Posts Tagged ‘Board of Governors’

Like the bed-destroying dog that expects praise or the guy that lights the house on fire and later claims credit for putting it out, yesterday the State Bar of Arizona blast emailed supposed “good news about member fees.” The Bar’s final $15 dues increase slated for implementation January 1, 2019 “has been put on hold.”

Already one of the highest cost to practice states in the U.S. at either No. 3 or 4 on the high-priced hit parade, the Bar’s email message from its new president seemed to expect members to praise or credit it for this latest dues suspension.

Let’s instead give the new president a dozen chutzpah cupcakes to pass around at next month’s board meeting.

This is the second postponement authorized by the state supreme court. The last $15 was originally scheduled for roll out January 1 of this year.

But to be clear, the increase hasn’t been terminated. It’s only “on hold” — again.

That nuance, however, needn’t get in the way of the Bar audaciously reframing the latest postponement. It’s the result of the Bar having “done a great job managing its budget and resources,” says the new president.

In actuality, it’s business as usual at the Bar. Every year the budget swells thanks to unbridled bureaucratic growth; generous executive pay raises; mission creep; new hires; and the new Public Service Center’s consumer-lawyer internet matching service. Talk about spin.

By way of history, in December 2013 the Bar first proposed a $100 total dues increase, $25 per year phased in over four years. The board tried to slip through this hefty, unwarranted dues hike 12 days before Christmas when they likely believed members weren’t paying attention.

But members did catch wind of the Bar’s unwelcome early yuletide gift. Following member uproar, the board backed off a vote on the proposal and rescheduled it for February 2014. The board also scaled back the $100 increase in favor of a $60 increase, $15 per year over four years. The board’s amended proposal, however, also tried to shamelessly embed an automatic CPI escalator. Leave it to lawyers to step on the tail of due process. Fortunately, the cost-of-living escalator was denied by the court although the $60 increase alas won approval.

Then as now, the Bar claimed to be cutting expenses and operating with efficiency. The president at the time even declared the Bar had “streamlined to the point that we spend less today per member than we did in 2005 when the last dues increase occurred.”

These days, at least per its latest Form 990 IRS-mandated public return, the Bar remains as bloated as ever. There are 133 employees¹ on the payroll not including an undisclosed number of independent contractors and consultants.

And while it brags about “the great resources the Bar offers its members,” in point of fact most members don’t care, want or bother with these self-styled “great resources.”

Indeed, what the Bar fears most is a time when it is finally forced to give their compulsory members a choice whether or not to voluntarily fund these “great resources.” When that happens, no amount of spin or cherry-picking chutzpah will repurpose that reality.


¹After this post was published, I received an email from the Arizona Bar’s Chief Communications Officer with the following: “Just for the record, the State Bar currently has 102 employees. The 133 number on the form 990 basically refers to anyone who received a W2. Because of employee turnover the numbers will always be greater than the number of employees.”

Credits: “O Mingus,” by Jenn at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike; “Dog Cupcakes,” by Jenny Kaczorowski at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.


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Businesswoman with arms crossed uid“Overall, how satisfied are you with your State Bar membership?”

That’s the first of 40 questions asked by the State Bar of Arizona in the 2014 version of its triennial Member Survey. A week ago Wednesday, the Bar sent a blast email asking“its members to evaluate our member services and your opinions on key issues facing the Arizona legal profession.” If ‘what’s past is prologue,’ Bar executives and their collaborators will again use the results to spin member satisfaction like they did in 2011.

In fact, as recently as February 2013, the Bar’s CEO was citing supposed member satisfaction to stymie a half-baked Arizona legislative effort to make Bar membership voluntary.1


Nixon would've loved "new" media as scandal-plagued pol Mark Sanford's the latest to feel Fox News' love.The Bar’s email went on to state “Your participation in this survey will help the State Bar to better provide the services and information that meet your needs and interests.” Well as Tricky Dicky used to say, “that’s just plain poppycock.”

Damning case in point, of the 40 questions posed — not a single one pertained to member interests in either the cost of bar membership or the Bar’s lack of transparency. These were two of the biggest criticisms lodged against the dues-raising Arizona bar this year. And they were hot-button concerns raised by candidates during the just concluded Bar board of governors elections. So much for professing to sincerely inquire about members’ “needs and interests.”

Indeed, contrary to the specious claim that the Bar will use the survey “to better provide the services and information that meet your needs,” the real intent is pretextual. As it has before, the Arizona Bar will use the data as cover — as both sword and shield to fend off critics who contend the association is bloated, out-of-touch, and high-cost.

Happy Campers.

