Earlier this month, the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA)
held a special Planning Conference to assess the Association’s current
array of member services and benefits, study the changing needs of its members,
examine MSBA’s role as an effective resource in the legal community and
determine the Association’s future direction. On April 8-9, 70 active
lawyers and judges from all corners of the state gathered at the Columbia Sheraton
with MSBA directors to help chart the Association’s future course. These
bar leaders reviewed the findings of MSBA’s 2004 online member survey
and examined the contemporary needs of the Association’s 21,000 members.
As a member service organization, MSBA periodically convenes
a planning conference to ensure that its membership activities cater to the
needs of members and remain relevant. Member feedback from the electronic survey
was the foundation of this comprehensive effort. The member survey and planning
conference are a top initiative of MSBA President Neil Helfrich.
“Our planning process begins with an assessment of
our members’ needs,” reports Paul V. Carlin, MSBA Executive Director. “It
is important to ask our members what they need and want from MSBA. We also
assess the importance and viability of our ongoing programs and activities.”
“The past is certainly instructive, but you can’t
fly an airplane just by looking at the gas gauge,” Carlin continues. “We
must attempt to set our vision on the future and determine what trends are
occurring and what threats and opportunities exist and will exist.”
Member input from the online survey was carefully scrutinized.
Last October, MSBA launched its first online member survey, posting it on MSBA’s
website so that members could offer suggestions on their organization. There
were a series of surveys focusing on everything from member services, member
needs and possible future services to the overall value of MSBA and whether
members are taking advantage of MSBA’s current offerings. Specific surveys
addressed member benefits, professional satisfaction, continuing legal education,
the Judiciary, technology and MSBA as an attorney resource.
For two months, members were encouraged to complete the electronic
survey to enable MSBA to better serve the future needs of its members. Preliminary
reports indicate member response was quite positive. Anita Daniel, an independent
consultant with MarketInsight, compiled the results and presented them to the
MSBA’s last membership survey, conducted in 1998 via
direct mail, also evaluated the Association’s menu of services and benefits
and assessed the organization’s role as an attorney resource. The majority
of the members responding to this survey ranked the organization very high
in value, were strongly satisfied with MSBA and its numerous member services
and rated the Association high in “keeping up with the ever-changing
times and trends of the legal profession”.
In 1998, the Maryland Lawyers’ Manual, Ethics Opinions,
the Maryland Bar Journal, the Bar Bulletin and Section newsletters were rated
the top five member benefits. Not surprisingly, technology was regarded as
one of the highest areas of member interest, and new member service suggestions
dealt with technological advances, additional discount programs and improvements
in several existing ones.
Over the course of the last six years, many new member services
recommended at this Planning Conference have been implemented by MSBA. The
Association’s two new electronic publications, Bar Brief and MSBA’s
Online Member Directory, have been extraordinarily popular with members. The
Association also unveiled a Statewide Mentoring service in 2000 and added a
discounted magazine subscription service, office-supply printing service and
credit card-processing service to further enhance its array of offerings.
MSBA Planning Committee Co-Chairs William R. Levasseur and
Suzanne M. Snedegar organized the 2005 MSBA Planning Conference, which featured
Ward Bower of Altman
& Weil as the keynote speaker. “We selected 10 areas of importance
to MSBA and devoted a full afternoon of breakout sessions and a plenary session
to them before reaching our final recommendations,” Carlin reported.
At the conclusion of this event, participants offered a series of recommendations
for MSBA’s future direction. A full report is forthcoming.