“States that have voluntary bar associations by and large do not have lower overall bar dues,” says a footnote in the Draft Report posted by the Arizona Supreme Court’s State Bar of Arizona Mission and Governance Task Force. “They charge both a mandatory regulatory assessment and separate voluntary bar dues, which together often exceed the annual membership fee in the State Bar of Arizona.”
Sounds well and good — but too bad for the Kool-Aid guzzlers, it doesn’t pass a fact check.
You can read the Draft Report here and find the above-mentioned quote at the bottom of page 13.
Fact-checking the Bar.
After the better part of a year, you’d think the Task Force would have spent a little more time fact-checking and getting its story straight. Or maybe like George Costanza, it just believes it — so it must be true.
Certainly, there’s a lot in the Task Force Report upon which to take exception, not the least being the conflated mythology again fluttered out on frayed wings that only a mandatory bar can “ensure professionalism and competence” and that only a mandatory bar can protect the public from its lawyers.
This, of course, ignores the robust lawyer regulation and disciplinary regimes in 18 voluntary state bar jurisdictions. It also wrongs and misconstrues the panoply of membership benefits provided by voluntary bar associations, to name a few, like Ohio’s, Iowa’s, Colorado’s, New York’s, and Illinois.’
Indeed, many if not all the voluntary bar association programs and benefits rival and even exceed the programs, activities and services offered by the compulsory State Bar of Arizona.
And yet, the Arizona Bar likes to pretend that only mandatory bars make available client protection funds; offer law office management and lawyer assistance programs; provide continuing legal education courses; present annual bar conventions; publish monthly bar magazines or support ethics hotlines. Begging the question, the Draft Report shamelessly proclaims,“These invaluable services will cease to exist with the demise of the integrated bar because no voluntary bar in Arizona offers them.”
Instead, see what happens in jurisdictions with voluntary bar associations, for example, check out: Ohio and Iowa and New York and Colorado and Illinois. Lawyers in those jurisdictions choosing to join their state’s voluntary bar associations don’t take a back seat to anything offered by the mandatory State Bar of Arizona.
It takes two hands to put out this whopper.
As for the whopper about how “both a mandatory regulatory assessment and separate voluntary bar dues, which together often exceed the annual membership fee in the State Bar of Arizona,” the facts are set out in the chart below.
The data concerning optional voluntary state bar association membership dues was obtained from readily available public online information from voluntary state bar jurisdictions. The attorney registration fee information comes from state court websites although since the Arkansas Supreme Court fee registration information was not publicly accessible, it was confirmed by a licensed Arkansas lawyer.
The fees in the chart are the full fee maximums for lawyers practicing past the entry-level graduated fee periods. Newbie lawyer fees are typically discounted.
No MCLE in Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts.
And then take note of something else not mentioned in the chart. While the breathtaking $945.00 combined regulatory assessment and separate voluntary bar dues appear to make Connecticut a high cost to practice jurisdiction, the overall cost to practice is still lower than in Arizona. Why? Because unlike Arizona, Connecticut does not have mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE). This saves Connecticut lawyers anywhere from $600 to $1000 per year versus what Arizona lawyers pay to satisfy the annual 15 hour MCLE requirement.
The same is true of Massachusetts with its sizeable $761.00 combined regulatory assessment and separate voluntary bar dues. Massachusetts does not have a MCLE requirement. Nor does Maryland, which at $280.00 for both regulatory assessment and voluntary bar dues must be the lowest cost to practice jurisdiction in the United States.
Comparing overall costs to practice.
The bottom line is two-fold: One, in voluntary bar states, lawyers can elect to pay only their court-mandated regulatory registration fees and forego joining a voluntary state bar association. This automatically reduces their overall cost to practice as compared to Arizona.
Two, the exact opposite is true of the Task Force’s claim that Arizona’s bar dues are often exceeded by the combined regulatory assessments and voluntary bar dues in voluntary bar jurisdictions. Lawyers in states that have voluntary bar associations pay lower overall bar dues, in some instances much less than the current and still escalating annual membership fee in the State Bar of Arizona, which hits $520 per year on January 1, 2018.
Photo Credits: “Pants of Fire,” by Mike Licht at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution ; Twain’s Men’s Room, by Robert Occhialini at Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.