The Arizona State Bar’s annual convention is underway. Nevada’s annual meeting is also this month. This prompts the questions, “Who still attends these annual shindigs?” and “Why?” Someone still goes. I went last year to Arizona’s although I hadn’t been to Nevada’s in years. Count me no-show this year and next and . . . .
The economic recession and moribund economy remain the biggest obstacles obviating attendance. And if you’re from out of town, there are those added costs, too.
Then you add the plethora of lower cost alternative continuing legal education sources on top of the increased competition from so-called specialty bars and you have diminishing justification and declining attendance.
The other advertised draws of attending annual bar conventions are the networking opportunities and rarefied professional collegiality that are supposed to abound. By and large, this doesn’t happen, although it can be a good opportunity to see friends, assuming they aren’t in the 90 percent that don’t attend. The fact is that bar conventions are mainly forums for bar leadership and their habitues.
Even under normal circumstances, attendance at state bar conventions was never robust and hardly representative. Of a given jurisdiction’s total number of lawyers, attendance typically came in well under 10 percent, usually around 6 to 7 percent.
In the past 5 years, for example, Wisconsin’s annual convention has averaged 965 attendees out of a lawyer population of about 15,000. In 2009, attendance hit a record low and so the Wisconsin Law Journal was elated to report an uptick this year, Attendance rebounds at State Bar gathering.
In 2005, fifteen percent of the state bars discontinued annual or midyear meetings due to declining attendance. Among these were Oregon, Colorado, California and Nebraska. See ABA Division for Bar Services: Bar Activities Inventory.
In its July 2009 economic survey report, the ABA Division for Bar Services found that “Almost one‐fourth of respondents indicated their annual meeting attendance had declined in the July report.” See Overall Results.
And in its final report in December 2009, the ABA Division of Bar Services stated, “The percentage of respondents indicating their annual meeting attendance had decreased remained about the same in March (14%) and in December (16%).” Impact of Economic Downturn on State and Local Bars Survey.
What of “that other 90%?”
In 2001, the American Bar Association published a report on annual state bar convention attendance. 2001 also found the U.S. in a recession albeit not as severe as the current one.
So consequently, the ABA’s report on meeting attendance is especially relevant given the overall economy now compared to 9 years ago, especially with respect to law firms.
The report concluded with a succession of questions, which are even more deserving of consideration today: “Why should a bar association try to force one meeting to appeal to a potentially diverse membership?
Is this not a continuation of the one-size-fits-all theory of membership, which destines bars to irrelevance?
And is it really so unthinkable that annual and midyear meetings appeal more to leadership than to the average dues-paying member?
If a meeting continues to be valuable to 10% of the membership, the meeting may be a viable way to target one segment of the bar’s market.
But, the question remains – what does the bar provide for that other 90%?” See ABA Division for Bar Services: Meeting Attendance Survey & Summary.