Inside NACDL: Harnessing New Technologies in Service to the Defense Bar

Inside NACDL Norman L. Reimer

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.

After months of planning and design, NACDL is launching several initiatives designed to integrate a range of new technological advances. The overriding goal is to harness the expanding Web-based capacity to better serve membership and advance the Association’s public policy initiatives. The most important component is the implementation of a new association management system (AMS). Simply put, this is the electronic brains of NACDL’s operation. It is the means by which a membership-based organization interfaces with its members and other constituents. It is the electronic conduit by which NACDL records membership data, meeting attendance, committee participation, and virtually every other aspect of the Association's relationship with its members.

The new system, which is a partnership between NACDL and Integrated Software Solutions Inc., will become fully operational during the months of April and May. In the first phase, the “back-end” aspects of the system will become operational as membership, accounting, and meeting records are migrated into a new database. Thereafter, the public side of the new system will become active. In this phase, each member will find that interaction with NACDL will comport with modern expectations for state of the art e-commerce. Each member will be able to access and self-manage his or her contact information online.

In addition, members will be able to pay dues, register for seminars, and purchase CLE programs and other products online — with just a few computer clicks. When fully operational, the new system will also enable members and CLE subscribers to review and maintain CLE credits obtained through NACDL meetings. Members will also be able to maintain and review all committee participation and special interests within their membership account. Finally, members will have online access to the NACDL Handbook, with easier search capacity and data that is updated in virtual real time.

The new AMS is just one phase of NACDL’s technological evolution. NACDL is also embarking on the early phases of a thorough Web site redesign. The goal is to maximize NACDL’s capacity to provide valuable resources to criminal defense practitioners. The goal is to develop a site that provides updated content with advanced search functionality to promote ease and efficiency in accessing that content. NACDL not only has an outstanding Technology Planning Team that includes members, staff, and consultants, but the Association has been greatly aided by the results of a recent membership Web site survey.

The results of the survey are both encouraging and challenging. Nearly 75 percent of respondents gave high ratings to the quality of the information available at the NACDL Web site, a similar number found the content up-to-date, and nearly 90 percent felt that the Web site added value to NACDL membership. At the same time, respondents identified several challenges that will guide the planning team as it develops a revitalized site. There is a clear demand for expanded resources, an enhanced search engine, and a great interest in new technological capability such as podcasts, blogs, video downloads, online shopping, as well as expanded social networking capability. NACDL thanks those members who participated in the survey.
NACDL is already meeting some of the challenges identified in the survey. As noted, online shopping at the NACDL Web site will soon be a reality. NACDL also took its first steps into the world of peer-to-peer communication. While the listservs are an increasingly vital member resource, the rise of Internet-based social networking presents a widely accessible and powerful information tool. As was evident in the recent presidential campaign, social technologies can vastly accelerate communication potential and profoundly influence public opinion.

In March, NACDL launched a members-only group on Facebook and NACDL’s public page on Facebook. Astonishingly, within two weeks of launch, the NACDL group had more than 300 members, including members, directors, and officers. And NACDL’s public page on Facebook boasts over 400 fans. As NACDL ventures into this new world, staff is posting valuable updates and other NACDL content on developments in the criminal justice system on the Facebook page. For those who are hesitantly thinking about giving the social networking option a try, NACDL has prepared a useful memo outlining an array of security tips to assist the novice in addressing privacy concerns. The memo is available at

This foray into social networking, spearheaded by NACDL’s Membership Committee with enthusiastic support from the Board of Directors, is the beginning, not the end of the Association’s willingness to embrace these new modes of communication. In the coming months, staff and leaders will consider any and all vehicles that can foster secure and valuable dialogue by and between members and the public at large.

Taken together, NACDL’s embrace of technological potential is a reflection of the Association’s recognition that America’s criminal defense bar deserves first-rate resources to maximize the most modern communications and information-sharing capacity available. In the final analysis, this initiative is designed to support individual lawyers in service to individual clients, and the Association in service to its core public policy objectives.

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