Thomas Hiram Holding outside his camping tent; Wikipedia, public domain

Thomas Holding, Wikipedia/public domain

Three years ago, 51% of all respondents reported only being “Somewhat Satisfied” with the Bar. Somewhat satisfied? As in 2011, that’s again one of the preselected choices. But what does it mean? Try telling your kid he’s “somewhat” smart or your girlfriend she’s “somewhat” pretty or your spouse you’re “somewhat satisfied” with your relationship. Let me know how well that works.

Woman s face uid 14And an additional 23% said they were either “Somewhat Dissatisfied” or “Very Dissatisfied” with the Bar. But forget all that. The Bar’s spinmeister magazine, “Arizona Attorney,” nonetheless headlined the 2011 survey results with the misleadingly titled, High Satisfaction, Room for Growth” and bragged about what supposed ‘happy campers’ Arizona lawyers were. And never mind that fully 80% of the Bar’s members were too indifferent or too busy to respond to the survey or that the Bar failed to follow-up with those 17,165 nonrespondents.2

N.Q.R.  Factor.

Now I don’t pretend to be an expert on surveys.3 But I do know this. Surveys should be concise. Questions are supposed to be clearly worded. And while it matters who’s paying for the survey, they’re also supposed to be neutral. What’s more, there’s as much art as science involved.

So I have my doubts about the Bar’s Member Survey. Besides the survey having too many questions requiring way too much work to fill out, there’s an N.Q.R.4 factor again emanating off this year’s survey.

Several questions appeared biased either by the implicit assumptions they make or by forcing respondents to make choices when they’d rather not. No wonder it feels like the deck is stacked.

When you ask, for example, “how satisfied” you are with your membership or “how valuable to you” bar services are, you know there’s something not quite right. Both questions are biased because of the implicit assumptions concerning satisfaction and valuable they make.5 The“words you use in the questions can affect respondents’ reaction and choices.”

Or take the leading question about whether or not there’s a preference for “a printed Member Directory or a more robust online member search tool?” [emphasis added]

teacherOr how about the barely hidden Bar-agenda questions? For instance, there’s the forced choice made by Question 6, which in order to continue with the rest of the survey, requires respondents to pick at least one of 17 preselected positive choices under, “Which of the following are the features or uses for the [printed Membership] directory that you find to be the most valuable?” For those of us who think printed directories are a waste of money and of no value in a digital age, too bad. You can’t skip the question or choose ‘no opinion.’

And talk about agenda-driven responses like those in the survey category, “Professional Barriers.” Question 9 asks, “What do you believe are the three most serious problems faced by the legal profession today?” and Question 10 queries, “Please list the three most important issues that you would like to see the State Bar concentrate its efforts on in the next few years.”

For multiple-choice answers, the Bar provides its predetermined long list of alleged lawyer concerns like “lawyer advertising,” “diversity,” “lack of appropriate judicial system funding” and “threat to judicial independence” [even in a merit selection state where for the past 40 years 99.9% of Arizona judges are retained]. Who came up with those personal agenda-driven responses? But don’t look for choices about improving fiscal stewardship or treating members like clients or cutting costs or increasing bar transparency or heightening member due process.

And conveniently disingenuous about lawyer apprehension if not their outright paranoia when dealing with the almighty keeper of their meal-ticket-license — the survey asks intrusive demographic questions under the category, “About You and Your Work.” Like lawyers are going to trust privacy and confidentiality assurances about respondent anonymity when questions specifically ask for county of primary practice; year of admission generally, and in Arizona; age; gender; areas of practice; number of firm lawyers; and optionally, race and ethnicity. Why not just ask for names?



Not that respondents shouldn’t be concerned about survey integrity and anonymity. Where surveys contain “sensitive or potentially identifying information,” the U.S. Navy, for example, strongly recommends against commercial providers like SurveyMonkey that do not conform to its security regulations. “Since the data will be stored on commercial servers there is increased risk of harm or embarrassment if the data are somehow compromised.” As it happens, SurveyMonkey is the commercial survey provider used by the Bar.

On its website, SurveyMonkey explains that anonymity is up to the survey creator and not its job. While the survey creator has options to collect responses anonymously, SurveyMonkey explains, “All collection methods permit the tracking of respondent IP addresses. Anyone using the Email Invitation collector could potentially track an email address on the response.”

And according to a SurveyMonkey Review posted on the business software review site, TrustRadius, email links to its surveys allegedly allow individuals to “complete the survey more than once if they access the link through 2 different computers.” I don’t know about all that.

But I do know that after completing my survey, I could still access the same email link and begin completing another survey — not that I had any interest in wasting my time twice.

So is it one anonymous survey per ‘customer’? Or is that just more poppycock? In truth, I don’t care.


