In 2012, facing a member referendum to cut licensing fees from $450 to $325, President Stephen Crossland of the compulsory membership Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) was instead editorializing against fee-cutting.
But to no avail. A majority of those voting ignored his protestations that “The WSBA is proudly leading with fiscal prudence and responsibility while continuing to meet your needs and the public’s.”
Nor did most lawyers believe the Bar was holding the line on expenses. Nor did they buy the hyperbole that the “referendum potentially puts WSBA in peril.”
“We have a great Bar Association,” Crossland exclaimed — invoking the tired script every mandatory bar association uses to hug itself when a pat on the back won’t suffice.
“Our Bar Association is revered among those across the nation,” he boasted. “I have found that WSBA staff, programs, sections, Law Office Management Program (LOMAP), Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), and CLE, are bar none, the best.” In the end, it didn’t matter. The referendum carried. Washington lawyers got the fee reduction they longed for. And the reports of the WSBA’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
The ‘duh’ manual.
In post-referendum remarks, the WSBA Executive Director acknowledged “the handful of common threads” expressed by those who voted “yes.” These included:
“• The economy is tough, and a reduction in fees means something to my wallet.
• The WSBA is bloated and overgrown. It’s time to cut back.
• The WSBA has strayed from its mission and should not take positions on issues that are more political in nature than they have to do with the administration of justice.
• The WSBA should only provide core regulatory functions.
• The WSBA is elitist and doesn’t listen to its members.
• The WSBA is hoarding money and building a reserve it doesn’t need.
• The WSBA should leave practitioners alone. It provides no value.”
Reading from the clever deductions page of ‘the Duh manual,’ the director added, “Interpreting what the input means ultimately tells us there is dissatisfaction . . . .”
Now 3 years later, I remain awestruck by (1) the applause-worthy audacity of Washington lawyers and (2) by the commonality of complaints. The “common threads” there are the common threads here. But unfortunately, there’s no member referendum relief in Arizona.
Save the Bar.
Also a common thread is the predictable reaction of bar bureaucrats and their minions.
But why worry? In the same way a trustee can tap a trust to fund a battle against removal, a mandatory Bar can defend itself from perceived existential threats by tapping its member-funded budget.
Indeed, during the last Arizona legislative session, the Bar lobbied against a bill supported by some of its members that would have made the State Bar of Arizona voluntary. The bill failed to pass out of the Arizona House by one vote
In a recent radio interview, the Bar’s CEO acted unconcerned about the likely reintroduction of voluntary bar legislation next session. Nevertheless, while the Bar may want to project a poker-faced public demeanor, it was handing out “It’s My Bar!” buttons at its annual convention.
And not long after the convention, a local attorney set up a “Save the Bar” supporters’ website replete with mischaracterization and misinformation, e.g., “the bar is effective and efficient” and “the bar was almost disbanded.”
If the site doesn’t have the Arizona Bar’s fingerprints, assuredly it has its holy benedictions. The domain was registered in June and has been live for a while and currently lists 33 “lawyer supporters” — and holding.
No matter their unworried pretense. Be assured the slightest whisper of danger to Bar hegemony will trigger even more exaggerated imperilment.
The Washington referendum was about fee-cutting and belt-tightening. The Arizona conversations are about going voluntary or staying mandatory. Also see: “Unified Bar Update.”
The sky-is-falling shrieking, however, will be about the same.
To be clear, though, no one I know is advocating disbanding the Arizona Bar. The State Bar of Arizona can and should continue its existence — but as a consensual membership professional association offering the kinds of programs and services presently offered by 18 voluntary state bars across the nation.
Nor has anyone suggested lawyers not be regulated and disciplined. Like in every state and territory, Arizona lawyers need to continue being regulated and disciplined and obligated to pay 100% of the cost of regulation and discipline. The sole difference giving bar bureaucrats the vapors is that lawyers not be required to be a member or to remain a member of an organization to become or to remain a licensed lawyer in Arizona.
In sum, regulating the practice of law is not the same as regulating the right of association. It’s also quite different from compelling an association and then empowering the association to engage in non-regulatory activities using compulsory membership dues.
The fundamental question, then, isn’t whether or not lawyers ought to be regulated. The fundamental question is should Arizona lawyers be compelled to join a professional association to earn a living as lawyers when 18 voluntary bar jurisdictions say it’s unnecessary?