Tuesday, May 29, 2018

ABA Membership in Decline - "No One Saw It Coming" Edition

The ungrateful wretches refuse to join us!  Exterminate!  Exterminate!
For some reason, the ABA is experiencing a decline in membership and that is hurting operational funds:
Forty years ago, 50 percent of the lawyers in the United States were members of the ABA. The ABA currently has a 22 percent market share.
Speaking at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, [ABA Executive Director] Rives said the ABA’s membership currently stands at 412,499 members, 70 percent of whom are lawyers. Another 26 percent are students and 4 percent including paralegals and international lawyers—are associates.
What is the near-term solution?
In the current version of the new membership model, there is a focus on bundling benefits and significantly simplifying ABA dues categories. Rives noted there are currently 157 dues categories at the ABA, depending on the types of work members do, their length of service and other considerations.
The model would reduce the dues categories down to three. Bundled benefits would include two sections, access to a CLE library and access to content that will be organized behind a member-only paywall.
Rives said the changes, which will require an investment in products and resources, are necessary in order for the ABA to remain a robust professional association and maintain its status as the voice of the legal profession.
Sounds good, simplification could indeed lead to cost-savings.  But this addresses the "how," not the "why."  The question remains - why do new lawyers not join the ABA? 
Wait, OTLSS has a couple of ideas.  Could it be due to:
*  The "ethics" opinion that opened the door to overseas Legal Process Outsourcing?
Protecting LawPrawf tenure?
Making it easier for less-capable students to enter the Law School Gristmill?
Failure to audit and gaming of employment results?
More below the fold:

What is this about, actually, really?
A later presentation by ABA Treasurer Michelle A. Behnke put a finer point on the membership decline, which has resulted in significant revenue losses for the organization. Even with deep cuts in the past year, the ABA’s operating deficit was $7.7 million for fiscal year 2017.
Behnke agrees with the adage that you can’t cut your way to a healthy organization. But she cautioned that the organization also can’t ignore the reality of the expense and revenue picture.
And while she praised the work of the ABA throughout the U.S. and the globe, Behnke said the revenue decline must reverse in order for the ABA to be able to conduct its mission work.
“No money, no mission,” she told delegates. “We’ve got to pay attention to our finances and take some bold steps to reverse our dues decrease so that we will be able to defend liberty and pursue justice.”
Ah ha.  "Mission work," "throughout the U.S. and the globe[.]"  What are these missions?  Going to the ABA website, the tab for "ABA Charities" seems the most on point.  The listed organizations are the Fund for Justice and Education, the American Bar Endowment, and the American Bar Foundation.  What do these organizations do?

Through the generosity of our donors, the ABA Fund for Justice and Education serves as the link between the ABA’s commitment to public service and its ability to produce programs that improve the lives of those we are entrusted to serve. These programs are divided among five main areas of concentration:   
  1. Access to Justice [homelessness, poverty, immigration, disability, racial justice]
  2. Children & Family Rights [children, domestic violence, aging]
  3. Public Education [AIDS, Breast Cancer, Affordable Housing, Election Law, Substance Abuse]
  4. Professionalism and the Legal Profession [CLEs]
  5. International Justice [Human Rights, Environmental Law, International Law]
So, the FJE hits the high-points of what many Law Schools use to draw idealistic students into the fold - basically, the "Law School because Dolphins" argument.  While several of these topics are certainly important and deserve volunteer attention, there are several non-profits and foundations who consider these fields their primary mission as well, and, in some cases, are better at it.  As for the ABF:     

The American Bar Foundation's mission...is provided by the American Bar Endowment...[and] is committed to broad dissemination of research findings to the organized bar, scholars, and the general public. The results are published in a wide range of forums, including leading academic journals, law reviews, and academic and commercial presses.  Our research program is implemented through the projects designed and conducted by the resident research faculty.

Ok, so the same thing Law Schools already do, in spades.

Which comes to the point - when people talk about their "love of the law," do they idolize being a PI attorney?  Do they wax romantic about construction liens?  No, of course not...its all about "international law," and "human rights," and "justice."  Not the nuts-and-bolts about being a dime-a-dozen attorney, although one could argue that the ABA's CLEs and Legal Sections try to address these concerns. 
Except it's not working.  The rank-and-file sense the disconnect between mission work and work-a-day-work, and can tell the ABA favors the former.  To be fair, working to enact "liberty" and "justice" it is more satisfying than the daily grind - just look at superhero movies.  People generally want to be the hero making a significant change, not the bystander laying bricks because it needs to be done.  It's just that few have the luxury of being able to afford to be heroes, in many cases.

