In addition to mandatory state or local bar memberships, today's legal practitioner needs to consider joining one of the many voluntary professional legal organizations. Continuing education, practice management, and networking opportunities - these represent only a few of the many perks that these associations can offer their members. There are organizations for every legal specialty and every type of lawyer. Here are links and brief descriptions for five of the leading legal professional organizations:
American Bar Association
With over 400,000 members, the ABA is the largest voluntary professional organization in the world. Networking and professional development are available through Section memberships, attendance at the Annual Meeting, and Continuing Legal Education. The ABA has its own Retirement and Insurance plans for lawyers, and member discounts for everything from computers to shipping. Other resources include practice management tools and advertising and ethics guidelines, with many of these resources geared toward the solo practitioner or small firm lawyer. Most other voluntary legal organizations are affiliated with the ABA, ranging from the American Immigration Lawyers Association to the Energy Bar Association to the National Association of Women Lawyers.
Association of Corporate Counsel
ACC is the world's largest community of In-House counsel, providing resources and networking opportunities for attorneys who practice in legal departments of corporations and other private-sector organizations. In addition to advocacy, networking, and education opportunities, members have access to its monthly journal, the ACC Docket; a daily newsfeed; downloadable sample forms and policies; an online library; and products and services from legal vendor partners.
American Association for Justice
Formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the AAJ is the membership organization of plaintiff trial attorneys. In addition to political advocacy, member benefits include seminars; a trial advocacy skills college; media training; and access to the AAJ Exchange document databases, with thousands of depositions and court documents. Members receive publications such as Trial magazine, and discounts for everything from insurance and financing needs to trial and case preparation services. Listings are also provided for all state trial lawyer associations.
DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar
DRI is an international membership organization of defense lawyers in civil trials. In addition to political advocacy, DRI states that it is committed to diversity, professionalism and improving the civil justice system. Attorneys who are members of state or local defense organizations qualify for free membership for their first year. Networking and professional development opportunities are available through membership in substantive law committees, attendance at the Annual Meeting, and at seminars, webcasts and web conferences. Members have access to online databases and a DRI- sponsored lawyer's professional responsibility insurance program.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
NACDL is the professional membership organization for the criminal defense lawyer, including private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, and military defense counsel. Member benefits include access to specialized lists and online databases, ability to download documents from a Briefs and Motions Bank, and a listing in the association's public "Find a Lawyer" directory Networking with other criminal defense lawyers is made easy with a members directory, standing committee participation and seminar attendance.
Today's online world requires instant access to knowledge in order to stay competitive. In this section, the savvy legal practitioner can access databases and software providing up-to-date legal information from courts, case law, periodicals and digital citations, as well as information on law firm management and continuing legal education, often without having to leave the office, and some with no or minimal cost. Here are a links to and summaries of five of the most comprehensive sites for legal resources:
Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, is an electronic public access service of the United States Judiciary. This service provides low-cost access to case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts. Registration with the PACER Service Center is free, and documents can be accessed and printed for as low as $.08 per page. Additional registration options allow access to the Case Management/Electronic Case Filing (CM/ECF) system, offering electronic filling over the Internet of pleadings in federal courts.
LexisNexis, originally known as the pioneer provider of online information, now has a Total Practice Solutions division to help the small legal practice with software for all aspects of its legal management. Software solutions include billing and time tracking, client development and marketing, litigation management, comprehensive research solutions and law firm directory listings in Martindale Hubbell. The initial cost outlay may seem high for the new practitioner, but savings will abound down the road through greater efficiencies. Take advantage of all the free tips and articles on their website as well.
The other heavyweight in the online legal research and software field, FindLaw (an affiliate of WestLaw) has a site for legal professionals where you can find anything from legal software to expert witnesses. Free and for fee legal forms are available for download, cases and codes can be researched, and legal headlines can be browsed.
Twenty major legal publications, such as The American Lawyer and The National Law Journal, can be found for free and online through the Law.com site. In addition to receiving top legal news daily on The Newswire, subscribers can also access the CLE (Continuing Legal Education) center and satisfy state CLE requirements online. Links to legal job listings, an online book store, and research and databases are also provided.
Law Library of Congress
The Library of Congress Law Library is the largest law library in the world, with over 2.6 million volumes. Located in Washington, DC, access to the library is free to registered users. Although most of the collection is not available online, the Library is beginning to digitize some of its historical collections such as Congressional legislative documents. Additionally, Law Librarians are available to answer legal research inquiries by telephone or e-mail. A listing of worldwide legal and legislative databases and eResources can be accessed online, either by topic or by title.