Inside NACDL: The Costs - and Benefits - of NACDL Membership

The Costs - and Benefits - of NACDL Membership Norman L. Reimer, Elizabeth Kelley

Access to The Champion archive is one of many exclusive member benefits. It’s normally restricted to just NACDL members. However, this content, and others like it, is available to everyone in order to educate the public on why criminal justice reform is a necessity.

We begin with unwelcome news: NACDL dues are going up. For the first time in 5 1/2 years, as of October 1st, NACDL annual dues will increase by $25 for all membership classes except public defenders. At the Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the membership approved this increase, acting upon the reluctant recommendation of the Board of Directors. No membership association relishes the prospect of a dues increase. NACDL leadership believes, however, that the entire membership is entitled to know the economic realities that compel this action. On behalf of the staff and the volunteer leaders, we write to explain why this increase is necessary and why NACDL membership remains a genuine bargain — a vital tool in helping members become better lawyers and better advocates for their clients.

Major Cost Factors

First and foremost, as all of you know from your own law practices and personal lives, even in an era of modest inflation, it is difficult to sustain any enterprise with a static revenue stream over a span of 5 1/2 years. Everyday operational costs, such as rent, fuel, labor, supplies, printing and postage, relentlessly creep upward. Additionally, NACDL must confront two other key challenges. NACDL’s Association Management System, the computer technology that is critical to daily operation, must be upgraded. This is a costly and long-term project. When fully implemented, it will enable NACDL to provide state of the art online services to our members, including the ability to instantaneously update membership records and a one-stop shopping option for NACDL programs and products.

A second cost factor, which must be addressed imminently, is the need to find a new home for NACDL’s national office. For many years, NACDL has had a somewhat nomadic existence, subletting space and relocating every few years or so. Our current sublease will expire next March, and new building ownership intends to establish a pricing structure beyond NACDL’s means. Accordingly, NACDL must relocate. As of the date this column is written, we are on the verge of obtaining a prime lease that will provide a home for NACDL for the next decade. The prospective office suite is located just a couple of blocks from our current location. It affords sufficient space to permit modest growth and is priced reasonably. Even so, rental rates and associated moving costs cannot be supported without a dues adjustment.

Concern for Public Defenders

Notwithstanding this need, NACDL leadership recognizes that the economic pressures that all of us must face are even more acute for the chronically underpaid indigent defense community. Accordingly, we are holding the line on dues assessed for our public defender membership class. Public defenders are an essential component of an effective criminal justice system but are too often inadequately compensated.

Practical Benefits

From a purely practical standpoint, NACDL’s affinity relationships with corporate partners offer members an array of discount opportunities that can more than offset annual dues. Our insurance partner, Complete Equity Markets, offers significantly discounted professional liability insurance rates. Thomson-West offers a 20 percent discount on a wide selection of criminal law publications and a 10-20 percent discount on its Westlaw online service. Additionally, members can visit the NACDL Web site, click “Lawyer Resources” and find an array of retail discounts on clothes, hotels, auto rentals, auto insurance and software. NACDL staff is always seeking to add to this growing list of tangible benefits — benefits that translate into substantial savings.

Professional Benefits

Support for its 12,000 members, however, is NACDL’s primary value. Support comes in the form of useful practice aids, such as The Champion, NACDL’s preeminent publication featuring an invaluable collection of timely criminal justice news, litigation updates, case-winning tips and strategic advice. It comes through NACDL’s outstanding Continuing Legal Education program, featuring a faculty of unsurpassed talent drawn from the ranks of the most prominent practitioners, academics, forsensic experts and judges. The programs are currently held annually at eight locations around the nation, and will soon be available for credit on your personal computer.

Support also comes through NACDL’s National Strike Force, ready to stand with defense lawyers subpoenaed for properly representing a client, threatened with contempt, or facing an improper disqualification motion. Just days ago, as reported in this issue (see page 10), on less that 48 hours’ notice, NACDL leadership came to the aid of a young Ohio lawyer held in contempt for refusing to proceed to trial without adequate time to prepare. Support also comes through an array of services that provide practical guidance in every practice area, through legal updates, timely advisories, and listservs that give every practitioner access to experienced colleagues who are ready and willing to lend a hand.

Beyond these practical benefits, NACDL offers its members the chance to be part of a community of like-minded individuals — people who share the belief that practicing criminal defense is more than a question of competence, it is a calling. It is a commitment to caring about our clients as human beings and to promoting a humane criminal justice system in a hostile arena.     

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Societal Benefits

NACDL is the leading advocate for the preservation of due process and the most articulate champion of criminal justice reform. For nearly half a century, NACDL’s voice has been there to oppose repressive and regressive penal policies and to advocate for the preservation of the fundamental liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights. On virtually every criminal justice issue considered by the Supreme Court, NACDL’s outstanding amicus curiae program ensures that the nation’s defense bar weighs in with a brief authored by the nation’s top lawyers. Recent cases include Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States, United States v. Booker, and Crawford v. Washington. Notably, in it is most recent term, in Roper v. Weaver, the Court sustained the grant of a writ overturning a death sentence, and explicitly based its ruling on a point raised in the NACDL amicus brief.

As a result of our federal legislative program and White Collar project, NACDL is shaping public policy through a panoply of initiatives. We are providing leadership in the coalition in support of the Attorney Client Privilege Protection Act, support for the Prosecutor and Defender Incentive Act (which would provide student loan debt relief to public defenders and prosecutors), persistent advocacy for sentencing and grand jury reform, and opposition to the federal government’s relentless assault on fundamental liberty in both the individual and the corporate context. And through our State Legislative Network, Indigent Defense Counsel, and grassroots advocacy, NACDL supports identification reform, recording of custodial interrogation, indigent defense services and an endless array of initiatives regularly highlighted in the pages of this magazine.

In short, NACDL remains faithful to its core mission of being a rational and compassionate advocate for justice for all and providing support for the nation’s defense bar. The modest dues increase, roughly two dollars a month, will enable NACDL to fulfill this mission in the coming years. As we stand on the precipice of NACDL’s Golden Anniversary, we are grateful for your support and proud of our continuing role as “Liberty’s Last Champion.”

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