Bar News - April 20, 2016
Survey: Members Seek More Value from Bar in Uncertain Era
By: Dan Wise
NH Bar Association members responded in unexpectedly large numbers to a survey soliciting their views on how the association can best serve them in the years ahead. The survey, sent to a sample of 2,000 of the approximately 5,000 active-status members, drew more than 600 responses – a 30 percent response rate.
The survey is part of a multi-year strategic planning effort to realign the services of the Bar Association to address member needs.
Members cited a number of concerns regarding the future of the profession, and many, as indicated by their responses to open-ended questions, are looking to the NH Bar Association to help them grapple with the challenging aspects of law practice.
“Lawyers are looking for support from the Bar Association and see it as an entity that can help,” said NHBA President Mary Tenn. “The Bar Association now offers a wide array of services. We wanted to find out whether members were aware of what we do, what challenges they see ahead for themselves and for the practice of law, and whether the members had ideas about what we should do or stop doing,” said Tenn.
Eighty percent of survey respondents said the association was either “very valuable” or “valuable” to them in their professional lives. They indicated that continuing legal education/professional development was by far the most important service the bar association offers, followed by information to help them keep current.
The NHBA Board of Governors and members of the association staff are poring over the survey results, said NHBA Executive Director Jeannine McCoy, and will be looking at where immediate changes can be made, what areas of major concern have emerged, and what questions the survey raises that could be answered by further consultation with the membership through brief, targeted surveys, focus groups, or other means.
Among the findings:
Departures ahead. The survey reveals that many attorneys are planning to leave the profession or are uncertain about what the future holds for their careers. Due to demographics, discontent or anticipated displacement, nearly one in five (18.5 percent) of all Bar members expect they will not be practicing law in 10 years. Young or old, one in four respondents answered “not sure/don’t know” when asked whether they would still be practicing law in 2026.
Major changes in practice expected. Major changes in law practice are expected by 61.2 percent of the members surveyed, with men and lawyers in the law firms with more than 10 lawyers expressing the greatest concern. Technology, competition and declines in the perceived value of attorneys topped the list. (See accompanying chart.) “There are too many lawyers and not enough work that pays well enough to cover the increasing expenses and expectations,” one respondent wrote.
CLE most valued. Overwhelmingly, providing continuing education programming is the most highly valued NH Bar Association service, with 84 percent of all respondents citing it as the most important service the association provides. Despite the many other options now available to attorneys looking to fulfill continuing education requirements, 81 percent of respondents reported attending or participating in NHBA CLE offerings.
Information role important. The association’s role in keeping members informed was the second most-frequently mentioned valuable service (55 percent of respondents). Members cited the New Hampshire Bar News as the most important vehicle for that information. Asked about future enhancements, members cited emails on targeted areas of practice as a service they would like to see provided, as well as more Bar News-type content posted online.
Advocacy role questioned. Advocacy was the third-most important area of work cited by respondents, but about 20 percent of members surveyed were unaware of issues on which the bar has advocated. Asked to list what issues the Bar Association should be advocating for, 18.7 percent cited adequate funding for the courts, modernizing court operations and reducing court delays. However, a portion of the membership cited the need for more clarity or limits on what lobbying is conducted (8.4 percent) or believe the association should not be lobbying at all (5.4 percent).
Three-fourths do pro bono. About 75 percent of Bar members say they have provided pro bono legal services in the past five years, with 54 percent of them having provided pro bono independently of the NH Bar Association Pro Bono Referral Program. The major reason attorneys gave for doing pro bono independently was the ability to select their own clients. Of those who have not done pro bono work at all, the main reasons cited were that their “area of practice does not lend itself,” or because they are in government positions.
Interestingly, an open-ended question about fulfilling the legal needs of low- and moderate-income people in the future drew more hundreds of suggestions. Cases affected by mental health and substance abuse issues were of highest concern, followed by elder law, and family law issues.
Lesser-known services. The survey also asked some questions about areas where the Bar Association has not been particularly active, such as providing law practice management services, and networking/business connection opportunities. The Bar Association maintains resources on its website to assist lawyers with practice management, and association events and email list-serves provide connection opportunities, but in neither area has the Bar offered a concerted focus.
Of the 71 percent of respondents in private practice who responded to questions about business management help, there appeared to be little enthusiasm for added services or programs. Help with marketing their practices topped the list, with 27.9 percent of respondents mentioning it, followed by a lawyer-to-lawyer referral database (26.9 percent) and advice on office technology (25.8 percent). Forty-seven percent said they might pay a fee for additional business management services, a share that did not vary among geographic groups, including out-of-state members.
As with other areas of the survey, respondents were asked to identify their current behaviors in the area of networking. The in-person experience of making connections occurred most often at CLEs (61.7 percent), with email-group participation a distant second, followed by local bar meetings (27.8 percent) and section meetings (23.6 percent). A sizable number of members do not actively seek to make connections with other attorneys – 17.9 percent of respondents.
One-third of respondents said the NH Bar Association could better meet their needs for personal connections by increasing attendance at association events, 26 percent endorsed the idea of developing ways to connect older and younger attorneys, or after-work gatherings (25.7 percent). However, a full 24 percent responded “none of the above” to suggested ways to increase networking.
The survey results will be discussed by the NH Bar Association Board of Governors at its next scheduled meeting, on April 21.
The sample of 2,000 active-status members was calibrated to gather a statistically valid number of responses from various demographic and geographic subgroups. The demographic profile of the respondents closely mirrored the demographics of the Bar Association’s active-status membership.
Additional findings from the multi-faceted survey, delving into specific subject areas and highlighting the concerns of subgroups in the diverse membership, will be regularly posted at www.nhbar.org. Please send questions or comments to email@example.com.