[1] See Arizona House Judiciary Committee videotaped hearing Arizona Supreme Court’s control over state bar debated, contested . . .” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xotdkMf61Ic, February 14, 2013 and remarks by Arizona Bar CEO John Phelps at 27:14 conveniently omitting the faint praise qualifier “somewhat” and asserting instead that “75% of the lawyers polled. . . were satisfied and 25% were not satisfied.”

[2] See Ten Reasons Why Surveys Fail by Dr. David Futrell, Quality Progress Magazine, April 1994, noting, “Failure to follow up with the nonrespondents can yield grossly misleading data. In general, people who respond to a survey will be more extreme in terms of what is being measured than the nonrespondents.”

[3] To be fair, the Bar hired an expert, noted local researcher Bruce Merrill, Ph.D., to assist its 2011 survey. Dr. Merrill once ran a golf hole Ad-in-the-Hole Research Study to evaluate “Name/Brand Awareness,” “Ad Recall” and whether golf hole ads are “Bothersome to golfers.” Golf hole advertising’s a dumb idea — but no worse than urinal advertising.

[4] NQR  means Not Quite Right. I was first introduced to the acronym by a friend and former F-18 fighter pilot.

[5] Compare the Bar’s “how satisfied” question with the example borrowed from Sterngold, Warland and Herrmann (1994) by Professors Hershey Friedman, Ph.D. and Taiwo Amoo, Ph.D. in Ranking the Rating Scales, published in the Journal of Marketing Management, Vol. 9:3, Winter 1999, 114-123. Referring to an earlier study, the professors write “that a question like “How concerned are you about…?” causes a bias in the direction of concern because it assumes that subjects should be concerned about an issue. Using a filter question first asking respondents whether or not they were concerned with an issue and then asking those that were concerned to rate their degree of concern resulted in significantly fewer people showing concern than the former approach.” Similarly, I posit that asking how satisfied members are with the Bar “causes a bias in the direction of [satisfaction] because it assumes that subjects should be [satisfied]” with the Bar.

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Note: The State Bar of Arizona begins online elections tomorrow to elect 11 lawyers from three counties to its 30-person board of governors. I am reblogging this from Transform the Bar: 2014 ARIZONA BAR BOARD OF GOVERNORS ELECTION.

It is the Op-ed I wrote in March for a local business and legal publication, The Record-Reporter, which published it a week after the State Bar of Arizona’s Board of Governors voted to increase member dues. Tomorrow’s vote, which runs until 5 PM, Wednesday, May 21, 2014 is being called one of the most important elections in recent years. Why? Because it can potentially signal at long last, a new direction for the State Bar of Arizona.


By Mauricio “Mo” Hernandez

March 7, 2014

People 15551“What kind of bar do you want?” asked Arizona Bar Executive Director John Phelps. This was last week when the bar’s board of governors debated whether to raise members’ dues. The board had tried last December. But the largely unannounced below-the-radar vote 12 days before Christmas ended up postponed after brouhaha erupted among members.

The last licensing fee hike was in 2005. Happily for board members who’ve never met a fee increase they didn’t like and who wanted more of the same, the answer to John’s question last Thursday came by 12-11 vote in their favor.

Speaking of rhetorical questions, I have a better one, “How old will I be when the bar lowers dues?” With an annual budget topping $14.6 million, almost 60% of which is compensation and benefits, methinks I’ll be ashes in search of an urn before that ever happens.

Work World 38According to the 2013 ABA Survey, among mandatory bars with more than 20,000 members, Arizona’s budget is already 125% higher than the $11,720,787 average for comparable bars. High budgets notwithstanding, last week’s board meeting also revealed that by the time the total dues increase is fully implemented, the bar projects a $4.1MM surplus. But dues still had to go up.

Hardly a surprise for Arizona lawyers consigned more to stoic resignation than sulky rancor. In four consecutive $15 annual increments starting next year, dues will increase an overall 13% for a total of $60. By 2019, Arizona lawyers will be paying $520 per year. And by separate motion, the board also imposed higher fees for in-house counsel; admissions on motion; pro hac vice; and MCLE late fees.

No matter that Arizona presently finds itself among the ‘leaders’ in highest costs to practice bars in the U. S. On an apples-to-apples dues comparison, Arizona is currently among the top 5 of the country’s 33 mandatory bars behind Alaska at $660 and Hawaii at $522. And not that going inactive saves you, either. Inactive members pay $265 annually, highest among all jurisdictions and equal to or higher than what 20 other jurisdictions charge active bar members.

