Among the many specialty bar associations in the state, one serves as the counter-balance to the plaintiff’s bar, a statewide organization created in 1991 to provide business networking opportunities for insurance defense attorneys.

Now, the Connecticut Defense Lawyers Association is undergoing a concerted effort to reinvigorate and rebrand itself. The short-term goal, CDLA president Robert Sickinger said, is to grow its membership, increase communications among members, expand the number of seminars it offers, and generally “to be the best organization it can be.”

The longer-term goal, he said, is to increase its role of having “a seat at the table” in lobbying for the legislative interests of its members, such as initiatives to remove or limit personal injury damage awards. “We’d definitely like to build on our lobbying capabilities in the future,” said Sickinger, an insurance defense partner with Murphy and Karpie in Bridgeport.

One challenge for the CDLA has been distinguishing itself from the other specialty bar organizations, including the larger Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, which has 1,300 members, and Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which has 300 members.

“The CTLA is much larger than we are, and is made up primarily of plaintiffs lawyers, so we provide the counter to that,” Sickinger said. “There is also some overlap between the aim of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Litigation Practice Section and what the CDLA seeks to accomplish.”

Membership in the CDLA is free for the first year, and then costs $175 per year. The group has had as many as 300 members, but in recent years that number has fallen to about 200. Sickinger growing membership is a top priority, and the leaders are organizing events to reach out to new lawyers.

“Networking is a key benefit for our members,” Sickinger said. “It’s our job to facilitate connections among as many civil defense lawyers across the state as possible.”

In the past, he said, most of the members were from smaller or solo law firms. But in recent years, the membership has changed to include a greater representation from law firms of all sizes. Currently, the membership ranges from solos to firms with three to five attorneys to members from larger law firms including Day Pitney.

Creating more networking opportunities for members was something the CDLA leadership discussed recently in a series of strategic meetings. In addition to planning more CLE-style seminars, the organization is planning to add list serves to its website, “so members can communicate with each other about cases they are up against,” said Sickinger.

“We think our members might want to compare notes on certain experts they are using in court, that kind of thing, and the website could offer a good way for members to access information like that.”

Sickinger said he and CDLA President-Elect Robert Chomiak of Nuzzo and Roberts in Cheshire have also determined that a redesign of the website is in order.

As part of an overall rebranding of the organization, Sickinger and Chomiak created a contest for its members to design a new logo. “Right now, our logo is simply the Scales of Justice, and we think we can come up with something that better represents the organization.”

They plan to give the designer of the new logo a small cash prize. The new logo, and the new website will be unveiled at the CDLA’s annual meeting, with will be held June 5 at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville.

“The CDLA’s rebranding for the 2014-2015 bar year will visually represent our renewed energy and activity,” said Chomiak, who will be sworn in as president at the meeting. “We want civil defense and trial lawyers to know that joining the CDLA will benefit their practices. That goes to the heart of our mission.”