A petition was filed today asking the Arizona Supreme Court to amend Rule 32(c) and (d) so as to split the functions of the State Bar of Arizona into two distinct subsets, a mandatory membership organization (“Mandatory Bar”) and a purely voluntary membership organization (“Voluntary Bar”). The amendment to the Court Rules would maintain the current mandatory membership requirement for all lawyers but (1) eliminate mandatory membership dues for non-regulatory functions and (2) allow voluntary contributions for all non-regulatory functions. Read the petition here.
The petition was filed by Sherman & Howard attorney Gregory Falls on behalf of the Goldwater Institute. By way of explanation on its website, the Goldwater Institute reiterates its opposition to “conditioning the practice of law on bar membership in Arizona because coerced membership violates the rights to free speech and free association guaranteed by the United States and Arizona Constitutions.”
It is for this reason, the Institute says it is “sponsoring a rule change petition to allow attorneys to practice law without being forced to fund the lobbying and other non-regulatory functions of the State Bar of Arizona.”
The petition is reminiscent of HB2221, which the petition acknowledges, “called for a less nuanced version of what Petitioner proposes here.” HB2221 came within 5 votes of clearing the Arizona Legislature and landing on the governor’s desk during the 2016 legislative session. Like today’s petition, HB2221 was modeled on the Nebraska Supreme Court’s bifurcated approach to bar membership articulated in its December 6, 2013 decision Petition For Rule To Create Vol. State Bar Assn. 286 Neb. 108.
The Nebraska Supreme Court ordered that the requirement be left in place mandating membership in the Nebraska State Bar Association. But the Court also lifted the requirement that attorneys fund the Nebraska Bar’s non-regulatory functions. This meant Nebraska attorneys still paid regulatory and disciplinary costs but were no longer forced to subsidize the Nebraska Bar’s speech and its non-regulatory activities.
In its website statement, the Goldwater Institute acknowledges that “the Nebraska Model falls short of the fully voluntary model used in 18 other states.” It adds, however, that Nebraska’s bifurcated model “is a significant positive step toward associational freedom.”
The petition filing opens up another front in the long-term campaign to reform lawyer regulation in Arizona. Along with continuing legislative efforts, the goal is to remediate a system not only rife with inequity but which represents a continuing threat to consumers. In addition to impinging constitutional rights on lawyers by preconditioning membership in a trade association to earn a living in their chosen profession, mandatory bar associations have an inherent conflict of interest because they act as both regulators of and trade associations for lawyers. And that conflict of interest is further exacerbated when lawyers elect a controlling number of other lawyers to represent them in their own regulatory board. By its very nature, then, this cartel-protection system threatens capture of the regulatory board by lawyers at the expense of the public.
Conditioning the practice of law on bar membership also violates lawyers’ constitutional rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the only compelling state interest in coercive bar association membership is to improve the practice of law through lawyer regulation. But the fact is that lawyer regulation and improved legal practice can be attained through less restrictive means. 18 states — Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont — have already found ways to regulate attorneys without compelling membership
Arizona lawyers aren’t the only professionals concerned with a mandatory bar’s opacity, bureaucratic wastefulness, and divided loyalties to the public and lawyers. Indeed, attorney and public members of the California State Bar’s Board of Trustees are working again with California Legislators to bifurcate that Bar’s regulatory and trade association functions. See Calif. State Bar Blasted for Lack of Transparency and Lawmakers Fight to Reform California Bar After Audits Skewer Agency for Mismanagement, Lack of Transparency, and Pricey Salaries.
Credits: Petition, by League of Women Voters of California LWVC at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license; Change Management by Jurgen Appelo at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License; Jen, kissing the first amendment goodbye, by Jason Eppink at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.