When I graduated law school I never joined the ABA. It didn’t offer the new solo trying to get started anything of significant value for its dues. Sixteen years later it still doesn’t for the majority. But as of August, 2010 they are going to lower the annual dues because they are in trouble. Big Law is no longer its darling they can rely upon through thick and thin and their membership ranks are thinning. As their members leave, their coffers dwindle. Wake up, Alice. Reducing dues and hiring a consultant to fix the problem is just not the answer. Can you say, ‘Legally Minded?’
Solos have been the majority of private practitioners in this country forever. But since they were independent, less political as a group, didn’t have a ‘leader’ and too hard to herd one by one, they were left to their druthers. And they swelled in ranks. But it didn’t matter. The ABA’s focus was other-directed. Law school accreditation, building political capital and some actually valuable things that had no real meaning for the solo. But they missed the boat on one very important stated mission – to help the profession as a whole. And the profession as a whole (the majority) are solos and small firms.
More than a decade ago Bruce Dorner started a small ‘chat’ group through the then new technology known as a listserv. This listserv grew to more than 3500 and it is called Solosez. Eventually, the ABA took it under its wing to offer….well, I’m not really sure what it was offering them. Do you? But I’m sure the ABA hoped to profit from it. Stories abound how they pulled the meager salary the administrator received because somehow ‘they should want to volunteer their time.’ They never looked at this list and thought, ‘if the need is so great for solos to have community we should find a way to enhance this experience for those in our profession who use it.’ No, they were (and still are) a step-child wearing hand-me down technology and given pennies to sustain themselves.
There is a joke I heard recently from a small law firm who stopped renewing their ABA membership. The lawyer I spoke to said, “We get 13 things for our ABA dues – 12 nice magazines and a bill. Those are very expensive magazines.’ This is from someone who bought in to the idea, ‘graduate law school and join the ABA.’ No longer are students mindlessly joining an organization because it exists. Somewhere along the way any perception of value disappeared.
Therefore, dropping dues on something which has no perceived value for the solo will not magically make it have value even at half price. Hiring a consultant to tout value through slick advertising won’t make value magically appear where there is none. The solo lawyer today doesn’t need the ABA as it currently exists.
So, how is the ABA going to fix this problem? It’s not with a sale price and a pretty pink dress.
They have to actually understand what the solo NEEDS and then provide it at a reasonable cost reflective of the solo’s economic status and struggles. Can they do that?
Years ago, Jay Foonberg came out with his seminal book on starting a solo practice. Has any other book turned out by the ABA sold as many copies? Didn’t they get a clue then?
The ABA had it all. And they squandered their clout with politics, greed, ignorance and disregard of solo practitioners as a group. Countless individuals within the organization itself are well-intended and care deeply, are excellent lawyers and really great people with the best interests of the profession and those they service in mind. But the American Bar Association as a professional collective has blown it big time.
Don’t spend your money on an overpriced out-of-touch consultant. Send Carolyn Elefant and myself an airline ticket. We’ll negotiate a more reasonable consulting fee and start moving you in the right direction….if you really mean it when you say you want to change things.