Wait, I've heard this story before, from somewhere - people pay a lot of money for no real gain, people stop attending, the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, revenues decline, interested parties try to get more and more non-attending-people to attend...in any event, turning back towards the rank-and-file membership, and supporting them in their seemingly mundane activities, may be what the ABA actually needs to be refocusing on.


  1. Or...perhaps their expenditures could be over-inflated salaries?

    Scroll down to Schedule "J" - this is a required filing by the IRS for organizations that purport to be "non-profit." This is their tax year 2015 filing.


    1. Whew! That's about a cool $6 million in salary and benefits alone. For around 20 people. Not bad, not bad at all...that's a lot of liberty and justice!

  2. Get Woke. Go Broke.

  3. The ABA has long been run by, and solely for, BigLaw partners and legal academics, as a vehicle to have conferences to spend someone else's money and to congratulate themselves on what great successes they are. The ABA has never had more than passing contempt for solo/small practitioners, but there was a time, back in olden days, that these grinders would join, thinking it cemented their status as members of an honored profession.
    No more; the poor souls trying to scratch out a living have come to recognize that ABA dues simply support the lavish lives of those running an organization totally out of touch with the needs of 80%+ of the profession it purports to represent. Just take a look at the quick list supplied by duped above. And that list excludes the efforts by the ABA-or its ignoring-efforts to actively sabotage small practitioners in the name of "access"; the best example is the organized bar in WA pushing "Limited Legal Technicians"...i.e. non-lawyers doing the small jobs that solo/small law lawyers did for years. To emphasize-it's the WA state bar pushing this, with the quiet agreement of the ABA.
    The ABA's attitude toward the problems of most attorneys has been pretty simple: let them eat cake. So here's hoping they get the Marie Antoinette conclusion to that business model.

    1. I don't know why anyone would join the ABA unless their dues were paid by someone else. (I thought that even in law school.) Who the heck would join the ABA?

      On a side note, please please please keep this site going. There are still a lot of lemmings out there. I heard a lady on the elevator at work talk about her son and his dreams of going to law school. I had to restrain myself. I know most of them won't or can't listen, but there are hopefully some that will hear our message.

    2. For what it is worth the head of the Florida Bar Association a few years back tried to open up the practice of law in Florida to lawyers from outside the State....I forget all of the details now, but it was tabled by the Florida Board of Governors after an outcry from the membership... of course this guy worked in a large multi-state Firm and it would have brought a lot more business to his firm. The bottom line is this is a profession where most lawyers are in it only for themselves instead of the broader good. That is why I laugh when the Florida Justice Association (previously known as the Florida Trial Lawyers Association), of which I am a member, always is pushing legislation that is supposedly good for "individuals and consumers" when in fact the legislation proposed is always to the benefit of the trial association and especially the large advertisers who get about 50% of the business these days.

  4. Is your last paragraph a dig at churches or unions (or both).

    1. Was referencing Law Schools specifically, but I guess it could be read for more than one entity.

      I was born south of the Mason-Dixon line, so some "churchy" language does find it's way into my prose on occasion...

    2. Actually, the "churchy" analogy works. A 300+ year-old congregation near me, which was flourishing fifteen years ago, is now struggling because people who wanted it to become an engine for left-wing political causes got control and soon the people who wanted to hear about God and the Scriptures started leaving because they were getting nothing out of it except a hard-sell for an annual pledge. Look at the ABA Journal, how much of what's published in there is of any use to a solo? Why spend the money? Can you afford a trip to Vancouver, BC and still have money for a family vacation? If an organization is interested in things that are of no interest or use to you why bother?

      And as an aside, as a lobbying group the ABA is useless save for biglaw partners' interests. When the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was passed the ABA didn't lift a finger to keep it from being applied to lawyers, thus putting the "profession" on the same level as the sleaziest of debt collectors. But who cares, right? Biglaw doesn't do consumer collection work, at least not yet.

  5. On top of that, the ABA has, hands down, the fugliest logo that I've ever seen. It looks like something that Dougie Fresh pulled out of his ass.

    I know that it's petty to bitch about the ABA's hideous goddamn logo, but one has to seize the opportunity.

  6. To future law school applicants who may enter this year or the following year:

    The one most important piece of advice I can give you all is learn to game the system. Spend a few months studying for the LSAT like your life depends upon it. At the end of the day, grades are grades. However, where you went to law school matters a lot more IF you get that first job out of law school.

