President’s Perspective: The value of association

By James Dimos

It has been said that the Chinese have a curse that is translated as “May you live in interesting times.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I think our profession has really upset someone in Beijing. Interesting times for our profession translates directly to interesting times for our Association. The challenge for the ISBA in these interesting times is to remain an essential resource to the lawyers of Indiana.

At the outset, we should be comforted by the fact that we are doing things right. More than 12,600 lawyers and paraprofessionals choose to belong to the Indiana State Bar Association. Recently, we invited another 300-plus newly admitted lawyers to join the ISBA, and we are confident that a high percentage will do so. There is strength in numbers as we serve in our role as the voice of Indiana’s lawyers, and our voice is loud and clear.

At the same time, we have to recognize the demographics of our profession. The “Baby Boomers” are working their way toward retirement. Close to a generation of new lawyers was caught up in the tumult of the Great Recession of 2008 and left disconnected from the profession. Law school application and enrollment numbers show a pattern of steep decline that is no longer an anomaly.

We know that lawyers today expect the ISBA and other bar associations to provide them value for their dues dollars. This expectation is perfectly reasonable. It is the same expectation that our clients have of us when we provide them legal services. The challenge is that value in bar membership is very personal and can be amorphous. To borrow from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, our members and potential members know value when they see it.

This past year, under the inspired leadership of my predecessor, Dan Vinovich, the ISBA took new steps to enhance membership value. We negotiated the renewal of our contract with Casemaker to provide our members with free access to its premium content. We adopted a program to allow our members to obtain three free hours of ethics credit. All told, the value of these and other programs implemented this year total $540 – more than enough to offset any member’s dues.

Did these changes provide value to Indiana lawyers? Yes. More than 600 nonmembers joined the ISBA during our membership campaign this year that highlighted these new benefits. We need to continue to provide this type of value to our members, and the Board of Governors will work with staff to identify and explore such opportunities.

At the same time, the value of bar membership is more than a math calculation. There is value in association – collaborating with lawyers from across our state to improve your practice, the profession and our communities. There is value in serving on a committee addressing the unmet legal needs of children or a section working to improve our state’s probate code. There is value in being part of our Mentor Match program and developing a relationship with another lawyer that teaches you both something. There is value in having an e-discussion forum to allow you to ask questions of your fellow practitioners throughout the state. There is value in attending meetings and receptions to meet lawyers and judges who you may be dealing with professionally now or in the future.

To deliver the value of association, we need to make sure that no lawyer or group of lawyers feels that they are not welcomed as a member of the ISBA. The value of association is hearing the voices and viewpoints of many different lawyers who have had many different life experiences. We cannot provide meaningful learning or networking opportunities or be the voice of Indiana’s lawyers without being inclusive.

We also need to communicate better. Members cannot participate fully if they do not have a full understanding of the numerous programs and services we offer. To improve our communication, we need to use the various channels that our members use today to receive information. During this upcoming bar year, we will unveil the new ISBA website at www.inbar.org while continuing to use email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and, yes, even snail mail to keep you better informed.

The value of association includes the collaboration with partners to provide more value to our members. We will continue to look for new ways to partner with the courts, the attorney general and national and local bar associations to build relationships that allow each organization to serve Indiana’s lawyers in their own unique ways.

The Board of Governors will work to do its very best to enhance the value of your association with the ISBA. We ask that you hold us accountable to that task. Please do not hesitate to tell any of us what we can do to make the ISBA better. We serve the members of the Association, and we thank you for the opportunity to do so.

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