What will we look like in 2024?

I remember that as a child I could not wait to grow up. Do you remember that feeling as a kid? “Why does life seem so slow?” “I feel as though I have been 11 forever, will I ever turn 12?” Ah’, those were the days. Now fast forward and our response sounds more  like: “No, it can’t possibly be my birthday already, I just had it…”. What we learn as we age is that life is moving faster than ever before.

I was reminded of this “aging reality” this past weekend while in attendance at a bar meeting, Conference of Metro Bar Associations (COMBA). I have written about COMBA before, but as a refresher, this particular conference is a favorite of both bar executives and presidents because it is small, and the attendees are all from local bars with anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 members.

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Our keynote speaker was Mary Byers, author of several books about associations, Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations and Road to Relevance. I have read both of these books, along with many others, about the evolution underway for associations, and from each I receive insightful and thoughtful information to ponder throughout my days and nights. One of the themes that is running through all these books is that change is coming — we cannot deny it or stop it. So the question becomes, what do we do?

Mary challenged us to consider not what we are doing in 2014, but instead to be thinking about 2024, ten years out. Though I agree with Mary that we need to be looking 10 years out, I also believe we need to be looking 1, 3 and 5 years out.

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One of the other realities of bar association life is that we are creatures of habit. Our cultures are about retaining programs that we have managed forever simply because they have been around forever, with no thought or reflection about what impact we may be having in present day. How many members are utilizing these programs or services? Are the programs and services relevant? Are we creating impact? If associations are not moving to make change, but instead are locked in a time mode of doing everything like we have always done, Mary describes this as “association fear factor.” Association fear factor is when our failure to act on sun-setting a program or service is due to fear of offending a bar president or committee or section even though the program is no longer relevant.

Mary’s caution was that our associations will be evolving in the years to come and her challenge to us was, how will we respond to this evolution?

We will be facing a shift in these generational members in the coming years. For the MCBA, our largest population of members is in the Baby-Boomer group. Over the next 5-10 years, a large portion of this group will be looking to retire.

Some of the questions Mary has me asking about the MCBA:

What will we look like in 5 years? In 10 years?

Will our membership decline? If so, by how much?

What will our members want and expect from the MCBA?

What types of programs and services will members wants?

Will value-added programs for members outweigh programs for community?

Will the traditional dues model continue to exist or will the model evolve more into “menu type” model of fee for service?

Do we continue to support large committee and section infrastructures or do we develop “strike force teams” to assume a specific charge, do their work and get out, thus, relieving members of unnecessary meetings and giving them back the gift of time?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do believe this is a dialogue we should be encouraging at the Board level and at the Committee and Section levels. What do you think? Should we be talking about it? Are you interested in perhaps joining a small group to talk about the possible evolution of this association? If so, please send me a quick email at mloewenguth@mcba.org and let’s see what might transpire.

There were several “walk aways” for me. I heard many of my fellow conference go-ers speak about their challenges with young lawyers that are not engaged with the Association. This is not a challenge for us at the MCBA. We have a 20% participation rate from our young lawyers. Their section is vibrant and engaged in both educational programming as well as community service. They are seeking leadership opportunities, and once there, delivering on them. So I caution those of you that do not believe the young lawyers are engaged with the Association. The “Momma Bear” in me will come out in a very protective way to correct this misunderstanding.

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Happy Fall! Thanks for checking in,

Mary

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