The MSBA is Growing: Insights and Updates from MSBA Executive Director
After a decade plus of contraction and with voluntary Bars all across the country continuing to experience contraction, why is MSBA growing?
The key to understanding the fortunes of the MSBA as the home of the legal profession in Maryland lies in understanding societal shifts that have taken place and the need to account for those macro trends. As we celebrate our 125th anniversary, the constant throughout those many decades has been change and evolution. When I arrived in January, 2017, the profession had been moving on from our MSBA for more than a decade. A 2015 McKinley survey noted significant areas of opportunity for us to deliver the experience and resources sought by attorneys and legal professionals.
We embarked on a multi-year journey to transform our MSBA and thus ensure its place not only for current times but into the future. Just about everything we do has been touched in some way by this necessary journey. We are witnessing the largest consumption of MSBA resources in its history. These are facts. Nearly every metric we measure has improved and in some cases dramatically. We are nearing completion of the next survey to help us compare those 2015 results with how the profession is viewing the MSBA of today.
The tension: The Club model versus Resource Model
We are hearing from numerous attorneys that ‘the MSBA is much more useful to me today’ than ever before. Achieving 105.3% of our budgeted dues revenue is just one tangible indicator that satisfaction and relevancy has materially improved. But there remains a tension. As the MSBA continues its path to becoming an indispensable resource for attorneys in Maryland and beyond its borders, less emphasis has been placed on the small gatherings and in-person activities that a segment of our membership yearn for. COVID-19 notwithstanding, the majority of members have indicated that they value content much more so than attending an event. In our digital world, this is not a trend limited to us. It’s a societal trend. And yet, we work hard to deliver exceptional in-person experiences. In 2018 and 2019, our Legal Summit & Annual Meeting had two consecutive years of significant attendance growth after a period of decline. Our plans for 2022 have no less focus on having the biggest attendance in recent memory. However, even if two thousand attorneys participate in the Legal Summit, we acknowledge that only represents 5% of the legal profession in Maryland.
Our challenge is to continue to provide the experiences some members have ‘grown up with’ at our MSBA while addressing the significant numbers who are demanding something different from us. We can strive to do both but the experiences of the past will necessarily not be our experience into the future.
We know with certainty that attempting to convince today’s attorneys to want to do and experience what attorneys did yesterday resulted in a shrinking member base. Not only here, but at all 26 voluntary state Bars. Only when we listened and began to evolve, beginning with the key vote of our Board of Governors in May, 2017, did our fortunes change.
A strong MSBA means effective advocacy for this profession, as witnessed when taxation of legal services became a possibility. A strong MSBA means 40K hours of content are produced and consumed by attorneys in a little over a year…at no extra cost to them. Although we remain the 2nd lowest cost State Bar in the US, our true definition of success is relevancy and value. We are delivering more of that than ever before at your….MSBA.