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CEO DATELINE – American Bar Association lowers dues to attract more members

Aug. 7, 2018
By Walt Williams

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The American Bar Association has approved changes to its membership structure that will allow most lawyers to join the group at a lower cost than in the past, with the move being part of a larger effort to reverse ABA’s declining membership numbers.

ABA’s House of Delegates voted Monday to adopt a simpler and cheaper schedule of membership fees, The American Lawyer magazine reported. The new schedule will take effect in 2020.

ABA CEO Jack Rives recently spoke with CEO Update about the changes. Among the proposals adopted Monday was a measure to reduce the number of criteria used to determine membership fees from 157 to just five. Most members also will pay less in annual fees, with some seeing their dues reduced by nearly half. (Current ABA dues can range from $146 to $467, depending on how long a lawyer has been admitted to practice by a bar, according to the association’s website.)

The association also plans to sweeten its benefits package by offering more continuing legal education options and access to some existing programs at no additional cost. Member dues make up about a third of ABA’s total revenues, but the group projects that membership growth resulting from dues cuts will offset any initial losses.

ABA at one time represented half of all U.S. lawyers but today less than a quarter of lawyers are members. The association’s dues revenue has declined nearly 20 percent during the last 10 years. In addition, internal documents obtained by the news site Law360 projected dues revenue slipping another $15 million by 2024 if ABA continued to lose dues-paying members.