The constitution of the CBA mentions that coordination with other bar associations in the state is a goal of the organization, but it is not clear to what extent that happens.

Is The Connecticut Bar Association Meeting Needs Of Members?

We recently spoke about the benefits of an integrated bar association, and suggested that the concept deserved serious study. (“Time for An Integrated Bar in Connecticut?” Connecticut Law Tribune, August 1.) Such a study is likely to take a long time to complete, so, while we continue to support that idea, we speak now about the CBA today and its role in our professional lives and the state of the legal profession in Connecticut.

First we must recognize the financial realities. Individual membership costs $260 for most Connecticut attorneys – a little less if you have not been practicing very long or if you are in certain discounted categories. Since some of the work of the CBA benefits all lawyers in the state, whether they are members or not, the structure is a bit like public radio. The services are, essentially, free and will continue to be provided whether you pay for them or not, but you are encouraged to pay for them. Though CBA has other revenue sources, such as educational programs and magazine subscriptions, finances are always tight. Cost-saving layoffs in recent years have resulted in an organization trying to do many things with a very lean staff. Credit is due to those carrying on under difficult circumstances.

Credit is also due to the many dedicated private attorneys who do the work of the CBA as its officers, members of the Board of Governors and members of the House of Delegates, as well as those who serve on committees and volunteer in other capacities. The time they spend on CBA activities is at the expense of their own practices, and they deserve our thanks.

The question today is whether the CBA is meeting the needs of its members; or even more basically, what are the needs of its members, and how could they be met? Is the CBA an effective organization, and if it is not, how could it be made effective?

Membership in the many sections of the CBA is considered an important advantage. Identified largely by practice area (litigation, planning and zoning, environmental law, etc.), they give members a chance to meet with colleagues, put on educational programs to keep up with developments in the law, and propose legislative changes of importance to their members and clients. An extra fee is required for membership in each section, but those fees are modest. The effectiveness of each section depends on the attorneys running it – volunteers, again.

In the past year, CBA officers surveyed the sections and closed one that had been ineffective for too long – a good move. To some extent, CBA sections compete with other organizations that serve the same functions – organizations such as the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, Defense Research Institute, and many others. Those organizations are generally more expensive and some meet only in other states, requiring more time for attendance. There is also competition with various American Bar Association sections, which also involve more time and expense to attend.

Because section membership is such an important part of CBA membership, the more resources that can be devoted to improving section activities, perhaps even coordination with some of the competing organizations, the more value will be realized by CBA members. The constitution of the CBA mentions that coordination with other bar associations in the state is a goal of the organization, but it is not clear to what extent that happens. Coordination of educational programs could be a welcome and effective way to manage that coordination. And a watchful eye on those sections that do not function well continues to be a good idea.

A more pervasive problem, but perhaps one easier to solve, is a lack of communication. If you are a CBA member, you have voted, or had the opportunity to vote, for those who serve on the House of Delegates. That is a large group from all over the state that decides what the CBA will do to fulfill its mission. Do you know who the delegates are from your district? Have you ever heard from them, any of them? Have you ever known what issues are being discussed at the next House of Delegates meeting or what legislation is going to be proposed or opposed? Or what amicus briefs are being considered? In at least some districts, the answer is a resounding no.

Communication between delegates and members in their districts appears to be rare. We suggest that it should not be. Listservs exist for all districts in the state. A delegate can easily send out an email to those in his or her district, updating them on CBA activities. Yes, if a delegate sends out such an email, it is likely to lead to a conversation that will take time. Isn’t that part of a delegate’s responsibility? We suggest that CBA members are more likely to be active in the organization and to value it if they have a connection with it. This is one pretty easy way to establish that connection.

Issues that deserve attention by the CBA include the lack of diversity in the profession and the loss of women attorneys from the profession. Neither issue will be easily solved; both should be considered.

An integrated bar is a good idea. A CBA that identifies the needs of its members and addresses them now is also a good idea. It is, or could be, your bar association. It should speak to you as well as for you.