I ran into a non-member colleague last week who asked me what he would get back if he joined the Nassau County Bar Association and paid his dues. He appreciated the free CLE, the volunteer opportunities, the chance to get to know, work with, learn from, and form friendships with the top lawyers and judges in the county, but he was looking for a return on his investment of a more tangible, monetary type. He thought you can’t make money from being a member of the NCBA.
I can’t guarantee you’ll make money through your membership, but I’ll share my firm’s story. When Marc Gann, Bob McDonald (now New York State Supreme Court Justice McDonald) and I formed our firm in 1990 after serving as assistant district attorneys, we were focused on building a practice in criminal defense. Other than family, friends and what little advertising we could do on our tight budget, we relied upon Assigned Counsel (18B) cases and occasional referrals from other lawyers. We immediately joined the NCBA for many reasons, including to expand our reach for retained cases. What better place to make networking connections with local lawyers than at the local bar association? We knew that the potential for referrals would be substantial — much better than from the New York State Bar Association or the American Bar Association due to the geographic proximity. We promptly began making connections at the NCBA. We started getting state and federal criminal defense referrals from more and more NCBA members. Currently, criminal defense referrals through lawyers at the NCBA are a substantial portion of our practice.
At the time we joined the NCBA, we only did criminal defense work. However, we had many other types of legal matters that came our way. Our physical location and our online presence have resulted in literally thousands of those matters that came to us through the years — matters in areas of law in which we do not practice. Those of you who know the infamous “Ring Story” of my “stolen” wedding ring, either through my (accurate) version or Marc Gann’s (appropriated without permission) oft-told version (if you haven’t heard the story, meet me for lunch one day and I’ll tell you), know that through an Assigned Counsel matter early in our practice I brought in a colossal medical malpractice case. Who would I send it to? Naturally, I sent it to a superb lawyer, Past NCBA President Chris McGrath, whom I met through the NCBA! The result was a multi-million-dollar settlement!
Today, after 30 years of practice, we get a high volume of potential clients seeking help with a wide variety of legal problems outside our fields of practice. I’m sure you might, too. As many of you have found, referring a client to the wrong attorney can be disastrous. There’s nothing more infuriating than having a client you referred out call you and tell you that the lawyer you sent her to didn’t return her calls or treated her poorly. Lawyers should treat referred clients with the utmost care, recognizing that it reflects directly back on the originating attorney. Our firm will continue to refer matters to experienced lawyers we have come to know and trust… through the NCBA.
One way that the NCBA can bring a return on investment is if you launch a new practice area. A few years ago, we brought in a plaintiff’s personal injury component rather than referring those cases out. We dedicated professional and support staff exclusively to this practice division. Our problem was, how does a firm that was originally a criminal defense practice expand into another area of law? The answer was through the NCBA! Since launching this area of practice, and advising the NCBA members that we were not just a criminal defense firm anymore, we were able to vastly expand our caseload of personal injury matters. Numerous NCBA members have sent us their car accident and slip and fall cases. In fact, referrals from members of the NCBA have become among our biggest sources of personal injury cases. One firm partner, Dave Barry, is now the Vice-Chair of the Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Committee – continuing to expand our reach through the NCBA.
In addition to all the wonderful things that our Association has to offer in terms of education, volunteerism, and collegiality, the NCBA has been a fantastic conduit of revenues for us. If membership in NCBA worked for us, it can work for you, too. Get involved in a committee in your area of practice. Write an article for the Nassau Lawyer. Come to WE CARE and NCBA events. Come to Domus for lunch! Rub elbows with NCBA lawyers who do not practice in your area of law. Let the NCBA membership know that you are open to networking and mutual referrals. If you invest in the NCBA, you will very likely be elated at the return on your investment!
My goal is to maximize the value in your NCBA membership. If you have any questions or thoughts about how NCBA can do an even better job of connecting our professional community, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m proud to be your President and look forward to seeing you at Domus!