So Friday afternoon the Arizona Supreme Court’s Task Force on State Bar of Arizona Mission and Governance posted its draft report to the sound of one-handed clapping. Anyone inclined to read the report can visit the court’s webpage.
But since the proverbial die is cast, it makes no difference that after-the-fact comments are being solicited from the hoi polloi. Any remarks from the naked unwashed will be just in time to be too late and as inessential as a take-a-penny, leave-a-penny tray on a 7-11 counter.
The state high court will do as it pleases and it will please to keep the status quo: a compulsory state bar — just as the Task Force recommends. The rest of the recommendations are much ado about not much, such as recommending a smaller cast of characters now called “trustees” instead of “governors” to oversee policy-making and operations. As previously reported here and here, the Task Force, its report and recommendations will remain largely cosmetic and so inconsequential as to have a thimbleful’s worth of relevance to members.
Integrated not compulsory.
The Task Force prefers dressing up the compulsory nature of the official state organization to which all attorneys must belong and where pay-to-play is the required precondition to earn a living as lawyers. Rather than “mandatory” or “obligatory” or “compulsory,” like state bar elites elsewhere, they’re partial to innocuous modifiers such as “integrated.” Other favorites include, “incorporated” or “organized” or “unified” to describe their state organizations — anything to disguise the fact that unlike physicians, architects, CPAs, dentists, engineers and tattoo artists, only lawyers are singled out for compelled dues-playing professional state association membership for ‘the privilege’ of earning a living in their chosen profession.
The work of the Task Force has been mostly below-the-radar. This is typical of a state bar that treats transparency like Arizonans treat the amount of window tinting used to shield themselves from the desert sun. Unsurprisingly, one year after its creation, the odds are good most Arizona lawyers know little if anything about the Task Force. And now, they’re asked to comment about something they know little to nothing about.
The final draft report was kicked off with a video, which I watched while wrapping up my Friday afternoon work. I’ve yet to read the 116-page report. All the same, surprises? Expect none — unless the Task Force’s risible consultation with the California State Bar counts as one.
For now, here are a couple of needed clarifications after watching the announcement video:
1) Contrary to the Task Force’s assertions, voluntary state bar jurisdictions like New York, Indiana, Illinois and Colorado amply demonstrate that lawyer regulation and discipline are not dependent on the existence of a compulsory bar. In those voluntary bar states, the state supreme courts handle those functions.
The State Bar of Arizona, however, would like nothing better than to continue perpetuating an absurd mythology that lawyers can’t be regulated or disciplined or the public protected without a compulsory membership bar association. New York, Indiana, Illinois and Colorado and 14 other states beg to differ. Those voluntary bar jurisdictions have robust regulatory and public protection programs in place without tramping on First Amendment associational freedoms.
Apples and oranges.
2) Captain Obvious needs to point out that voluntary bar states are by plain meaning, “voluntary.” Unlike Arizona, lawyers can choose to pay their respective supreme courts only for lawyer regulation and discipline — and forgo joining a voluntary state bar. So what’s the point of comparisons between the cost to practice in Arizona with that of voluntary bar states where membership is optional? Why make comparisons between jurisdictions that seem to share a common denominator such as payment of lawyer registration fees while ignoring the fact that the jurisdictions are distinct from one another.
Besides, in virtually all instances, lawyers practicing in voluntary bar states have lower costs to practice than in Arizona — a fact the Task Force prefers Arizona lawyers not know. Instead, the Task Force speciously plays the false analogy game.
A more accurate comparison is to only compare the court-mandated lawyer registration fees for regulation, discipline and client protection among the jurisdictions. After all, lawyer regulation and discipline are the core public protection functions and ought not to be freighted with the bureaucratic surplusage tacked on by mandatory bar associations for non-mandatory programs and activities. Otherwise, it’s all so much nonsensical claptrap, although the apples and oranges comparisons are conveniently self-serving.
Apples and apples.
Take the voluntary bar state of Indiana, where the supreme court charges $180 per year for regulation and discipline. Membership in the voluntary Indiana bar association is $280 (6+ years of practice). Total cost to practice in Indiana is $460 if an Indiana lawyer also saw fit to join the voluntary bar. Otherwise, the cost to practice in Indiana is a $180 registration fee payable to the Indiana Supreme Court. This is a lower cost to practice than Arizona, which is currently $475 but increasing to $520 by January 1, 2018.
Or take Illinois where lawyers pay the court an annual registration of $382, which includes regulation and discipline but is also larded with mandatory payments to the Lawyers Trust Fund ($95) for pro bono legal aid; Lawyers Assistance Program ($7); Commission on Professionalism ($25) and Client Protection Program ($25). Voluntary membership dues in the Illinois State Bar Association run from “Free” in year one to a cap of $320 in year 20. Certainly, if you combine both the court registration fees and voluntary bar association membership dues, the total cost to practice in Illinois of $702– far more than what lawyers pay in Arizona.
But what the task force conveniently omits is that there’s more than meets the eye concerning membership in voluntary bar jurisdictions. Membership in the voluntary Illinois State Bar Association also entitles members to 15 hours of FREE CLE per year. If you factor what Arizona lawyers pay for CLE, which can run upwards of $600 per year (15 hours X $40 average), the total cost to practice in Illinois is far lower than Arizona.
And in Connecticut, another voluntary bar state that on paper looks higher than Arizona with an attorney registration fee of $665, of that amount, $565 is a separate tax that goes to the State of Connecticut Department of Revenue Services — not to the court for lawyer regulation and discipline. Meantime, membership in the voluntary Connecticut State Bar Association runs zero in year one up to $280 for admittees prior to 7/10/10. The total, excluding the $565 state tax, is less than $400 assuming a Connecticut lawyer also opted to join the voluntary bar. Otherwise, they would just pay the hefty $665 annual fee.
In Colorado, lawyers pay an annual attorney registration fee of $325 to cover regulation and discipline. Membership in the Colorado Bar Association is voluntary. New lawyers pay $100 per year and so-called senior lawyers licensed 8+ years pay $230 annually. Assuming Colorado lawyers wanted to belong to the voluntary bar association, their total annual fees would total $555.
Finally, in the voluntary bar jurisdiction of New York, the attorney registration fees of $375 payable to the court are biennial, i.e., due every two years. This amount includes $60 to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection; $50 to the Indigent Legal Services Fund; and $25 to the Legal Services Assistance Fund. However, New York lawyers wanting to belong to the voluntary state bar association pay $275 annually if they were admitted prior to 2006. This means that on an annualized basis, New York lawyers pay $462 if they chose to join their voluntary state bar association along with payment to the court for regulation and discipline. This is still less than what lawyers in Arizona pay.
Photos: Registration desk sign, by NHS Confederation at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution;Ev Williams by Christopher Michel at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution, Payment by GotCredit at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.