I used to suffer from an annual guilt trip. My bulky State Bar Directory would arrive in the mail every April. It looked beautiful and I felt a little special - like the State Bar had sent me a gift without me even hinting I wanted it. But as the years went by, this "gift" started to seem more and more like a stale mail-order fruitcake in December. Without opening it, I would take the dusty, prior year's directory off my bookshelf, cram it into the small opening of my shredder box, and replaced it with the new one which I never used. Everything I needed was online and I was already at my computer when I needed the information, so it was just more efficient to get the information off the computer. A few years ago, I spent a couple hundred bucks on a second monitor. I use one for work-product-in-process, and the other for research, email, excel, looking up member information, etc. That made it even easier to use the online directory instead of the paper book, and I could copy and paste the contact information from the directory right into my case caption or letter template. No worry about typos that way. As it became even more clear I would never use the hard copy of the SBM directory, I opted out of receiving it. Guilt trip gone. I have never looked back.
About 18,300 of you are on the same page as me and have also opted out of receiving your directory through snail mail. My (attorney) husband is among us. "I opted out the minute they gave me the chance to do so!" he proclaimed. "It's like getting the white pages. Why would I ever want to look something up in a book that could be outdated?"
But about 25,000 of you are still receiving the directory, at a cost to the State Bar of over $82,000/year. I have heard several reasons for still wanting the directory in hard copy form. "It's faster than my computer." Maybe it's time to update your browser and internet connectivity speed."It's the only thing I get for my bar dues." I will take time to chat with you if this thought is going through your mind. "You're taking away something I've always gotten and takeaways make everyone angry." A takeaway is one thing: an improved replacement is another. Read on.
For several years now, the Board of Commissioners' (BOC) Finance Committee and Publications and Website Advisory Committee (PWAC) have debated what to do about the costly but apparently beloved (by many) directory. On July 22, 2016, the BOC engaged in a full-out, respectful, throw-down debate on the issue. There were more than the two obvious options to continue or ditch it. In the spirit that I believe has become the norm for the BOC this year, productive solutions were proposed and discussed by staff and commissioners and the result was a win-win decision.
The suspense must be killing you. (I'm kidding. When I told my 19 year-old this issue was the most challenging thing I dealt with at my second-to-last Board meeting, he laughed uproariously. That gave me some perspective!)
A print copy of a new, improved, directory will still be mailed at no extra charge to all members who want it. It will contain all the information in the current directory regarding the courts, Michigan state and local government, and lawyer association listings. In addition, it will have more handy information useful to practicing lawyers, like courtroom names and contact information in a portable easy-to-carry format.
What the print copy will not contain is the often-outdated contact information of our members. Did you know that by the time the new directory comes out, there are 18,815 members listed in the paper directory with outdated contact, name or status information--over 42% of the membership! We do not want our members to be at risk for using an old address when trying to serve an opposing counsel. The result is embarrassment at best, and malpractice at worst. We also want to move our members toward completing their member profiles online.(See "Need an Online Presence? The SBM Has You Covered" and "It's Time to Update Your Profile" by Roberta Gubbins.) Increasingly the Internet is used to meet challenges facing the legal profession, from connecting law students with clerkships, externships, internships and jobs, to connecting clients with lawyers, establishing lawyer-to-lawyer referrals, and helping lawyers at their desks with scheduling and avoiding conflicts of interest.
To maximize the incredible potential of this platform across the entire nation, we need our members to complete their profiles. Please start by at least selecting your practice area(s) and any foreign language(s) you speak. Then go whole-hog and make it your own personal website, complete with links to your social media marketing and video.
We are also looking into providing the directory in PDF format online so you can flip through the pages on your computer as if you were looking at a printed book. We are also looking into the ability to put a member's name in the internal search bubble and go straight to the member's profile, rather than having to start at the magnifying glass on the home page, go to the directory, and then input the person's name. This would save a big step, hundreds of times a day.
The next directory does not get published until April 2017, so we have time to work on these efforts. If you still think you want to get the print copy of the portion of the new directory that contains the contact information of our members, we will accommodate you. Our fiduciary duty to our members instructs us to charge a nominal fee of $35 to offset the costs of sending you those additional 600+ pages. The financial outcome of the BOC's decision to modify the annual directory will save about $50,000 in reduced paper, printing and postage costs and will help us delay the need for a dues increase by at least another year, which is becoming increasingly inevitable given we have not had one in fourteen years.
I hope you will be open-minded about the BOC's decision, knowing it is not an irreversible one. We will try this option, and if it is a disaster, the BOC will still be there to reverse the decision later. But if my crystal ball is clear and accurate, I think no one else will look back, either.
Lori is a shareholder at Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach, Buiteweg, & Solomon, P.C.