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Editorial Advisory Board: Growing pains at the MSBA

Change in an organization can be good. Difficult, yes, but good. Particularly when it brings new ideas, new technology and much-sought-after new membership. But when implementing change, inclusion of members and adhering to your mission is key to a successful transition, something the Maryland State Bar Association should consider.

In case you haven’t  noticed, the MSBA is in the throes of much-needed change. Membership has been declining in recent years (now around 53 percent of Maryland lawyers) and the association is struggling with its relevance and ability to attract younger lawyers, an issue faced by most bar associations around the country.

One-third of MSBA members are over the age of 60, and retaining those lawyers while still attracting younger lawyers is challenging. Many members are millennials who have always had the internet at their fingertips and expect instant information, not antiquated technology. Networking and personal interaction is not that important and when faced with competing priorities of work, family and friends joining the MSBA is not high on their list. Even with the second-lowest state bar association dues in the country the MSBA has to make changes to become relevant and profitable.

So how is the MSBA changing? Over a year ago, a new executive director, Victor Velazquez, replaced retiring Paul Carlin, who had served the organization for more than 30 years. Victor brings with him experience from The District of Columbia Bar and various other associations. He has implemented administrative changes and technology upgrades that were long overdue. A new marketing firm is highlighting the faster, mobile-friendly website, more CLE classes and greater connection through social media. A modern logo voted upon by the MSBA Board of Governors has been unveiled. Publications are looking different.

All of this and more is found in a recently emailed newsletter and May 15 Bar Bulletin, “Inner Workings @ MSBA.” The website (MSBA.org)  also includes an informative “Frequently Asked Questions” (go to “For Members,” and then “Inner Workings @ MSBA”).

These latest publications emphasize the MSBA is “committed to improving its communication with members.” But are  the leaders of the MSBA really communicating with their members? Communication is not just telling members about changes; it requires listening as well. Many members are asking themselves: Is there a good reason for this change and how does it make me a better lawyer? How will these changes help me to help others and maintain or enhance my income?

What happened to Solo Day at the Annual Meeting and why are we spending money for national speakers? Why are periodicals, especially the Bar Journal, becoming less substantive? Is the outsourcing of duties at the bar office affecting the focus and oversight of the MSBA? Why are we seeing non-law-related “fluff” articles (especially ones that advise us to “detoxify” by a writer who fails to include her credentials but refers readers to her website where her products are sold)? Who is making these decisions? How do we measure the success of these changes?

Any change should also reflect the “mission” of the Maryland State Bar Association: “The MSBA exists to effectively represent Maryland’s lawyers, to provide member services and to promote professionalism, diversity in the legal profession, access to justice, service to the public and respect for the rule of law.” Are the changes being made in furtherance of the mission statement?

We recognize change is necessary if the organization is going to thrive, maybe even survive. But the MSBA should consider what makes it a successful organization – the members, especially those volunteering hundreds (even  thousands) of hours to the organization. Many have served on various committees for years and their institutional knowledge is worthy of consideration and inclusion in the change process. Those volunteers serve because they really care about the integrity and reputation of the MSBA and their chosen profession. We all do.

So, yes, change is good. But the way change is implemented is as important as the change itself. We encourage leadership to take a step back, listen to members and consider  your mission. The future of the Maryland State Bar Association depends on it.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

John Bainbridge Jr.

Wesley D. Blakeslee

Martha Ertman

Arthur F. Fergenson

Susan Francis

Marcella A. Holland

David Jaros

Ericka King

Stephen Meehan

C. William Michaels

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

H. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the Board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the Bench, Bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, majority views and signed rebuttals will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.

 

Find out more about the members of the Editorial Advisory Board.