Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2008

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In an effort to grasp the thoughts and desires of their dedicated membership pool, a growing number of organizations and Sections have turned to the MSBA in the last couple years in order to create and dispense electronic member surveys. This free service is simply one seed in the garden of services that MSBA provides, but it has grown into one of the Bar’s most prized crops.

“[The Surveys] cost nothing,” said MSBA’s Director of Law Office Management Assistance (LOMA) and main facilitator of the electronic surveys Pat Yevics. “We’re happy to do them. It’s a no-brainer.”

The process is made easy for Yevics and her crew with the help of Zoomerang, a software program that allows users to design and tabulate their surveys with a few clicks of a button. The website boasts it’s “the world’s #1 source of online surveys,” even still, complications remain when creating a survey. In order to circumvent these pitfalls, a tip sheet is offered.

Before a Section or organization submits a survey to the MSBA, the surveyors are advised to make the questionnaire brief and concise, leave personal questions towards the end, inform the participants how long the survey will take and reassure them about confidentiality. These tips are comprised mainly from Web Based Surveys: Changing the Survey Process by Holly Gunn, who offers the main caveat: “the first question [is] the most critical… and should be tied to the survey’s purpose.” Furthermore, the survey writers are asked to avoid open-ended questions, “other” response categories and requiring participants to rank their responses.

The Section then submits their questions to the MSBA department and revisions are made until a final copy is agreed upon. Members or other target audiences are alerted of the survey either via e-mail, a posting on the Email List (if applicable) or a notice on their website and MSBA’s homepage.

“Simple” is an understatement when describing this process. But the ubiquitous surveys’ speed-of-light actions provide the Sections and organizations with anything but simple responses.

“We put together an exhaustive survey,” said Bar Association of Frederick County (BAFC) President Beth Beam. They sought to discover what was and was not working for their members. The BAFC discovered there weren’t any big issues within the 137 responding members (according to MSBA’s Zoomerang account), but slight recommendations, i.e. rotating the annual golf tournament or monthly luncheon locations. After the February 2008 survey was closed, the association quickly adopted these suggestions.

“That service is fabulous,” continued Beam. “Everybody really enjoyed it. It was really helpful to us in terms of planning.”

The Litigation Law Section was similarly pleased with their spring 2006 survey.

“It was a pretty good snapshot of how we can improve our Section,” said Section Chair and survey co-writer Chris Heffernan.

The survey was developed to accurately gage member participation and how to improve it. What could the Section do to better serve? How would the members like to be involved? These were questions Heffernan and Rowan Nichols asked themselves before they wrote the survey questions. From the 170 responses – approximately 10% of the Section membership, which, according to Yevics, is slightly above average – the Section determined that participation is growing, yet the members would liked to be informed of committees and events more often. So, they have since heavily promoted their Email List and called people who stated in their responses that they were interested in serving on committees. Perhaps the most vital suggestions were culled from younger members’ responses.

“They gave very detailed information,” said Heffernan. “They are the future of the Section.”

And it is never too early to begin reeling in new blood to the Sections, which was the focus of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s survey this summer. Polling all of their upper level (2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-year) students, the University asked what MSBA Section interested them the most. The survey was created in concert with the UB and MSBA’s new partnership. Beginning with the incoming-2008 class, UB students will be made associate MSBA members.

Of the 400 students that responded to the still currently-opened survey, the Sections that received the greatest interest were Business Law, Criminal Law and Litigation, though the respondents were spread out through 19 Sections.

“This was very helpful for us to get an idea of our students’ interests,” said Angela Vallario, UB Associate Professor of Law and a member of MSBA’s Estates & Trust Section. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

This kind of foresight was also found in the Animal Law Section when they were still a pack of cubs trying to navigate their path. Founded in 2006, the Section posted a survey last summer in order to “acquire member comments and long-range planning,” according to Chair-Elect Gary Norman. The subsequent findings have allowed the Section to evolve into one of the Bar’s more popular features.
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Publications : Bar Bulletin:August 2008

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