    There is no reason to attend a school outside of the top 50, even the top 14 for that matter. Unless it is a strong regional where you can graduate at the top of your class against your peers.

    For instance, a person with a 3.5 GPA and 167 LSAT will do better on his exams (in a forced curve) if he attends a law school where the average LSAT is 160 or so. You can be a big fish in a small pond. He may get a full scholarship, do well in his class, and then work for some big-law firm in the state and make good money while living debt free.

    On the contrary, this person with a 3.5 GPA and a 167 LSAT will likely do a lot worse where the average LSAT is 174. Stats are stats. He then may graduate at the bottom of his class with big debt and UNEMPLOYED. At the end of the day, the LSAT is an intelligence test.

    At the same time, what makes the bottom 100-200 law schools really a joke is that these schools have graded legal writing and brutal curves where the bottom 10% at the end of 1L year are essentially failed out. I do not know anyone that has failed out of law school but it must be the worst feeling in the world.

    Moreover, what’s hilarious about it all is that even at these t-50 schools, these schools have forced curves whereas Harvard, Yale, Stanford don’t even have graded courses. They have High pass and pass and all these other b.s. terms. On the contrary, some school like UF or FSU may even grade legal writing and where people are actually FAILED.

    I heard some kid at UF/FSU actually failed legal writing and had to retake it but that is because the legal writing professor wanted to see him fail and get kicked out of law school.

    Graded legal writing is a joke. There is no reason to grade legal writing. But what makes it REALLY funny is that at the t-14, the curves are joke. Most people get easy grades and it’s downright impossible to get lower than a Low pass or whatever that means. That’s what makes everything so hilarious. The LSAT is the most important test you will ever take in your life and kids spend a month on it, get a 152, then go to Barry Law and take out $200k loans and think they made it when they work as some prosecutor/public defender in some po-dunk town making $42k a year.

    To future law school applicants. Please be smart.

    1. I don't support the suggestion of going to "a strong regional" toilet on the assumption of being able to "graduate at the top of your class".

      First of all, there is no such thing as a strong regional school. Only 13 law schools are worth attending even in principle, and none of them is "regional":


      Second, although coming in at the top of the class is very likely for someone who stands head and shoulders above the other students on the LSAT, it is by no means guaranteed. Don't casually bet $300k on graduating at the top of the class.

      Third, top grades from a toilet may not overcome the stench of the toilet's reputation. Not many employers want to interview anyone from La Toilette.

      I also don't agree that the schools at the bottom are systematically expelling the bottom 10% of the class by means of "brutal curves". People fail out of the über-toilets precisely for being so goddamn lousy that even the scamsters can't bear to keep them on. If "curves" were being used, we would expect a consistent percentage from year to year. Instead we see considerable fluctuation. And it's not 10%; often it's 20%, 25%, or 30%.

      Nor do "100-200 law schools" have so many people fail out; only a few dozen do.

      Even some über-toilets—Appalachian comes to mind—don't use grades in first year. That practice is not limited to the Harvards. Indeed, über-toilets have been accused of using non-standard grading practices to obstruct those students who would transfer out.

      I've seen, and graded, legal writing. Much of it is total shite that richly deserves an F. I don't agree that legal writing should not be graded; I would even raise the bar and require good legal writing as a condition of licensure.

  7. Über-toilet Thomas Jefferson is moving out of its extravagant building and into an office building run by a bank, as it simply cannot pay the bills with more than 500 students paying annual tuition of $50k each.

    Über-toilet Vermont Law School plans to reduce its faculty before the end of the month. Annual tuition of $48k just isn't enough.

  8. Two problems - the ABA undermined lawyers who went to law school many years ago by flooding the profession with many more lawyers than there are jobs. Many lawyers who once had good jobs no longer have good jobs or any jobs at all due to the horrific oversupply. The ABA tried to justify this with the "JD preferred" scam, without requiring law schools to publish salaries for any of their graduates and without any evidence that these jobs actually prefer JDs. Now the profession has many experienced lawyers working at a much lower pay scale by a long shot than new lawyers who have good private sector jobs, and the experienced lawyers have in many cases been pushed out of full-time permanent work long before retirement. Law has become a short-term career option rather than a lifetime career option because of the ABA's indifference to the damage it inflicts by failing to control the terrible lawyer oversupply.

    The other problem is the high cost of attending anything put out by the ABA, including meetings and teleconferences. Their products are unaffordable to most lawyers.

  9. They also missed the $1.3 Million diversion of funds for seven years.