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In a move it believes will benefit the entire legal community, the New Haven County Bar Association recently revised its membership bylaws to include non-attorney members. According to Carolyn B. Witt, executive director of the NHCBA, the organization took a major step this summer by expanding its membership categories to include “associate members” in the legal field. Witt said associate members — law students and professors, clerks, librarians, legal administrators and paralegals — are non-voting members eligible for the same benefits as attorneys. The change in the organization’s bylaws was approved in June during a special meeting. “The NHCBA hopes that by welcoming its newest members, the organization is better able to assist and support all participants in the legal community,” Witt said. NHCBA President Christian P. Edmonds, an attorney with Branford, Conn.’s Edmonds & Bruno, said that 12 people have joined as associate members since June, although the organization had not yet actively begun recruiting associate members. “It has been well received,” Edmonds said. “I think there was some resistance among attorneys at first to [the organization] being opened up to others.” Edmonds said that more attorneys eventually embraced the idea of expanding the membership because the bylaw change came at a time when multi-disciplinary practice was a topic of discussion in the legal community. Witt said the topic of membership categories arose after several years of discussion on how lawyers and law firms could better serve their clients, and also after a strategic plan for the NHCBA’s future was approved two years ago. Last year, the organization’s membership committee was asked to study what other associations were doing about allowing non-attorneys to join their ranks, and found that two-thirds of bar associations across the country already had such categories in place. Patricia Kaplan, director of New Haven Legal Assistance and treasurer of the NHCBA, conducted the study along with others in the organization’s membership committee. “We’re excited about this,” Kaplan said of the change in bylaws. “Paralegals have long volunteered their time, and we thought it was important to acknowledge them by making a membership category that would include them.” According to Christopher G. Blake, director of communications for the Connecticut Bar Association, the organization formed a category for associate members in 1997 to include law students, professors and most others “devoted primarily to the practice of law.” Blake said the categories did not include vendors to the organization. He added that associate members did not have voting rights in the CBA and cannot serve in such official capacities as representatives to the House of Delegates or nominating members to the Board of Governors. Witt said her group had similar restrictions for their associate members. Rafael A. Santiago, a member of the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association and an attorney with Hartford, Conn.’s Robinson & Cole, said his organization did allow law students and paralegals to join the CHBA under an associate membership. However, Katie Marino, bar services administrator for the Hartford County Bar Association, said while her organization allows law students to join for only $5 annually, it had no provisions for non-attorneys. “We don’t just invite any lay people to join,” Marino said. “We want to be exclusive to attorneys and people who have gotten their [law degree].” Francis J. Brady, an attorney with Murtha Cullina in Hartford and president of the HCBA, said that although the organization has not discussed allowing such membership, they would be keeping an eye on New Haven. “Our membership is steady,” Brady said. “But we are always interested in seeing what other Bars do. If [New Haven] is successful, I’m sure we will consider it.” Jean Urso, office manger with the Regional Bar Association covering Stamford, Norwalk, Darien and Wilton, Conn., said the organization included paralegals, legal administrators, and certified public accountants, among others, as part of its membership. Guy R. DeFrances Jr., a member of the Meriden-Southington-Wallingford, Conn., Bar Association, said he believes his organization is only open to lawyers. “It’s an issue that has never been addressed,” DeFrances, an attorney with the Connecticut Attorneys Title Insurance Company, said. “Maybe because it’s a size thing. �We are a very local, small group.” Barbara D. Quinn, executive director of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and a paralegal, said the GBBA changed its bylaws in 1999 to include “any person devoted primarily to the practice of law.” “We have a great many paralegals and legal administrators in our area,” Quinn said. “We decided that since they work so closely with the attorneys, they should be included as associate members.”

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