William C. Hubbard
William C. Hubbard

Illinois law students looking to connect with members of the practicing bar will soon have a new avenue: free membership in the American Bar Association.

Starting in August, the 395,000-member national bar group is waiving the $25 annual dues for law students enrolled at ABA-accredited schools.

“We want to give law students and later young lawyers every opportunity to succeed,” ABA President William C. Hubbard said.

“We ultimately hope that these law students will become prominent members of the ABA and thereby enrich their careers and make the organized bar even stronger,” the South Carolina-based attorney said.

Hubbard thinks law students can bring “creative new ideas” to the ABA, particularly about improving its use of technology. He added that “our delivery of legal services will benefit by a more active and broader law student division,” which currently has about 38,000 members.

There are currently about 119,000 law students who will be eligible for the offer.

Students who have already paid for multi-year memberships may request a prorated refund.

The ABA has highlighted several advantages for participating law students, such as access to the ABA job board and a variety of webinars, networking opportunities with practicing attorneys and members of the ABA’s Law Student Division and access to ABA sections, divisions and forums that provide guidance on practice areas.

As part of membership, students can receive subscriptions to Student Lawyer magazine and the ABA Journal as well as discounts on products such as Sprint cellular plans, Hertz car rentals and Brooks Brothers clothes.

“‘Free’ is always in a law student’s budget,” said Chelsea Grubb, a second-year student at Southern Illinois University College of Law.

Grubb is already a member of the Illinois State Bar Association, which she joined during her first year of law school.

She complimented three elements of ISBA membership: networking opportunities, which were her reason for joining, notices of Continuing Legal Education offers and updates on Illinois law organized by practice area.

Grubb said that there’s added appeal to the ABA offer for Illinois law students who plan to cross state lines to find work, a common trait among SIU students.

“That will be a big deal for people looking to practice elsewhere,” said Grubb, who wants to practice in Springfield.

Dominic LoVerde, a second-year student at Loyola University Chicago College of Law, purchased a three-year ABA membership for $60 during his first year. He is also a member of The Chicago Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association.

Like Grubb, LoVerde views networking and learning about practice areas as the major benefits of bar membership.

“Most students I talk to who are actively involved (in the ABA) have nothing but great things to say about it and gain unbelievable experience from doing so,” said LoVerde, who is the school’s outgoing student bar association vice president.

A clerk at Clifford Law Offices, LoVerde said he appreciates having connections to practitioners who he can talk to about his practice area and others.

“Having access to people to ask those questions to and then also being connected with other law students who are going through the same situation is just very beneficial,” he said.

Ghassan Shamieh, the outgoing student bar association president of Northwestern University School of Law, does not have any bar memberships.

“It was never really presented to me in law school,” said Shamieh, a second-year student who did not think that most students were aware of the opportunities posed by bar associations.

“I think with this new proposal, the new free membership, I think it’s going to change that landscape.”

All three students agreed that the greatest benefit is the career assistance via the job board and networking.

“We just had admitted students weekend at Northwestern, and a primary concern — understandably so — for incoming students is job placement,” Shamieh said.

“Any additional stream of potential job opportunities is always welcomed, especially in the legal field.”

Hubbard said that the ABA has in the past offered free memberships to students for a year or a partial year, “but nothing on the scale of this.”

Students can enroll at americanbar.org/abalawstudents or by calling the ABA Service Center at (800) 285-2221 and will be automatically re-enrolled for each year of law school.

The ABA currently extends free membership for the first year of practice upon admission to the bar. After that first year, lawyers can then choose to become dues-paying members.