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VBA looks to local bars to increase membership

VBAlogoThe Virginia Bar Association recently began an initiative to increase membership by offering services to local bar members for free—on one condition.

That condition is that the top three leaders of each local or specialty bar group—typically the president, president-elect and the next officer in line—would have to certify that they are already members of the VBA, or else become members.

In exchange for this, any member of such local or specialty bars would get access to the newly-opened VBA member center in downtown Richmond, discounted rates on Continuing Legal Education events and access to the organization’s legislative agenda, according to VBA President C.J. Steuart Thomas III.

“My thought is that I believe now, more than ever, bar membership and participation is important,” Thomas said in a phone interview. “We do a tremendous job and have a lot of things that would benefit local and specialty bars.”

Thomas said that the idea in giving member-like privileges away is that new people will become active and encourage others to do the same. In turn, the organization will grow, bringing a greater diversity of perspectives.

“This gives us more input,” Thomas said. “We can take their issues to bear, and in exchange, this brings more lawyers to us.”

Thomas spoke at length about the perks available to local bar members whose leadership joins. Chief among these is access to the VBA on Main building in Richmond which he said serves as an office for out-of-town lawyers.

The building is located downtown, near several courts and a block away from the capitol. Thomas said that the space offers a 26-seat boardroom, four small conference rooms, personal work spaces, copiers and wireless internet.

“Instead of having to work or meet people in hotels or hotel lobbies, it would give members and members of affiliated bars essentially a Richmond office to work out of,” he said.

In addition to the downtown office, Thomas said the arrangement would allow members of the smaller bars discounts on CLE events and access to the VBA’s legislative agenda.

“We’ve got a really active legislative agenda,” Thomas said. “What we’d like to do is let the local and specialty bars participate in that so that if they had a piece of legislation that they wanted to submit to the board for approval, they could do that.”

Thomas said that while the group seeks to expand their membership, he also hopes to continue a collaborative effort already begun by the Virginia State Bar’s Conference of Local and Specialty Bar Association.

“The state bar does a lot of great things and has great leadership … and I think both groups are mutually supportive of the idea,” Thomas said. “In a lot of ways, this is an opportunity.”

Thomas said that the two state-wide bar groups offer different, overlapping, services to lawyers and local bar associations. As a result, he hopes that such bars would want to be a part of both groups.

“I think that what’s good for local bars is good for us, and what’s good for us is also good for the state bar,” he said. “I view it as a win for everybody.”

Renu Brennan, deputy executive director of the Virginia State Bar said that while the two groups have different missions, both work to help lawyers and, in turn, the public.

“I applaud what they’re doing,” Brennan said over the phone. “I think we work best when we work together.”