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The Bars, Reviewed: What Has Your Bar Association Done for You Lately?

by Carolyn Elefant on February 19, 2009 · 14 comments

in Law Practice Management, Legal Research Options, Video

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Summary

Update (7 pm, 2/19/09) More comments below, with links to additional NC Bar resources and Canada resources too.  In response to Eric’s question, the review took place strictly based on websites alone  – I personally visited about 30 of them, and delegated the remaining review, then did additional link checks.  Talking to bar personnel would have been useful, but too time consuming for this project.  However, I have heard from some bar folks – and I welcome comments or complaints.

Update (4:00 pm, 2/19/09) Apparently,  the survey has overlooked some of the bar’s important features.  In the comments, you will see that the MN bar also offers a site at practicelaw.org – though that is different from the MN Bar site listed in other places.  I’ve also received a call from the NH bar that they do offer many services, but due to password protection, they’re inaccessible.  Likewise, Wisconsin has an extensive Practice411 site here.  I want the table to be inclusive but at the same time, it should not be so difficult to find information.  Keep those comments coming, though – I want to make sure that the table is accurate.

It’s been a long, long time coming, but I am finally ready to unveil one of MyShingle’s flagship features, The Bars, Reviewed 2009, a survey of resources for solo and small firm lawyers offered by the 50 state bars, plus the ABA and a handful of city bars.   The survey lists bar resources in a variety of categories: law practice management office, solo resources, listserves, IOLTA handbooks, ethics rules, legal research and other features.

Back in 2002, when I first survey, I concluded that the bars were serving the needs of solos and small firm lawyers fairly well.  At that time, most bars had a robust web presence (at least for that time period) and offered a variety of online guides and forms to help solos get their practices off the ground.  Unfortunately, times have changed, but most bar associations haven’t.  In the six years that have transpired between the two surveys, there hasn’t been much progress at the bar sites.True, most of the solo guides remain online, but few have been updated to reflect new developments like outsourcing, social media or software as a service tools.

The most significant change comes in the area of making free legal research available, with 42 bars offering free or reduced legal research, primarily through services like Fast Case, Versuslaw or Casemaker.  That’s a substantial increase over the handful of states that offered free or reduced price legal research back in 2002.

Still, legal research benefits represent the extent of the change.  In all other respects, the majority of bar sites are woefully stale, untouched by advancements of Web 2.0.  As of 2009, there are still bar associations (yes, including the DC Bar, but you probably could have guessed that) that don’t offer listserves, while none of the bars, with the exception of Minnesota and the ABA incorporate any type of social networking tools.  The Texas Bar boasts an extensive online video library, but again, it’s minority of one on that front.  Not a single bar site that I came across allows readers to follow news updates through RSS feeds, and if the bar associations host blogs, well…except for Minnesota (which has one off site), I couldn’t find them.  (To be fair, several law practice management advisors like Jim Calloway (OK), Eric Mazzone (NC), Rodney Dowell (MA) and Nerino Petro (WI) have excellent and informative blogs, particularly on the tech and biz-management issues, but their blogs are not hosted by their respective blogs and I couldn’t even find to links to those blogs on their home bar’s main page).

Finally, there are still some bar associations that do not include guidance on IOLTA rules available on line and even more shocking, which don’t offer access to bar ethics rules and opinions (or in the case of Maryland, inexplicably, make these materials available only to members).  Message to the bars:  believe it or not, most lawyers actually want to comply with your rules.  As we enter the precariously gray ethics area of online advertising and social media and virtual law practice and outsourcing, we actually want to evaluate whether our conduct comports with ethics rules.  Making ethics rules available facilitates compliance.  Isn’t that what the bars want…or would they rather play gotcha instead?

It’s not just site content that lags behind the time, it’s basics like web design.  As a lawyer, I spend a enough time at bar sites that I’ve grown immune to their deficiencies.  It took a pair of fresh eyes, in this case, those of virtual assistant Tina Hilton who assisted with this project, to realize just how outdated most bar sites are.  Many sites had dead links, lacked basic navigational tools to find materials or didn’t display current information prominently on the front page.   Simple design changes like improved navigation bars or spiffed up graphics and color would make a big difference.

