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Building the ISBA of the Future
The heat of forward motion is making February a warm month at the Illinois State Bar Association.
The malaise we sometimes experience each February may be evident in other quarters, but not at the ISBA. The heat created by all the activity shuts out the bitter winter and there is no time to notice the ongoing grey days. Things are hopping on several fronts, so let me share some of the activity, and perhaps it may even warm you up a little.
New Lawyer Task Force
I introduced this group in my first column back in July. I was hopeful they would give us some fresh ideas to attract younger members to the ISBA and I have not been disappointed. Marron Mahoney and Brian Monico have led a lively, dedicated, and diligent group of young lawyers who issued two written reports before December. No offense to the rest of us, but when was the last time an ISBA task force delivered two reports in less than five months?
In its October 2013 report, the task force noted: "The overarching observation from the initial research shows that ISBA offers a significant amount of services that young lawyers and law students are looking for - the problem is that this demographic is largely unaware of what the ISBA does and what benefits it can provide to new lawyers."
This New Lawyer Task Force finding confirmed my concern that tried and true marketing efforts of the past may no longer be viable. In July, I noted that ISBA needs to rigorously define our target member market and concentrate our marketing on tangible member benefits like free online CLE, free Fastcase, and free daily legal news and case law updates.
The task force research highlighted the need for redirection and we acted on it. Not only have we turned around the annual membership decline of the recent decade, but our numbers are actually up since last year. Our approach this year is simple - membership is the job of everyone - officers, staff, and members alike. We each need to be involved, to provide excellent service to our current members, and to create an association attractive to the newest members of our profession.
To do that, the New Lawyers Task Force recommended a renewed investment in technology. They proposed the ISBA take steps to initiate and fund a new, dedicated microsite specifically for new lawyers. Work on that project has already started. They also suggested personalization and customization of the current website and microsite, development of mobile apps or bookmarked pages, and the long-term update of the ISBA website.
The ISBA has great educational programming, but again our young lawyers don't know about it. The task force recommended a rebranding and regrouping of programs to specifically target the needs of today's young lawyers and suggested an encompassing brand like "The ISBA Practice Academy." The courses would include practical content like law firm billing and operations, employment law basics, marketing, trial techniques, public speaking, and short how-to videos on routine matters.
The task force stressed the importance of creating relationships between young lawyers and more senior ISBA members. In their research and surveys, they noted a recurring theme of young lawyers desiring to have greater interaction with more seasoned attorneys and leaders in the legal community.
In November, the ISBA YLD held an informal lunch program featuring three well-known judges who spoke candidly with the young crowd about their personal experiences and expectations for lawyers in their courtrooms. The candor and accessibility of these veteran jurists was hugely welcomed by our younger members.
The task force also wants to jump on an idea first organized by our Senior Lawyers Section Council to teach computer technology to senior lawyers, perhaps expanding to iPad technology and pairing young lawyers with senior lawyers in a personalized, hands-on setting. Another idea from the task force - having a "speed networking" event similar to the concept of "speed dating," but for new lawyers to get know their more established peers.
The New Lawyer Task Force also looked to our future and how the ISBA could attract law students to join. It considered four activities including "the traditional approach, a book club, 'law after dark' and a road trip." As a mother, I pretty much vetoed the "road trip" idea, but we are working on the others.
Board of Governors committees
And the young lawyers are not the only ones working hard. The two Board committees I created have also been working overtime.
The governance committee, under the leadership of Third Vice-President Vincent Cornelius and the Hon. Celia Gamrath, is exploring the ISBA structure and looking at the size of our officer group, Board of Governors, and Assembly - are we the right size to respond to the changing needs of our membership? I have also appointed a collateral Assembly committee to get their perspective on this issue. There are no foregone conclusions, but we need to constantly re-examine ourselves to remain relevant.
The facilities and technology committee has been busy with our continuing efforts to provide the most usable space possible for our membership. They are revamping old offices at the Chicago Regional Office, which we previously used for storage and occasional videotaping. Plans include a member lounge area, CLE overflow rooms, increased technology, and uniform wi-fi service. We expect to finish sometime in March. ISBA Secretary Jim McCluskey, Board member Karen Enright, and a very invested committee are charged with the remodeling.
ISBA Executive Director Bob Craghead is leading the effort to restructure our staff resources to better align with our value proposition of providing relevant benefits and service to members within budget. He is working with staff in both Springfield and Chicago, the president, and other officers and board members, as well as gathering data through surveys and one-on-one discussions. We are building the bar association of the future.
As I said, at the ISBA, February is no time to languish. Stay warm my friends.