By Ona Alston Dosunmu
Along with turkey and football, this time of year at the California Lawyers Association tends to bring renewed focus on membership recruiting. While many members may not spend a lot of time thinking about membership outside of renewal season, our professional membership and marketing team wake up every day thinking about how we can create more value for our members and what we can do to grow membership. And they have some pretty sophisticated marketing and social media tools at their disposal. Yet the best membership recruiting tool is one of the oldest and most simple—good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
One of the biggest challenges we face is ongoing confusion about what CLA is. We are not the State Bar. We are not part of the State Bar. I continue to be amazed by the number of people who do not realize that we are an independent, voluntary, statewide bar association. We need the assistance of each and every member to help educate the profession about CLA and some of the critical ways in which our role is distinct from that of the regulatory agency.
This year we will be providing members with tools to help them perform one their most important roles—that of CLA brand ambassador. We all belong to CLA because we believe it adds value to our lives. Some of the value added is tangible—for example, free access to the FastCase legal research tool with membership. And some of the value added is intangible, for example, by providing a community of like-minded colleagues across the state through involvement in a Section or by giving a platform to exercise leadership skills through involvement in a Committee.
And as important as CLA membership may be on a personal, individual level, the aggregation of individuals who comprise the CLA membership is important to the profession as a whole. There are movements afoot across the country and in California to permit individuals without the education, licensing, and ethical obligations of lawyers to engage in activities that have historically been limited to lawyers for good and valid reasons, including protection of consumers of legal services. While everyone recognizes that there is a gap between those who need legal services and their ability to afford them, CLA believes that lawyers are best positioned to solve this problem and best positioned to provide those services, with some very limited exceptions and subject to appropriate training and oversight. Towards that end, we are doing a number of things to make sure we have a seat at the table where these decisions are being made.
We have a representative on the California Paraprofessional Program Working Group, which is convened by the State Bar and charged with exploring what roles paraprofessionals may play in providing certain services. We will also have a representative on the Working Group on Closing the Justice Gap, which is tasked by the State Bar with exploring the development of a “regulatory sandbox” among other things. In these ways and many others, CLA serves as a voice in defense of the profession as a whole. This is a critical and valuable element of CLA membership and a key distinction between CLA and the State Bar of California.