As I foreshadowed in an earlier column, recently members of the IndyBar met to discuss and draft the next three-year strategic plan for the association. This isn’t your typical not-for-profit organization’s strategic plan. It won’t be just filed away. This document will be used frequently to decide how the human and financial resources of the association will be used.
When we talk about every major initiative the IndyBar undertakes, we ask ourselves how it furthers our strategic plan. If a capital contribution from our reserve fund is necessary, we’ll ask how this investment will advance our goals. When the compensation committee meets each year, we’ll talk about how a staff member contributed to accomplishing the goals of our strategic plan. If a group of members wants to form a new section, we’ll ask if it’s likely to be worth the staff time to make it happen. So, we all take this seriously.
From my experience on boards, the typical strategic plan is developed by members of the board of directors and officers. When the IndyBar staff and leadership were discussing our retreat to consider a plan, we talked a lot about who should be at the table deciding what our goals would be. In fact, only a few board members participated.
All of the officers were there, of course, since it’ll be our job to see that the strategic plan is successfully implemented. In addition, we invited in-house counsel, a member of the leadership of Marion County Bar Association, leadership from the Indianapolis Bar Foundation (our generous benefactor), a few very new lawyers, several very seasoned lawyers and many mid-career lawyers. We had equal number of women and men. We had big firm, small firm, solo firm, government, and the state and federal judiciary represented. We even had non-members present. All of the IndyBar’s top staff were present and participated equally with all other members of the Strategic Planning Committee.
We started bright and early on a Friday morning and worked hard all day. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the IndyBar and the many challenges facing us as an association and as a legal profession. The crushing debt that new lawyers bring with them to the practice of law along with the changing job market was expressed as a concern, but one which we probably couldn’t change. We need to focus on where we can make a difference.
Everyone agreed that we need to make a study of our dues structure. This is not a euphemism for a dues increase. We think that would be a mistake. We’ve acquired more sophisticated software during this past year that will allow us a lot more flexibility to be creative about how we price our membership, so you can buy what you need and want. Plus CLE section and division membership is a good example of the kind of value-driven dues change we’re talking about.
Traditionally, bar associations have been one price fits all and nearly all lawyers felt the need to belong. The 21st century lawyer wants to buy a commodity they deem to have value to them. Do we create a dues structure similar to Costco, where a modest membership fee allows you access to valuable, discounted services and features? Do we make it simpler and offer a tiered dues system of bundled services such as bronze, silver, and gold membership levels? Maybe we should just do an a la carte menu of services from which each member could construct their own membership? We want members to receive tangible value for their membership, but we don’t want it to be too cumbersome on the member, the law firms or the bar association to calculate and track. We sure don’t want anyone to spend valuable time trying to figure out their dues. It must be clear and simple.
Most of the lawyers at the retreat knew of several colleagues who have suffered addictions and stress-related illnesses. This was an area of major concern for our members. We currently have a confidential committee trained by the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program to deal with our professional friends who have had a health or family crisis of any kind. We try to offer support and assistance, tailored to the situation. Although few know about this, we all agreed we need to do more. So, you’ll probably be seeing more programming about health and wellness in the next few years.
Our signature event is the Bench Bar Conference and it’s been wildly successful since its inception. Each year the attendance grows. In 2016, including spouses, our number exceeded 400. But we’re not going to rest on our laurels. We want the Bench Bar to be more and better. As I write this, I don’t know what we’ll do differently in 2018 and beyond, but you’ll see change for the better.
Our membership is no longer exclusively downtown. Many of our members are located outside of our downtown area and parking is a barrier to coming to our office. We have a very successful Bar Review course which also has necessitated a lot of parking for two six-week sessions every year. We “look” like a law firm. We have a receptionist and lots of smaller offices off a central corridor. Is this the best location and configuration for the work of our staff and ease of access for our members?
In the short term, you’ll soon see fewer walls and more collaborative work space for staff and members through some remodeling we’re doing. Can we make changes, such as a satellite office, so our current space remains the best location for us? Are webinars and video chats sufficient substitutes for face-to-face encounters? Should we completely rethink where we are located and how we interface with our members in new space? These are very important questions that we’ve already started to talk about but which will need much more thought and input from all of our members.
Finally, the fifth goal of our Strategic Plan proposes to ramp up the law practice management tools and support we give our members. Maybe this means we have a technology expert on staff or some ethics experts on retainer who are available to our members as needed. Possibly we should have groups of our members research and critique the best time and billing software, document management software, legal malpractice insurance, accounting software and other law practice management tools so that each member isn’t repeating the same product research.
On average, 40 percent of a lawyer’s time is consumed by administrative tasks. Are there services we can offer to help the small firm and solo practice lawyers recapture most of that time and make it billable time? The question was put to us: how can we help each of our members work less stressfully, work more productively and work more profitably? The IndyBar is going to spend the next three years proving to you that we can do all three of those things for you.
It’s amazing how just a day-and-a-half of hard work can result in such a comprehensive and concrete roadmap for the future. Much of that is due to the incredible volunteers who are eager at the chance to play a role in the future of their association. For that, I (and my predecessors) am eternally grateful.
Now it’s time to polish up the plan and get it ready for launch in 2017. You’ll be hearing and seeing more on this soon. Your IndyBar leaders are excited to take this ride into the future with you—our valued members—as our co-pilots. As always, we welcome your ideas, your feedback and even your criticism.