Two days before Thanksgiving, the State Bar of Arizona served up official notice of what I’m characterizing as a layered roast of poultry called a turducken. For gourmands, a turducken is a culinary dish consisting of a deboned chicken stuffed into the gastric cavity of a deboned duck, that’s then stuffed into the business end of a turkey and roasted.
The Arizona Bar’s pre-holiday version is a different kind of three-bird fowl. The Bar’s turducken consists of a turkey misnomered a “Public Service Center” engastrated by a lead generation platform that purports to expand access to justice because persons looking online for lawyers are referred to lawyers looking for clients.
The smallest bird in the Bar’s three-bird roast is the hen-sized pro-bono component that aspires to help the poor by finding lawyers willing to work for free. The cost for all this stuffed fowl is estimated to run $300,000 per year paid for by all Arizona lawyers — whether or not they make use of the new customer acquisition tool dressed up in public relations garb.
The news came by way of a blast email transmitted November 22nd by State Bar President Lisa Loo who cloaked the announcement as its response to an Arizona Supreme Court rule amendment that states:
“The State Bar of Arizona exists to serve and protect the public with respect to the provision of legal services and access to justice. Consistent with these goals, the State Bar of Arizona seeks to improve the administration of justice and the competency, ethics, and professionalism of lawyers practicing in Arizona.”
How this broadly written rule automatically translates into more Bar employees; an expanded bureaucracy; a new business deal with a third-party tech marketing provider; and a new $300,000 annual expense is a testament to how self-serving bureaucrats will always be drawn to bigger bureaus.
Along the way, the Bar says its “Center will work with existing legal aid and referral services as well as other community partners to increase opportunities for the public and our members to connect.” What the introduction of a competing online lawyer referral vehicle means to the likes of the voluntary county bar association’s long running revenue-generating lawyer referral service remains to be seen.
“The Bar is still a member organization, and we intend to maintain the many programs that support and enhance the practice of law throughout Arizona,” the Bar President goes on to declare in her email. Said another way, the bottomless bureaucratic maw will always be fed so long as lawyers are forced to join a mandatory trade association as a precondition to practice law in Arizona.
The blast email letter closes with an oblivious admission — that underscores the root of the Bar’s problem. The State Bar of Arizona has an irreconcilable conflict of interest in claiming to both protect the public from its lawyers while at the same time serving the interests of those lawyers. Memo to the Bar: The interests of the public aren’t always the same as the interests of lawyers.
“Our job today,” the email explains, “is to find the best way to help both the public and our members.” The Bar thinks that by running a client lead-generator to grow the business of its members it will also help the public’s access to justice. How that exactly helps the large swath of Arizonans who can’t afford to hire a lawyer is left unexplained. And by the same kind of magical thinking, the Bar incredulously asserts this new business-generator will ‘oh-by-the-way’ also help expand legal services to the indigent.
The final tidbit of disingenuity is a solicitation for “your thoughts regarding this initiative.” As previously related, the Bar’s Board of Governors has already voted overwhelmingly in favor of the initiative and has even green-lighted its inclusion in the Bar’s 2017 fiscal budget. No wonder the Bar says it “will do so within our existing budget.”
Asking members after-the-fact for their thoughts clearly amounts to window dressing – a cynical pose of regard. And it’s about as worthwhile as asking the chicken and the duck what they think about being stuffed up a turkey.
Credits: “El Pato,” by Armando Aguayo Rivera at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Turducken by Sue & Danny Yee at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Turducken by Engelmann at Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Share-alike attribution license; Turducken by Bojangles at Wikimedia Commons public domain.