Guest Post by Liz Novak: The Changing Landscape of Membership

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the ABA Midyear meeting for the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE). Since I joined the MCBA almost 7 years ago, I have belonged to NABE and its Communications Section for obvious reasons — as I was originally hired as the organization’s Communications Manager.  Through the years, my role here at the Association has evolved to include membership and eventually our Foundation.

My title is “Membership, Communications and Foundation Manager,” and to me, it makes perfect sense that “Membership” is the first word as without our members, the rest would not exist. In the past, I have attended NABE Communications Section workshops but was unable to do so this year. As much of my work now is focused on membership, retention and benefits, when the opportunity arose to attend the Midyear meeting (as both Mary and Diane were not able to attend), I decided to take advantage…and am happy I did.

The underlying theme of the conference was change and adapting to it. One of my favorite quotes from the conference by the opening speaker Curt Garbett of RedTree Leadership & Development was “Change is neither good nor bad, it just is.”

change is

I attended several different sessions, but there were two that I found particularly valuable: one on new lawyers and the challenges they face and one on membership development. And for both sessions, change was a key point – how the landscape for new lawyers has changed and is changing; and how members view associations and the reasons for joining (or not joining) is changing.

Attending a professional conference is often a mixed bag of humility versus ego. Last week, I learned things we could do better, but I also patted my proverbial shoulder a couple of times for what we do well.

But the question you may be asking is how does attending a conference translate to you – our members. As I sat in one session, I thought about how we promote our benefits to you and which ones we choose to highlight to you. We here at the MCBA focus our attention on telling you what our benefits are and why you should renew or join because of those benefits, but maybe that needs to change.  Instead, we could listen to what you view as the benefits and reasons for joining the MCBA.

Of course, what one sees as a reason for joining may vary by practice area and particularly by office setting.  If you’re working in a government or public sector, you may see the reasons for belonging to the MCBA very differently than a colleague who is a solo practitioner or a young lawyer. And a brand new lawyer may see the reasons for belonging different than young lawyers.

Maybe 10, 20, 30 years ago this wasn’t the case – you simply joined the bar association as your professional organization as soon as you were admitted and stayed a member until you retired. That’s simply what you did. But the landscape has changed for everyone — and particularly for new lawyers who have graduated from law school in the past five years. With fewer jobs out there and increasing student loan debt, more new attorneys are going out on their own. People all over are looking at how they spend money and asking before they make a purchase: Am I going to use it? This goes for associations, athletic clubs, and preferred customer cards at a store – anything that requires payment to belong. People ask their friends: Is it worth it to join? When it comes to the MCBA, I want the answer to be yes.

What one group needs from the Association is very different than what another may need. For example, we have one young attorney who uses our conference rooms one or twice per week to meet with his clients. He needs a room to meet with his clients, and this is a benefit we offer to members. As a solo, young attorney, this is a significant benefit to him. However, to an attorney who works at a large firm downtown, this benefit probably doesn’t even register.

Our challenge here is to create enough meaningful and relevant benefits for all – despite the ever-changing landscape.

The first step in doing that is asking you what the key issues are for your practice in your particular office setting, age group, practice, etc. today. The only way we will know if you find value in your membership is if you tell us; the only way we will know if the new benefits we launched last year served you is if you tell us; and the only way we will know if as a association we are relevant to you and your practice is if you tell us. The path to relevance needs to be a direct route – and that’s through you.

At our membership committee meeting this week we will be discussing potential membership surveys to be distributed in the near future.  I use the plural version as we will be looking at a variety of surveys that target specific segments — e.g. solo/small firm attorneys, large firms, new lawyers. The results from these surveys will help us as we plan for next year.

In the meantime, you don’t have to wait for a survey. If you have any feedback or input how we can be more relevant to you and your practice, please let me know. You can send me an email at or give me a call 402-7193.

I thank you for your membership, your participation and for taking the time to read this.


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