Bar Association Revamps Member Model, Plots Digital Update

The American Bar Association House of Delegates has approved a series of reduced membership rates intended to attract new lawyers or bring back lapsed members to the organization. In another change, the ABA website is moving to a metered paywall model.

The American Bar Association is making a big change to its membership structure with a  key component: lower dues.

During its annual meeting this week, the ABA House of Delegates approved a change to the association’s membership fee structure [PDF] that will kick in starting in September 2019. Dues will drop by roughly $100 for most member tiers, which are based on how long a member has been in practice and the  the nature of his or her work. Those who have practiced law for less than five years will see their dues reduced by half, from $150 to $75.

Dues will remain lower for certain categories, such as solo practitioners and international lawyers, and members will pay the lowest amount they qualify for. Students will continue to receive free membership.

After the change, the most expensive tier will be $450, for lawyers admitted to the bar more than 20 years ago.

The goal of the change is to reverse ABA’s declining membership rates, according to The American Lawyer, which reported this week that the ABA saw a 4 percent drop in members between 2017 and 2018. About 15 percent of practicing lawyers are ABA members, the report states.

Rethinking the Website

The move comes alongside other major changes for the organization, including a planned redesign of its website that will include a metered paywall, according to the ABA Journal. Additionally, the ABA will focus on creating more personalized content for members. Much of the association’s free-to-access content will be put behind the paywall in the near future.

A primary goal of the redesign is to make content more findable, highlighting ABA’s value proposition.

“There is broad agreement that high-quality content drives the ABA’s value,” the organization’s marketing agency, Avenue, told the ABA Board of Governors in an internal report quoted by the Journal. “Yet there is also a consensus that our current content experience is difficult to navigate, especially for new members who are unfamiliar with the ABA section model, and it is overly reliant on traditional content forms and outdated technology.”

“Inflection Point”

While the new membership model is expected to lead to a temporary decline in revenue, ABA Executive Director Jack Rives argued in a speech that it would ultimately make the association stronger.

“The question is: Do we have the courage to make the tough decisions that will enable us to weather the storm?” Rives asked. “My commitment to you is we will not merely survive; we will thrive. We are truly at an inflection point for the profession and our association.”

(utah778/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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