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.