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How to Grow Membership for Bar Associations

Posted by Bret Peters on Nov 18, 2016 12:48:35 PM
Bret Peters
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Bar Associations have a longstanding history in the United States. Once the American Bar Association was founded in 1878, the standard was set for lawyers across the country. It sent a ripple effect across various states and institutions, calling for lawyers to join together in order to advance the practice of law in a state or region. 

Many things have changed since the late 1800s, however. Lawyers can now connect more easily than ever with digital technology to communicate and take continuing legal education (CLE) courses. Thus, in order to maximize potential for growing membership and furthering the legal practice, bar associations can adopt an inbound marketing methodology

Inbound marketing takes a different approach to growing membership than traditional marketing. It puts the primary audience, in this case legal professionals, at the forefront of decision making. With inbound marketing, it's about drawing the audience in and adding value to their experience

Not all bar associations are the same, however. Indeed, unified bar associations, which require membership in order to practice law in that region, have no need to market the benefits of membership to lawyers in the area. Thus, the focus for unified bar associations would be to delight current members and to draw in other secondary audiences, such as members of the public and the media. 

Regardless of if the bar association is unified or voluntary, there are four steps that can help to improve the mission of furthering the legal practice. 


Step 1: Attract

For voluntary bar associations, the first step is to attract potential members. Legal professionals are increasingly using digital technology to improve their industry. In fact, 73 percent use the internet regularly for such tasks, 90 percent of whom use their smartphone, according to the 2015 ABA Mobile Tech Report.

So how can bar associations attract new potential members? With great, relevant content.

For example, if the voluntary North Carolina State Bar wanted to increase its membership across the state, content editors could start with blogging about key topics, such as "What is the best software for legal research?" or "How can I connect with other legal professionals?" 

By creating quality content aimed at solving a common problem that a prospective member might have, bar associations are able to draw users in and add value to their legal search. For unified bar associations, they can focus on attracting secondary audiences, such as out-of-state legal professionals, the general public and the media. 

Step 2: Convert

The next step for bar associations is to convert visitors into potential members by showing viewers that benefits of membership can provide potential solution for their professional problems. For instance, if the Maryland State Bar Association has produced popular blog posts and discussions on connecting with legal professionals, then in order to convert visitors to leads the MSBA could create a white paper diving deeper into the topic.

This allows the blogs to pique curiosity and the white paper to intrigue and inform the user. At this stage, the bar association can get additional information in exchange for the downloadable content to better understand the potential member. Note: the value of the content should be equal to or greater than the value of providing information. This means you must establish trust as an association and as a content producer. 

For unified bar associations, this step is not as important because secondary audiences don't require conversion, but they do benefit from good information. For this step, unified bars can establish a connection with membrs of general public and media by leveraging their content and being active on digital platforms, such as social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, etc.). 

Step 3: Service

Once the bar association has established trust and provided valuable solutions to potential members' problems, then they can start to produce content that drives membership. Naturally, this is the step most bar associations want to start with because the are membership driven organizations. However, if the potential member is not first convinced that membership will add value to their legal practice, then they will not be as open to the benefits of membership. 

This content can be more personalized and benefits with data from a the association's Association Membership System (AMS) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Thus, content can be tailored to each legal professional and his/her individual interests or needs. 

For unified bar associations, such as the District of Columbia Bar, this step would include furthering connections with secondary publics and offering services that can add value to their legal search. Legal information is hard to come by and providing this to the general public can improve a bar association's reputation and trust among key publics.  A great example is providing access to Pro-Bono law firms.  Since the DC Bar has an inherent position of trust, information provided to the general public has added value. 

Step 4: Delight

This step is critical for both unified and voluntary bar associations because membership is at the heart of each bars' mission. Most bar associations exist, in some form, to engage and educate members and to further the legal profession. So how can bar associations excel in this step?

As previously stated, bar members are increasingly digital. Thus, in order to excel in servicing members, bar associations need to provide content and connection through digital platforms. For example, if the State Bar of California wanted to help its members learn how to make the most out of Fastcase, they could host a 30-minute practical webinar open to all members.

This kind of content delivery method allows bar associations to add value to their increasingly busy and mobile members. Utilizing digital technology will increase the user experience for bar members. This can help revolutionize the membership cycle because delighted members become the best marketers of a bar association's services and benefits

When 75 lawyers set out to start the ABA, they had a mission in mind.

"Its object shall be to advance the science of jurisprudence...and promote cordial discourse among members of the American Bar." 

They wanted to develop as lawyers and communicate with one another. Inbound marketing allows bar associations to educate and develop better lawyers with interesting articles and blog posts shared on social media, and it allows lawyers to connect in ways never before possible.

Inbound marketing helps bar associations serve lawyers better advance the legal practice beyond themselves. 

Want to see how inbound marketing could transform your bar association?

 Request an Inbound Marketing Assessment


Topics: HubSpot, Membership, Inbound Marketing, Associations, Bar Associations

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