The Seduction of the ABA

In my first year of practice, I was a member of the American Bar Association.  That’s because membership was free to brand new lawyers.  After that, you had to pay. My membership lapsed.  It had no relevance to my world.  Given Biglaw layoffs and small firm hunger, the ABA had an opportunity to become relevant to the world of solo and small firms. 

It tried.  At the 2010 Annual Meeting, it put on a conference to offer us something it thought would matter, 10 Ways To Build A Perfect Practice And Career.

Watch 10 of the most dynamic speakers in the legal community describe how to boost your bottom line and manage your career in these tough economic times.


It failed. As Brian Tannebaum noted at My Law License, the only thing missing from this “perfect practice and career” extravaganza was real lawyers with perfect practice and careers.  Whether the speaker were dynamic, I dunno, but the ten chosen to speak offered a sad mix.

Four (4) of the 10 appear, and I say “appear,” to be actual practicing lawyers.

Listen, the 6 salespeople may sell very important products. They may be respected sales people who formally practiced law.

But the ABA couldn’t find 10 practicing lawyers to speak to lawyers about building a successful practice?

Some of these dynamic speakers fall under the ABA Journal’s ignominious Legal Rebel rubric, a shameful confusion of people who prefer iPads to legal pads, for whom practicing law holds only the vaguest meaning.  Some are just shills for their marketing services, people who turned to selling snake oil when the practice of law failed miserably.  And that’s who the ABA promotes to teach real lawyers how to have the “perfect practice.”

I’ve struggled with trying to understand what could possibly go through the collective heads of decision-makers at the ABA, a once venerable, if unbearably stuffy, association.  Are they so disconnected from reality that they believe the shills?  Do they have such utter contempt for anyone outside of Biglaw that they don’t care what sort of tripe they promote to solos? 

A comment to Brian’s post by Jennifer Rose may provide a clue.

The ABA definitely has been seduced by a throng of professional legal marketers who’ve found a venue for shilling their services. One even sent out a bulletin last fall:

“I’m so excited to announce that the American Bar Association has called on Alexis to whip small and solo law firm owners into shape by giving her 3 different sessions this year at the ABA National Small and Solo Law Firm Conference in L.A.”

Not only is it evident that the ABA couldn’t find ten practicing lawyers who’ve built the perfect practice, the single ABA entity speciously dedicated to serving general practice, solo and small firm lawyers has stacked its officer ladder with only a single solo practitioner – filling the rest of the ranks with two military lawyers, a lawyer in a larger firm, and giving the nomination for its secretary to a judge.

The name, American Bar Association, retains some cache, some of the glitter from when it strived to reflect the highest ideal of a noble profession.  But the gang in charge is clueless.  It’s easy to fool clueless people with shiny objects.  All the marketing scammers need do to seduce the clueless is pass their shiny solutions under their noses and tell them how they would be thrilled to pay their own way to speak at the Annual Meeting.   Nobody in charge gave much thought to how people who wouldn’t know the perfect practice if it bit them in the ass are going to teach others how to achieve it.  They were seduced.

The bright side is that the attendees of this presentation immediately set to work creating the “perfect practice” by employing the lessons learned from the ABA.  It was captured on video to be used as an enticement to new and struggling lawyers. 

Welcome to the future of law, ABA Style.

8 thoughts on “The Seduction of the ABA

  1. Eric L. Mayer

    I question all the hubub about solo practice and learning to be a solo practitioner.

    It seems to be fairly straightforward:
    1. Create the business.
    2. Get a client or two.
    3. Work really hard for the clients’ needs.
    4. Repeat steps 2 and 3

    I’ve had several guys come to me saying “_________ told me that you worked really hard for them. I need your help.” From that, it just seems that hard work and competency market themselves in time.

    Am I missing something? I concede that I am beginning in the world of solo practice, so I could be convinced that this is more complex than it looks. I just don’t see it at this point.

  2. Lee

    Work really hard? Eric, that’s just silly!! You need more social media training to learn how to be rich and famous without working hard. After all, isn’t that the point?

  3. Jdog

    That video is one of the funnier things that I’ve seen, and I’ve been rewriting it in my head for other professions/gigs, as well as legal specialties.

    “Well, for fifty, I can tell you how to reset a case while we drive around the block. For a grand, I’ll stay up all night and do a request for summary dismissal.”

    “Well, for twenty, I can give you a quick defensive driving briefing while you drive around the block. For, two-fifty, I’ll talk you through our unique advanced pursuit and evasion course after you speed through that red light over there, past that cop.”


    What I purely love about it is that it parodies the pretense away from the notion that selling, in and of itself, has something to do with the value that people presumably want to buy.

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