State Bar scales back Annual Meeting in response to attendance, feedback

By Lee Dryden
BridgeTower Media Newswires

The State Bar of Michigan's annual gathering will have a much different, scaled-back look this fall.

Members were recently informed that the Board of Commissioners voted to reduce the NEXT Conference/Annual Meeting to its "core elements, as framed in the Supreme Court Rules Concerning the State Bar of Michigan."

"These elements include the swearing in of new officers, the inaugural meetings of the Representative Assembly and Board of Commissioners, and the presentation of the State Bar's annual awards," according to an announcement in the February SBM Today newsletter. "Beginning this year, the annual meeting events will no longer include the Solo & Small Firm Institute, the vendor hall, receptions, or section annual meetings.

"We are consolidating some scheduled end-of-bar-year networking events and moving others to different dates."

Since the State Bar's strategic plan was adopted in 2017, the board has been "engaged in a systematic, data-driven examination of the functions of the bar based on the priorities in the new plan."

"After several months of analysis and discussion, the Board has determined that the NEXT Conference/Annual Meeting should be redesigned to better allocate State Bar resources," the newsletter stated.

The first Annual Meeting in the new format is set for Sept. 25-26 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.

"At one point in the life of the State Bar, the Annual Meeting was the signature event of the year, attracting a substantial percentage of members from throughout the state," said State Bar of Michigan President Jennifer M. Grieco. "In Michigan, as in other states and in other professional associations, this has not been the case for quite a while.

"Although Annual Meeting attendance has not dropped significantly in recent years, today fewer than 3 percent of SBM members attend NEXT Conference/Annual Meeting."

The Annual Meeting was revamped to become NEXT Conference in response to the 21st Century Practice Task Force and strategic plan.

"Even that did not result in an increase in members attending and taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the event," Grieco said, adding that the board decided that resources could be "better spent in other ways to benefit a larger number of members."

Feedback from attendees also played a role in the board's decision.

"They told us there are too many concurrent events going on at the meeting, meaning that those who attend it can't get as much value as they'd like because they have to choose which events to join and which events to miss," Grieco said. "For example, the Representative Assembly meeting occurred at the same time as Solo and Small Firm educational tracks and many section events."

The goal of enabling more members to attend section events - and get more value for their membership - could be achieved by allowing sections to choose when and where to hold annual meetings.

"Further, as webinars and online educational tools have become more popular, the attendance at the in-person educational tracks at the Annual Meeting fell, leading to the decision to end the Solo and Small Firm portion of the meeting, and replace it with increased online offerings through the State Bar Practice Management Resource Center," Grieco said.

Grieco expressed hope the legal community will embrace the change because it was made in response to their feedback.

"The goal is not to take anything away from members, but rather to give them access to more tools at more times in new and different ways than we have done in the past," she said.

When asked if the Annual Meeting could evolve in some other form in the future, Grieco said, "Absolutely."

"The whole point of the strategic plan is to drive change toward greater service to the public and better value for Michigan's attorneys," she said. "The State Bar created the 21st Century Practice Task Force because we understand that revolutionary changes in technology and a globalizing economy impact the work of every one of our members, who must evolve to successfully overcome the challenges posed by these changes.

"Likewise, as an organization built to serve our members, we must grow and adapt."

Grieco said the 50-Year Golden Celebration honoring lawyers who have reached 50 years as a State Bar member will continue as a standalone event. It will be held in September this year before moving to the spring starting next year.

More information about the changes will be coming from the State Bar.

Published: Wed, Mar 27, 2019