D.C. Bar 2020: A New Five-Year Horizon

Key Findings: In-Depth

Changes in the Legal Profession

The legal profession is changing dramatically. There is a declining enrollment in law schools, and thousands of graduates are facing the stark reality of job scarcity in the marketplace. Moreover, “big law” is no longer in charge of the marketplace. In the past, corporate clients used one law firm primarily for its legal needs. Today, however, corporations are increasingly relying on teams of lawyers from different law firms, including specialty boutique firms. They are also utilizing more in-house counsel to create greater efficiencies by “doing more with less,” and to contribute to the companies’ bottom lines. Companies are also outsourcing legal work to overseas lawyers, subject matter experts, and contract attorneys for document reviews, E-discovery, and other legal services.

Online legal services have sprouted up in the last several years, such as Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, and H&R Block, which are now competing with traditional legal services. As a result, there is increased client and consumer access to more affordable and legal information on the Internet. This proliferation of non-traditional providers of legal services, including non-lawyers, (i.e., paralegals, legal technicians, accounting firms, etc.) are providing legal advice, and some members would like the D.C. Bar to revisit the definition of “unauthorized practice of law.”

There is also a shortage of legal representation for economically disadvantaged and modest means clients who need legal services but cannot afford them. 

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There are also changing practice and billing models resulting from the economic downturn a few years ago that are likely to be permanent. Last, it appears that the traditional advocacy system will be phasing out in favor of alternative dispute resolution options, including collaborative law.

Member Challenges

Members are having to adapt to a rapidly changing and complex environment. A high percentage of a members’ focus is on the ability to have professional mobility. Members must quickly pivot and adjust their areas of professional practice more often due to a changing interest in the work and as a career strategy. The quantitative research shows that an astonishing one out of four participants have changed their area of professional practice within the past five years. Moreover, one in five respondents who changed practice areas said that they had no choice.

New lawyers entering the profession are not equipped with all the essential legal skills to succeed in the marketplace, and are also trying to manage high debt loads in an environment that has few employment prospects.

Moreover, members are struggling to understand the latest technology tools, and with the competition that exists with the proliferation of nontraditional providers, how to leverage the use of technology and the Internet to provide legal services.

Senior lawyers are transitioning to retirement, baby boomer lawyers are staying in the workplace longer, and millennials are entering the profession. Overall, members are grappling to better understand and appreciate the intergenerational issues that exist, which span several decades.

As was pointed out in the quantitative research and underscored in the focus groups, the most significant challenges D.C. Bar members personally face include balancing family and work, managing stress, and time management. Other challenges cited include advancing in their career and keeping up with new developments in law.

Member Needs from the D.C. Bar


The top member need is for the D.C. Bar is to continue to provide programming (Continuing Legal Education (CLE)) that helps members at all points in their career maintain professional competence. In general, the overall consensus from the focus groups is that the D.C. Bar does an excellent job providing CLE. One member remarked, “The D.C. Bar does a great job putting on CLEs, and continues to provide CLE for a reasonable price. The CLE programs are focused and meet smaller niches of D.C. Bar’s membership.”

Due to the technological revolution, members cited that they would value and deem the following CLE topics the most relevant to their positions: cybersecurity, privacy, data breach, social media, digital transmission, and mega data. Members also expressed interest for non-CLE practice management development programs, particularly for small size law firms and solo practitioners on topics such as “How to Run a more Effective Law Firm Practice.” Moreover, members recommended that the D.C. Bar consider expanding its CLE offerings to include weekends, as well as breakfast and lunch time periods to accommodate more members’ schedules. 


Help New Law School Graduates Acquire Core Practice Competencies

Members also want the D.C. Bar to help law school graduates acquire the core practice competencies required for the practice of law. New lawyers need a broad base of general legal skills, (i.e. “Basic Lawyering” or “New Grad Boot Camp”) as well as specialist practice areas that are applicable and transferable to various legal careers. As one member said, “the D.C. Bar needs to assist newer lawyers to acquire the skills they need to make a living as a lawyer.”

New lawyers also want exposure to other segments of the legal profession, especially ones that appear to have a brighter long-term future, including smaller firms, government lawyers, and prosecutors. Younger lawyers would also value the role of a mentor or a coach from a more seasoned or senior lawyer. 


Career Transitions

Members want the D.C. Bar to assist them in being better prepared to make critical transitions at all stages of their careers. Members need specialized training on topics relevant to their practice area, and “how to” resources to assist with career transitions. These transitions can apply to new law school graduates seeking their first job, associates who want to acquire greater specialization to advance in their career, contract lawyers who are trying to find full-time work or senior lawyers exiting the profession and making the transition to retirement. Services highlighted that would be helpful at various transition stages include: job placement resources, career counseling and coaching, mentoring by pairing more experienced lawyers with younger lawyers, and information interviews, particularly with members who are in practice areas or in legal environments that interest the member. One member declared, “We need better practice support for lawyers at all stages of their careers, so we can practice bigger, better, faster—all related to managing our practices effectively and keeping out of disciplinary consequences.”

Facilitate Thought Leadership

Members are also looking to the D.C. Bar to facilitate thought leadership around diverse issues, including the increasing globalization of the field, judicial independence, increased specialization of the practice of law, alternative billing practices, and opportunities associated with the delivery of and access to justice. One member noted, “The D.C. Bar should take a more activist stance on the issues facing the profession. Become a thought leader and an opinion provider to help shape the conversation.”

