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Legal associations struggle to keep members

Legal associations struggle to keep members

The vast array of legal membership-based associations are working harder than ever for their members, and in the current economic climate, the energy is specifically focused on keeping them.

THE vast array of legal membership-based associations are working harder than ever for their members, and in the current economic climate, the energy is specifically focused on keeping them.

As discretionary spend in most companies is cut, and as individual professionals weigh up the value they are gaining from their memberships, member associations globally are facing diminishing member numbers.

Legal associations globally are now concerned with shoring up their memberships and appealing to a broader audience in order to survive.

"Every single day we're refining our offering and I think that's an absolute necessity," said Australian Corporate Lawyers Association chief executive Peter Turner on keeping the association's membership.

Turner says not all legal member associations are suffering, and ACLA itself now has 3,100 members nationally, and scooped 600 new members in the past year.

However, ACLA's sister organisation in the US is the association of corporate counsel, based in Washington. It has traditionally had a membership of more than 25,000 inhouse lawyers, but membership is currently down six per cent or so, said Turner.

Just this month, the Australian Lawyers Alliance sacked half its workforce, a move attributed to static membership numbers in the current economic climate. The alliance, formerly known as the Plaintiff Lawyers Association, ousted its chief financial offers, two sponsorship officers and two assistant. Alliance national president Mark Blumer said the restructure was the result of the financial pressures on the group.

In the United States, the American Bar Association has reported that membership is not growing at the same rate of the profession. It is now tracking member revenue on a daily basis and so far expects a decline of between 2,000 and 4,000 members this year. As of the end of May, the ABA had lost 4,431 members from the same month in 2008, The National Law Journal reports.

"In these economic times, one can expect that some lawyers, because they were laid off or for other reasons, will be rethinking their membership in bar associations generally," said Patricia Refo, a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix who is the ABA's chair of the standing committee on membership.

"It's a mixed bag" when it comes to weighing up which associations are doing well and which are facing diminishing numbers, said ACLA's Turner. He attributes the split to tightening of discretionary spend. "Some organisations are very expensive and so they suffer."

But as some legal associations face reduced numbers, ACLA's membership has increased. "Some have increased numbers simply because people have more time and feel the need for a sense of community. They like to be part of an organisation that brings them together in tough times," he said.

Organisations need to work to add value for members more than ever, Turner said. It is an "absolute necessity to constantly innovate and reassess what members want or potential members want... We're trying hard to make sure what we do adds value," he said.

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