In 1979, when I joined the Indianapolis Bar Association as a law student, my mentor, Robert F. Wagner, told me that it was my duty as a lawyer to join the bar. In those days, any poll of bar members would have revealed that more than 80 percent of members joined their voluntary bar associations out of a sense of duty. It was simply the right thing to do.
Today, most polls are finding that fewer than 20 percent of lawyers join or remain members of the bar out of a sense of duty. These days, lawyers are joining to network, obtain information and education, and to gain other member services. A sense of duty to join and belong is simply not a driver any longer.
Anyone who is paying attention to writers and futurists understands that the foundation of the legal profession is shifting under our feet like sand. More and more people are choosing to represent themselves with the help of online forms and legal help services. Big business is reducing legal spend, and more companies are taking legal work in house in lieu of the hourly billing. Large pieces of legal work have been commoditized, and are being performed off shore or paraprofessionals are doing work once performed by lawyers. Technology has radically changed the way law is being practiced and now allows for competition from afar.
These changes are here to stay, and some would say that they are overdue. There are excellent legal jobs available for lawyers, but the traditional law firm model is changing forever. In the early going, the changes were most apparent in “big law.” However, even solo practitioners are soon going to see their practices change.
Sadly, many lawyers are oblivious to the change that is occurring, or they think that it will not affect them. Soon, many will find themselves working harder for less return, or they will find themselves out of work completely.
If there was ever a time that our profession needed its bar associations, the time is now. We need to be the advocate for our profession at the same time that we provide services and support for all of our members. As law jobs change and evolve, we need to be the ones educating our members and the public about the changing face of law. We need to manage the change and, we need to accept what we cannot resist, and we need to resist what may not be best for consumers.
I submit to you that there is still a duty (and a pressing need) for lawyers to join and support their bar associations. We need everyone at the table. It is STILL the right thing to do. Please join us.•