ABA’s Annual Meeting draws nearly 10,000 legal professionals — including leaders of major international bar associations — and boasts the largest legal trade show in the world. This year’s meeting will offer more than 200 continuing legal education programs.
“You’re catching us at a really interesting time,” said Martin Balogh, ABA’s director of meetings and travel. “We’re in the midst of a whole reorganization of our Annual Meeting. Our meeting has been declining in number of registrants. We have to address this and do something that makes it an event that you don’t want to miss.”
ABA has more than 3,000 entities focusing on different areas of legal practice. About 20 years ago, its Annual Meeting saw nearly double the attendees it does now. “Our meeting is different than others, because it’s a collection of our ABA entities meeting all at the same time,” Balogh said, “so they all have different agendas in terms of what they’re trying to do.”
With so many separate specialty groups to consider, it can be difficult to create a cohesive meeting. An annual meeting task force has been on the job for about two years, devising strategies to bring the group together, create a stronger brand for the conference, and attract a bigger crowd. “We’re exploring the possibility of a more unified Annual Meeting,” Balogh said, “to make it more of a showcase of ABA-wide programs. The hope is that we have a more centralized event, with more people having opportunities to network, not just within their own area of practice.” ABA’s board is slated to address the new plan this month; if it’s approved, it will go into effect for next year’s Annual Meeting.
“This year is not one that’s filled with a lot of change,” Balogh said, “because so much of our time and energy has been put into potential changes for 2014.” ABA has adjusted its online Electronic Program, going from 300 pages two years ago to an approximately 30-page program in 2013. “It’s a fabulous system,” Balogh said. “People really like it, but we learned that we still needed to have a printed calendar of events. We do 1,500 events at our Annual Meeting, so people needed the security of having that.”
Because ABA hosts its Annual Meeting in San Francisco every three years, it goes out of its way to try to keep the city exciting for attendees when they’re back in town. “We have to constantly be coming up with fresh venues, ideas, and ways to make the meeting as exciting as it’s been in the past, if not more so,” Balogh said. ABA has packed this year’s schedule with must-see sites, including an opening assembly at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, a president’s reception at San Francisco City Hall, and programs near the scenic San Francisco- Oakland Bay Bridge, now even more eye-catching with the LED light exhibit “The Bay Lights.”
In addition to adding networking opportunities to help unify the meeting in 2014, ABA plans to tinker with its educational programming. “We’d like to have continuing legal education programs that would be broader in their scope,” Balogh said, “but possibly more elevated in the level of speaker — something you could only get at a national meeting.”
Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.