Face-to-Face and Virtual Networking

Enhancing the number and nature of opportunities for face-to-face and virtual networking was also deemed a high priority. Members are looking for the D.C. Bar to facilitate opportunities to engage and connect with colleagues of different size practices, and in the broadest sense—both within and beyond their current areas of work to better understand and learn about other practice areas. They are also looking to connect at greater levels via listservs and social media, (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, etc.). As one member responded, “Networking really needs to be about relationship building—face to face but also electronically.”

Stay Current on Technology Tools

Members are also looking to the D.C. Bar to stay current on rapidly changing technology tools and to leverage technologies through more virtual and online offerings, especially for those members that are not located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. One member quipped, “There must be an acknowledgement that depending on where the member is located, members want to attend programs remotely.”

Be More Inclusive

There is a desire for the D.C. Bar to be a more inclusive organization. Although the quantitative research showed that the D.C. Bar membership reflects the increasing number of women joining the profession, one challenge still cited was the lack of diversity. Women Diversity in Private Practicestill have a long way to go before they are as well represented in some practice settings. For example, of those participants who responded about their gender, 61% of the respondents in private practice are male, but only 33% are female. Moreover, some 54% of participants in the industry/corporation category are male but only 42% are female. Women are better represented in government and nonprofit groups. As one member indicated, “Continue efforts to diversify the overall D.C. Bar.”

The D.C. Bar can also be more inclusive by playing a greater role in facilitating meetings with other voluntary and specialty Bar associations, especially around new areas of the law, (i.e., social media, digital transmission, cybersecurity, etc.). As one member representing a voluntary bar stated, “The D.C. Bar helps us to connect with each other; they can be a catalyst for the voluntary bars to work together.” A Section Council leader noted, “Joint ventures and more strategic alliances with voluntary bar associations would be a positive thing. It would provide an additional pool to hear about D.C. Bar events.” Members also want to see the D.C. Bar foster collaboration with other professions and entities that are pursuing areas of work that can drive legal service utilization.

In addition, members noted that the D.C. Bar can be more inclusive by moving away from being “big law-firm focused” and build greater engagement with diverse segments of the membership that have not been as involved, (i.e., younger lawyers, in-house counsel, government lawyers,). More than one member said, “The D.C. Bar is perceived as being entirely by, for, and about big law. It needs to be relevant to all segments of the Bar.”


Members also want to see the D.C. Bar pursue greater representation and better balance on its panels, CLE programs and even Section leadership with lawyers from a wide variety of size practices and segments.

Start New Sections

Last, many members find the Sections to be extremely valuable. As one member said, “The Bar’s Sections are really great. I’d like the Bar to do whatever it can to facilitate the work of its Sections.”

The focus group results showed that members would like the D.C. Bar to consider starting Sections for members who are in similar career tracks or could benefit from the exchange of networking, including Young Lawyers, In-house Counsel, Non-profit Attorneys, Government Lawyers, and Contract Attorneys.

Senior Lawyers Want To Give Back

Senior lawyers and those nearing retirement want to give back to the profession. As one member noted,

“Provide us opportunities to give back, whether it’s in pro bono work or helping young lawyers find jobs.”

Potential New Products/Service Offerings

In the quantitative research, when asked about specific potential products and services that could be provided to help members of the D.C. Bar, the top two items focused on specialized or specific practice areas: 1) an alert services for major legal, regulatory, and case developments in specific practice areas, and 2) an online master class series led by experts in specialized practice areas.

Other potential products and services the D.C. Bar could offer that also ranked high included D.C. Bar legal ethics decisions organized by topic area, and a series of practical guides to practicing before D.C.-based federal agencies. In a few of the focus groups, some members thought the D.C. Bar should consider offering a referral system for the public to find lawyers.

Rating the D.C. Bar

Member Rating of the D.C. BarIn the quantitative research, only 41% of survey respondents indicated that they are required to be a member of the D.C. Bar for their work; 59% are members because they choose to be. 

Just 28% of survey participants gave the D.C. Bar a positive rating at serving the needs of lawyers in their particular types of practice, while only 6% gave the Bar the top rating. Only 22% of participants said the D.C. Bar had been valuable to them and their careers, and only 7% gave them a top rating.

As the percentages suggest, the D.C. Bar has significant room for improvement. It is critical that the D.C. Bar learn to adapt to the changing environment, and make sure that it stays nimble and provides programs and services that will meet member needs, and can ensure its viability in the future. As one member noted, “The D.C. Bar needs less bureaucracy; its primary focus should be on meeting members’ needs.”

Going Forward Serving a Geographically Diverse Membership

D.C. Bar member locations As the D.C. Bar moves forward, it will be important to recognize that although the Bar is based in D.C., only about 60% of its membership live in the D.C. metro area. Many other members live throughout the U.S. as well as overseas. As the D.C. Bar seeks to foster a sense of community and commitment among its members, it will need to consider a well-thought out strategy that encompasses a mixture of activities that include not only face-to-face meetings, but other avenues that do not require a physical presence.

As one member noted, “It is a challenging time to be an attorney. Part of the problem is us. Lawyers in general are very slow to embrace change, whether it is technology or rate structures. Innovation is not something the legal profession does well.”

As this report has shown, the D.C. Bar has an unprecedented opportunity to acknowledge the fact that the legal profession is changing, and that the D.C. Bar needs to evolve if it is going to remain relevant and sustainable and serve its members in the future. As one member summed it up well, “We need to put the members’ needs at the center of decisions.”