Upgrading the lawyers' lounge in the New Haven courthouse and negotiating better discounts for members are just two of the projects on the agenda of Julia Baldini, the new executive director of the New Haven County Bar Association.

Baldini, who joined the bar association staff in January and was named executive director in April, has taken over for Carolyn "Carrie" Witt, who was the executive director for 17 years. Witt died in December.

"My background is in non-profits and membership services," said Baldini, a former executive director of the Derby Historical Society and membership coordinator at Real Art Ways in Hartford. "I started working in museums 10 years ago."

Hamden lawyer Shari-Lynn Cuomo Shore, who was on the hiring committee that selected Baldini for the executive director position, has worked very closely with the new executive director.

"So far, in her short time with the association, Julia has balanced our budget, revamped many of our office systems, and planned and executed many successful events. We are working closely to add many new benefits to having a membership with the New Haven County Bar Association," said Shore, who acknowledged that Baldini has "very big shoes to fill" in replacing the well-respected Witt.

"Julia has been working with [the membership] committee to create a private lounge for New Haven County bar members when they are at the courthouse," Shore continued. "We are also working on a member benefit card that will allow members to receive discounts at local establishments. The hope is that this will increase the appeal of being a New Haven County Bar Association member and therefore we will build a bigger and better membership base."

Couches And Wi-Fi

Baldini said that the lawyers' lounge — on the seventh floor at Superior Court in New Haven – is currently in a "sad-looking state" and is little used. By this fall, couches will be added, as well as a table, chairs, a water cooler and Wi-Fi access. Plans call for naming the lounge after Witt.

The goal, said Baldini, is to give lawyers a comfortable place to get away, relax and return emails. Baldini notes that lawyers are not in court as much as they used to be because of the elimination of short calendar and the emergence of e-filing. A well-used lounge would allow lawyers more face time with colleagues.

"People are looking for meaningful connections," she said. "One of the important things in the future is those face-to-face connections."

The bar association is also working on improving membership benefits. Those include negotiating more discounts for bar members at local businesses. Plans also call for helping members get better deals on technology and printing, which would especially help solo practitioners.

One place Baldini is looking for new members is in law schools. "We're reaching out to [students], trying to provide membership opportunities and guidance and support," she said.

Another way they are hoping to get new members is to reach out to affinity bars so they aren't repeating services. If the New Haven County association is repeating a service that the affinity bars are providing, there is less incentive for a lawyer to join both associations, she said.

Around 2007 and 2008, there was a decline in NHCBA membership. Membership, which had peaked at about 1,400 members, dipped to 1,100 when the economy went south, a few firms left New Haven and lawyers began using technology more to communicate with each other. But recently there's been an uptick in membership, Baldini said.

The bar association offers a lawyer referral service, which officers believe is one of their most important public services. Called the New Haven County Lawyer Referral Service, it refers members of the public to pre-screened lawyers. Another program is a law camp for New Haven teens who have an interest in the legal field.

"There are about 20 lawyers who help in camp," Baldini said. The student campers go to law school classrooms at Quinnipiac Law School and Yale Law School, have lunch with lawyers at Wiggin and Dana, and "litigate" in Superior Court in front of a judge.

Baldini said that the bar association is also trying to help increase the amount of pro bono and public service work that lawyers do. "We are trying to enhance the positive image of the attorney," she said.