CBA’s New Membership Fee Review

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is the voice of the legal profession in Canada. It promotes the independence of the judiciary and legal profession, seeks to improve the law and administration of justice, and promotes equality.

But none of that is possible if lawyers aren’t members of the CBA, because membership is voluntary. Approximately two-thirds of all lawyers in Canada are CBA members, and the 37,000 members include lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers, and law students.

Changing times mean changing demands from the membership, and at the past annual meeting earlier this month in Vancouver, council approved a resolution that radically transforms the CBA fee structure.

The previous fee structure was based on year of call. A new call paid less than 30% of of the $751.71 a year that lawyers practicing over 5 years did. The fee review working group felt this did not encourage member participation and engagement, and proposed a new structure. For larger firms who provide universal memberships to all their lawyers, this structure was becoming cost prohibitive.

A new flat fee of $540.00 a year will be the base membership rate, with a 40% discount applied during the first three years of call. This base fee will be increased annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Discounts are also applied to associate and retired members, and law students pay only $20. An extended pilot program under the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) current waives this fee for Ontario law students. The new structure also introduces premium memberships with special services. A flat fee is intended to provide a more reasonable amount for small and solo firms who expressed difficulty justifying CBA membership costs.

The revolutionary part of the fee structure is the participation incentives. Firms or organizations with over 100 members (paying for 95% of them) receive a discount of 15% and a 5% rebate on products, service and premium membership fees. Organizations who do not pay for 95% of their eligible members can still pay an “advocacy quotient” of $200 can receive a 5% discount. A 10% discount is available for partner groups with 50 to 99 eligible memberships, and paying for 95%.

Numerous surveys indicate one of the CBA’s most valued services are professional development activities, and the rebate structure should encourage more firms to utilize the CBA’s services rather than trying to develop them in-house. The CBA has also found that members who participate in CBA services tend to recognize its value and are more likely to be members for the duration of their careers.

A number of special circumstances, such as part-time work, parental leave, disability, or unemployment, can be eligible for a 50% waiver. This was considered an important measure to help keep members of the bar engaged who historically have been pushed to the periphery.

As an OBA executive member, I participated in some of the consultation discussions leading to this resolution. But the OBA’s August issue of JUST. provides far greater background and detail through an interview with OBA past-president Lee Akazaki, Executive Director Steve Pengelly, and Membership Director Lynn Elliott.

The CBA is our organization, and our main vehicle for expressing the views of Canadian lawyers to the government and the public. If we don’t cherish and nurture it through membership we undermine the importance of lawyers in society and diminish our ability to be effective in upholding the rule of law.


  1. As this article says, among other things, the Canadian Bar Association is the voice of the legal profession; seeks to improve the law; and upholds the rule of law. I believe that it has a good reputation for doing so, and for being more than a mere stakeholder.

    These ideals seem to raise some questions.

    Ontario has gone through a sea change in real estate, as it has moved from registry to land titles, and then to electronic land registration.

    The 40-year rule in the Ontario Registry Act has given rise to much controversy. The Ontario Land Titles Act was good when first enacted in 1885, but Ontario hasn’t kept it up-to date. In the law, Ontario hasn’t been guided by sound land registration policy in other jurisdictions. Yet Ontario has invested millions in building its electronic land registration system on these foundations. Ontario takes pride in being a leader, and in many ways rightly so.

    Excellent real estate lawyers make many very valuable contributions to the CBA. But the CBA has long supported government changes to the Ontario 40-year rule in registry, which have led Ontario to cut out obvious property rights. The government guarantee of title depends on the guarantee of compensation for mistakes. In 2006, the CBA seems inadvertently to have blessed some government changes that could water down the compensation; open more doors for title insurance as an alternative; and even undermine the rule of law and decisions of the highest courts. The CBA seems to have been largely silent about needed reforms.

    Might the above be true for areas of the law, other than real estate? Should the CBA seek to improve the law, rather than being just a stakeholder? Does the CBA’s high profile carry a responsibility to all lawyers and the public? Could any changes in the CBA’s approach, or even governance, better serve the CBA’s ideals? Should the CBA encourage more advance study, thought sharing and lawyer involvement, with less need to react quickly to rushed changes? Does the CBA need to take positions that purport to represent a consensus of its members? Should the CBA open its process more? Should the CBA encourage more input from lawyers? Might the CBA consider also using SLAW to open its process or encourage input?