As I sit here in 2009, here’s what I don’t understand about the bar associations.  They’re funded by member dues and have actual staff and budgets.  So why is it that a blog such as mine, which was essentially run as a hobby for five years by a busy solo offers more resources on solo and small firm law practice and legal trends…for free?

So which bars take the prize in this contest?  I’m not picking winners this year, but I will give a couple of shout-outs:

Texas Bar, for innovative use of video and extensive online how-to library, Minnesota Bar for experimenting in blogs and social media (even if off the main site), Mississippi for a terrific solo tool kit, Association of the Bar of New York for extensive resources (including a thorough business plan) on starting a law firm, Colorado bar for unique programs like a conciliation panel that helps contentious opposing counsel get along, the DC Bar (for the very limited reason that it has been offering free, monthly programs on starting a practice and NOT for its Avvo insantity) and the ABA for solosez and its attempt at social media with Legally Minded.

All of the links to the site are available in the survey chart here.  The chart is a great resource in and of itself, because it will take you directly to resources at bar sites, such as forms, online guides and other materials.  Finally, in addition to Tina Hilton, thanks to new solos Kimberly Alderman, Andy Miller, Jennifer Weil and Josh Andrews.

Now it’s your turn to rate me?  How did I do with this survey?  Do you agree with my conclusions?  Did I overlook resources that your bar offers?  Please send your comments below or post them directly on the comment section of the guide.

  • http://www.avvo.com Josh King

    Nicely done! For future versions, would be interesting to get your perspective on how well each bar meets the needs of consumers (useful directory, disciplinary process/decisions, robust referral programs, etc).

  • http://rurallawyer.com Bruce Cameron

    The Minnesota Bar offers solo/small firm resources through its practicelaw.org site (a member service) and there is a link to this site from the Bar’s main site.
    There is a classified section available through the Bar’s main site and is available to the public at large.
    While there is no formal mentor program, there is a “colleague: program that provides informal mentoring & answers to quick questions. Again this is available to members through the practicelaw.org site.

  • http://67.225.230.212/~sh1ngl3 Carolyn Elefant

    Bruce,
    Thanks – the practicelaw.org site is different from the http://www.mnbar.org/ that is listed at the ABA, Findlaw and other sites as the official site for the bar. I see that the practicelaw.org site is extremely robust, but it would be nice to have it more visible on the MN Bar home page (there is a link, but it is underneath another link)

  • http://www.whatsyourauthority.com Corinne A. Tampas

    Glad I took a look at this chart as the DC bar does not list me in its directory, “Find A Member”! Gee, I’ve been paying my dues online for years!
    Since I am a contract attorney and only work for other attorneys, I truly wish all state bars provided a public directory for their attorneys. It must be very confusing for the public at large to find this information. ….. By the way, the directory of Pennsylvania attorneys can be found on The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s website.
    And finally, WHAT HAPPENED TO NEVADA? I actually think it has one of the better websites. It can be found at http://www.nvbar.org.

  • http://www.lawpracticematters.com Erik Mazzone

    Carolyn, thanks for undertaking an important assessment — at the NCBA, we work hard for all of our members, but we are always mindful that solos and small firms make up a big percentage of our membership. Thanks as well for referencing my blog.
    A couple of notes:
    1) One key benefit that could be in your survey is which bar associations staff practice management advisors. It is a large commitment of scarce resources to staff a practice management advisor and one that particularly helps solo and small firm members.
    2) I’m not sure what your methodology was for doing this survey, but perhaps contacting membership departments at the various bars (while time consuming) would be a good way to make sure you are gathering all of the relevant information about solo and small firm services that a bar offers. Apologies if you already did that for this survey.
    3) We do have LinkedIn and Facebook groups for NCBA members to help facilitate social networking among our members.
    4) We have a lending library of books available to our members, including many titles on the going and succeeding at being solo.
    I could go on but I don’t want to hijack the comments thread with a big NCBA commercial.
    This is an important topic, so thank you for your sustained excellent work in furthering the conversation.

