American Bar Association - Division for Bar Services

Mecklenburg County Bar - Operational Review

December 5, 2008 - Download the full report here (pdf)



A.  Statistics

B.  Governance

C.  Policies

D.  Financial Management

E.  Staff Management and Administration

F.  Program Administration and Development

G.  Communications and Membership Outreach




The Mecklenburg County Bar (MCB) is unique in the nation. It is a unified metropolitan bar association. As such, it fulfills a state bar-like mandated role for the administration of discipline in its judicial district as well as other regulatory functions such as lawyer-client fee dispute. This role provides both security and anxiety: security via a reliable income stream from mandatory dues dollars and anxiety because of the challenges in creating a sense of affiliation and connection with members who are compelled to belong.


Mirroring the growth of the Queen City itself, the MCB has undergone explosive growth over the past ten years. Membership has increased 37% while the staff has grown from ten to sixteen FTEs. Similarly, the budget has doubled while the bars array of programs and services has grown in sophistication and depth.


During the five-plus year tenure of the current executive director, staff management and administration and governing practices have been systematized. She has assembled a management team and reorganized the staff in a way that has capitalized on staff strengths, the organization's needs. The board has evolved as well. It has moved from being activity-focused to thinking more broadly about impact and the bar's institutional role.


The Division for Bar Services was asked to conduct this operational review against the backdrop of these significant changes and growth in the MCB. The purpose of the review was to look at the bar's business operations to ensure that they are properly aligned with programmatic needs. The review also seeks to identify steps that the bar can take to build its capacity to be more strategic. Some of the assumptions that were made in October when the review began-that growth in the county and bar would continue apace; that CLE income would continue to contribute to the bottom line in exceptional ways-may no longer be as relevant, at least in the short term given the economic downturn that has hit Charlotte particularly hard given the dominance of the banking and financial services industry. The bar will need to be flexible as it addresses shifts in the legal market and changing expectations among members.


Overall, the bar is managed well, administered efficiently, and governed effectively and transparently. With its processes and systems in good order, the bar can focus on further building its capacity to serve its members and the public interest. It can accomplish this by delineating what it views as fundamental to its purposes beyond what is required by court rule. The Foundation needs to be part of this process. Each organization needs to restate its identity and purpose, and most importantly, their relationship to each other and expectations of one another.


This report has seven parts: statistics, governance, policies, financial management, staff management and administration, program administration and development, and communications and membership outreach. In the statistics section, the MCB is benchmarked against similar sized associations for comparative purposes. Within each of the sections, we make observations about exceptional practices and recommendations for improved performance that are listed under the heading "Recommended Areas of Attention."


These recommendations are based on our best judgment as to what would help the MCB better serve its members and the public interest and achieve greater organizational efficacy.


Next Section:  A.  Statistics