Idea Lightbulb

Yes, your ideas would be helpful here!

The title “What don’t bar associations know?” is more than just an invitation to easy humor. It is my way of considering how such associations can serve multiple constituencies well.

My day job is putting out a monthly magazine aimed at lawyers. But today’s inquiry is related to a future presentation, one in which solid lessons must be imparted to some folks who lead bars.

This may surprise some of you, but most all of those people are extremely bright. And they also maintain their own practices, so they typically have a good handle on what’s up (and down) in the legal economy.

But still, it’s worth asking. So let me put it this way: Would it be helpful for bar leaders to become adept at topics covered in seminars that promised to teach “10 Things You and Your Bar Should Know About

  • Reaching your younger members
  • What senior members want from your bar
  • Why law practice succession planning matters to your bar
  • Why poor access to justice is your bar’s problem
  • Technology that is transforming law practice
  • Modern challenges facing small firms and solos (and how to support them)
  • Modern challenges facing large law firms (and how to support them)
  • Modern challenges facing your law schools (and how to support them)
  • Modern challenges facing your courts (and how to support them)

I could go on, but you may get the idea. Useful? Yes? No? Maybe?

Even if these topics are OK, what would you add to the list?

What should bar leaders know? Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Arizona Attorney ideas

Yes, I found the Scrabble tile in the street. The “I” just spoke to me.

At least one bar association offers a shield for a logo.

At least one bar association offers a shield for a logo.

This week, my family and I have the great good pleasure of being in Boston, Mass., as we deliver a child to college life.

Amidst the inevitable lobster dinner and a stroll on the Freedom Trail, I decided to look into a legal aspect to Beantown.

That’s a tradition I started years ago, always intrigued by the way other legal communities and associations do things. And that’s what takes me to the website of the Boston Bar Association.

The “look” of the BBA has always been one of my favorites, for a few reasons, I guess. (And no, not just because I will visit with friend and now-retired BBA communications exec Bonnie Sashin while I’m there!)

First, it’s one of the rare bar sites to go for a dark look. Perhaps seeking to avoid the shady reputation that attorneys may have, most legal organizations connote sweetness and bright-white light. The BBA site is steadfastly dark and yet still inviting—not unlike that stereotypical lawyer’s study we never see anymore.

Second, it has a shield. I know, all bars have a logo. But the Boston bar dispenses with a round image and opts for something that reminds us of, I don’t know, the Battle of Hastings. Very regal and heraldic.

Boston-Bar-Association logo

Content is king, though, and that’s where I admit they have it. I’ll point just to one element I found worthy of emulation: their stable of in-house blogs.

Yes, here in Arizona, we have a Blog Network that features the work of scores of lawyers. But the only blog I know of emanating from within the Bar’s walls itself is mine—this one.

Beautiful façade of the Boston Bar Association: Pass the chowder.

Beautiful façade of the Boston Bar Association: Pass the chowder.

Emerging from the Revolutionary-era brick building of the BBA, though, are a veritable army of well-done blogs. You can see the entire list here.

I’ll call you attention to one in particular today. The “Issue Spot” blog (their public policy blog) asks and examines a compelling question: Are prosecutors and public defenders paid enough?

As I adjust my lobster bib, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for other praiseworthy Boston legal connections. Can you recommend one? Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Jordan Furlong

Jordan Furlong

If you care about the direction the legal profession is headed (and I think you do), one person you ought to be reading is Jordan Furlong. The lawyer and accomplished speaker strategizes some of the best ways forward for lawyers and law firms.

In a recent blog post, he also offered advice to bar associations, which he says are in need of transformation.

Before you agree wholeheartedly, you should read his take on what he thinks many bars need to do—and already may be doing right:

“Bar associations are facing some existential challenges right now, and I wouldn’t want to see them just disappear beneath the waves without trying to extend a hand.”

“Many bar associations find, when they do a sober inventory of their true assets, that they have fewer than they supposed, especially in terms of the relevance and distinctiveness of their activities and services. Almost everything they offer to lawyers can be replicated in some way by other service providers, most of which have neither the overhead costs nor the organizational slow-footedness that hamstring associations. Like law firms, these are legacy organizations with legacy costs and legacy thinking, and they find adjustment to be a very difficult process.”

“But what most bar associations can still boast, the one legacy holdover that’s helpful to them, is their reputation: the brand recognition and authority they can still muster among lawyers. These assets have been developed over the course of many years of service, albeit service to a very different profession in a very different market than this one. But the respect survives as brand awareness, legitimacy and trust — much as it does for many historic law firms whose name partners died a long time ago.”

Brand awareness, legitimacy and trust—these are all elements of Arizona Attorney Magazine’s mission statement, so I’d like to think the State Bar of Arizona is on the right track, even in challenging times.

And when Furlong says that many so-called strengths “can be replicated in some way by other service providers,” I recall lawyer Mike Ostermeyer’s chuckling that lawyers (and maybe bars) all think their offerings are above average, as in Lake Wobegon. (We can’t all be above average, can we?)

Furlong goes on to advise about some practices bars may adopt to help them remain relevant to members.

How does your experience compare?

In February, I had the opportunity to hear Furlong speak at a national conference of bar executives. He was compelling and a little bit frightening—exactly the wake-up call he was hoping to deliver.

I was asked to write a news story about Furlong’s talk; you can read that here (go to page 5).

(If you’re of a mind to do it, you also can read an article there on page 3 about how a conference panel of “social media pros”—including moi—updated an eager audience.)

As I describe in my article, Furlong advises bar associations to remember that they serve the legal profession, which encompasses more than just lawyers. That broadening of scope may increase the reach of bars, but it may not be most pleasing to attorneys.

Jordan Furlong presentation at the National Association of Bar Executives, Dallas, Texas, Feb. 6, 2013.

Jordan Furlong presentation at the National Association of Bar Executives, Dallas, Texas, Feb. 6, 2013.

Furlong also points readers to an article by Sam Glover called “How Can Bar Associations Stay Relevant.” I recommend that too.

Finally, here’s a last mention on the bar association topic.

In a recent blog post regarding “the cloud” and how lawyers can grow comfortable with storage options “up there,” LexisNexis expert Frank Strong suggested some strategies.

Beyond the “early adopters,” he says, attorneys may need prodding to feel secure in the cloud. And among four key factors he points to, bar associations are essential:

“Bar association endorsements. Several state bar associations have validated the ethics of cloud computing. In many ways, they’ve caused an industrywide stutter-step to cloud computing adoption. Initially they advised caution, but months later, in its simplest form, their advice is to disclose your use of the cloud to clients and to do your due diligence on vendors to ensure they are treating the data with care.”

That step is one that Furlong and Glover would recommend as reclaiming the relevance of bar associations. It is assistance with law practice made concrete.

You should read Frank Strong’s whole article here.

And on Arizona’s approach to the cloud, you also should read an Arizona Ethics Opinion from 2009 on “Confidentiality; Maintaining Client Files; Electronic Storage; Internet.”