contact and engender friendships with those across the bar or outside your practice area. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, now, would it?
I like the idea, but I’m not convinced that’s what bar associations are actually doing. I’ve actually been quite involved in my state bar association since I got my license. I’ve been on several committees, attended CLEs, gone to benefits and happy hours, and so on. But instead of community and camaraderie, I felt like the bar was either asking for my money, my time, or just promoting networking. That’s not the same thing as community and camaraderie at all.
There are certainly some tangible benefits to joining the bar association, like discounts on legal research, health insurance, etc., but those are purely transactional. If bar associations are trying to compete on value, they are going to lose, because most of us can find equally-good (or better) deals elsewhere. And in any case, coupons don’t feel like a compelling reason to stick around.
Eric and Jim are talking about intangibles. Or less-tangibles, anyway. Building community and camaraderie are compelling reasons to stick around. If friends and mentors are members, lawyers are far more likely to remain members. If bar associations want to compete on intangibles like community and camaraderie, I’d be more interested in renewing my own membership, but I’d like to see some evidence they are actually trying.