  • http://law21.ca Jordan Furlong

    Tremendous stuff, Carolyn! Although it’s outside the 50 states, let me blow the horn for my colleagues here at the CBA, who produce the award-winning CBA PracticeLink site: http://cba.org/cba/PracticeLink/Home/

  • John Sirman

    Thanks a bunch for compiling this info, and for the shout out.
    I’d like to add that the State Bar of Texas has a social networking site, Texas Bar Circle; a Facebook page; Twitter and Flickr accounts; and soon, a blog. We’re working on a website redesign which will make these tools more visible.
    Our legal research is provided by Casemaker.

  • http://www.GreatLegalMarketing.com Ben Glass

    Well, the whole concept of the “bar doing something for you” is kinda like waiting for the government to bail you out. Right? Its not surprising at all that bars lag behind the time in everything from technology to marketing their own stuff to understanding legal ethics in a 2009 world.
    It will always be private enterprise that leads the way. If you want to learn how to build a practice the last place to look is to most state bars…their advice always seem to focus on what you “can’t” do.

  • http://www.braguelaw.com Kevin

    Your assessment of the Oregon State Bar website is fairly accurate. However, with Oregon’s mandatory malpractice insurance (i.e. Professional Liability Fund – follow the link on the Bar’s website). The PLF offers free live practice management advisors to help a solo start with advice on all areas of starting a firm, plus forms, practice guides, etc.

  • http://www.theconnectedlawyer.com Bryan

    Just a note that the Illinois Bar Association is a voluntary bar and has no relationship to the creation or enforcement of the ethics provisions. Although the bar association website does not have IOLTA information, the ADRC (our disciplinary commission) has an extensive and regularly updated client trust account handbook at https://www.iardc.org/pubs.html

  • http://www.mobar.org Linda Oligschlaeger

    Carolyn:
    Thanks for keeping us on our toes.
    The Missouri Bar particularly devotes considerable time and resources to assist solo and small firm lawyers. We do offer listservs for all our committees including the solo and small firm group (SFIG), which is very active. It has been running parallel to SoloSez for many years.
    We have a starting a practice checklist on our website, which you may or may not consider a “guide”.
    I noticed that you didn’t ask about whether bars offer an annual Solo and Small Firm Conference. The Missouri Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Conference is one of the largest in the country. Check the conference website for this year at http://www.sasfconference.org.
    Although, it’s not on the public site, we offer a forms bank repository that is well used by solo and small firm practitioners.
    Last year, The Missouri Bar introduced a new Lawyer-to-Lawyer Dispute Resolution Program that offers a service to resolve disputes between lawyers over money, property or professional disputes that are not violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
    Although it’s not yet available, I’m working on a Practice Makes Perfect blog. We do feature an RSS feed on our website to some of the LPM blogs currently operating.

  • http://www.johnhgraves.com John Graves

    Carolyn:
    A note regarding the Oklahoma Bar. There is an online classifieds area on the members-only forum. Additionally, the Bar offers numerous solo/small firm resources. The online forums are the most frequently used. They serve as a “virtual firm” for many attorneys that are seeking information, forms, and been-there-done-that advice from more experienced folks. The Bar also has a very active solo and small firm section that hosts an annual summer retreat that is well attended. As you noted in your article, Jim Calloway (an OK Bar employee) is one of the nation’s leading law firm management/technology folks. He is an invaluable resource to members of the bar. All that is required to access this resource is to pick up the phone and call Jim or stop by the Bar Center. Jim also teaches an annual, day-long class called “The New Lawyer Experience: Hit the Ground Running.” It is for new attorneys and experienced attorneys opening their own practice for the first time. It covers opening a business, management, marketing, technology, trust accounting, legal ethics, communications, and professionalism. I am proud to be a member of the Oklahoma Bar and a solo practioner. Currently our legislature has pending egislation that will turn our Bar from mandatory to voluntary and, if it passes, we will lose the great service that our association provides.

  • http://pamelawynn.com Pamela

    Carolyn,
    The Florida Bar does have
    1. FastCase Florida database free with membership.
    2. A Mentor program for lawyers called SCOPE
    3. A Law Office Management Assistance Service for those considering solo practice.

  • http://www.technolawyer.com/member/archivehome.asp Neil J. Squillante

    Carolyn, since you liked our video, I’m surprised you didn’t mention the free TechnoLawyer Archive subscriptions we provide to members of various local and state bar associations. They normally cost $75.
    Here’s that video.
    http://blog.technolawyer.com/2007/01/im_not_feeling_.html

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