‘Quo Vadis?’
When a bare majority of the bar’s governors voted to stay the course, they meant a fully-loaded ‘full-service,’ ‘first-class’ bar. That’s an objective made more attainable when others foot the bill. So no need for tea leaves to read or for bones to throw to divine the bar’s high-priced future.
Miscellaneous 603
But does this mean members are forever destined to sing a merry refrain to “Whither Thou Goest?” That was really the nub of what John Phelps asked. Do members want or need an organization trying to do everything from protecting the public from its lawyers; to regulating the profession; to advancing the administration of justice; to educating lawyers; and ostensibly, to enhancing the legal profession? Um, don’t mind the mule going blind, just load the wagon.

Or will members eventually resist the appropriation of limitless resources and instead ask the bar to stop trying to be all things for all people? That’s what happened in Washington State in 2012 when a majority of lawyers objecting to persistent mission creep in a tough economy rolled back dues 25% by referendum. Or should the bar just limit itself to lawyer discipline and licensing? That’s what Nebraska’s high court ordered its bar to do last December. Nebraska dues fell from $335 to $98.

Besides, do all those multi-headed missions even do any good? Someone should find out and I don’t mean having the bureaucratic stakeholders do the asking.

People 1055Looking to the future.
Lawyers increasingly face cost and compensation pressures from clients who are demanding more for less. Meantime the delivery of legal services continues liberalization allowing non-lawyer legal document preparers; non-lawyer owned global law firms; and emerging information technologies to compete in the legal marketplace. At the same time, young lawyers burdened with six-figure student loan debt continue facing a historic oversupply of lawyers in a fearsome job market where only half will find full-time, long-term lawyer employment.

These days, the legal academies and legal establishment pay lip service to the changes in the profession. But in truth, girded by group-think and an abiding faith in the status quo, very few actually do much transformational work. Sure a handful of bars belatedly adopted mandatory mentoring programs purporting to help new lawyers transition into practice. Always better at self-congratulation than self-assessment, those bars will be hard-pressed to measure efficacy. Will those mandatory programs actually provide benefits? Or are they window-dressing hiding one more bar revenue stream?

Several years ago, lawyer and legal ethicist Richard Zitrin criticized his California bar in a different context for its then perceived lapses. He observed, “On the other hand, the State Bar has unfortunately long been more interested in how things look rather than how they really are.” Here in Arizona, though, when it comes to the high cost to practice, count on both being true. A full service bar looks expensive and it really is.

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Last Sunday night I skipped Mad Men and Game of Thrones and didn’t finish reading Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop. Instead I stayed up late posting a new blog.

Another blog? It’s not like I’ve been keeping up with this one like before.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/56/Expression_of_the_Emotions_Figure_5.png/320px-Expression_of_the_Emotions_Figure_5.pngBut I’ve got my hackles up. Again, you might say or it’s just a chronic condition. It is, after all, why I use so much hair gel.

This new project has one specific short-term purpose: to help elect a slate of candidates to Arizona’s Bar Board of Governors. Voting starts May 7th and runs until 5:00 pm, May 21, 2014.

The idea is that new people may finally bring about real change. You know, conceptual novelties like improved fairness, accountability, cost-consciousness and transparency. See “Transform the Bar: 2014 ARIZONA BAR BOARD OF GOVERNORS ELECTION.”

Nap Time 8O.K., so staying up late and getting up early may not be the best thing for health. There’s another pair of studies warning against burning the candle at both ends. Insufficient sleep causes daytime drowsiness and insomnia heightens stroke and heart attack risks. Still there’s truth sometimes in the inanity .

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/75/Don_Quixote_6.jpg/382px-Don_Quixote_6.jpgBut trying to reform and transform your friendly state bar may be worth losing some sleep — even if I’m ultimately tilting at windmills.

During the last board election three years ago, turnout was underwhelming. And lawyers didn’t even have to leave the office since it was all done online. Fewer than 25 percent voted, which means over 75 percent of Arizona’s lawyers didn’t cast a ballot.

Admittedly, most times nobody pays attention to what the bar does. Contrary to the healthy egos down there, no one much cares how the wienerschnitzels are made or who the sausage-makers are or how many times they slap each others casings. By and large, state bars are among the worst instances of bureaucratic infirmity. See Time for real change. Groucho for State Bar Board of Governors.”

But look what happened when most of us weren’t watching, an abortive stealth vote to hike bar dues in December followed by a successful vote in February that not only increased already high annual lawyer licensing fees but also hiked a bundle of other practice fees. So much for ignoring the kielbasa makers.

This is why I’m hoping this time it’s different. Members are paying attention. And thanks to their political reawakening, perhaps this election will mean the start of a long overdue reexamination of the bar’s structure, its processes, its stale-dated thinking and “shelf life-expired status quo.”

Members are paying more attention. For instance, why did so many lawyers run for the board in Maricopa County this time? Thirty-three are competing for nine seats.

Some even think this means there’ll be more ballots cast, split votes, and a good chance to unseat the incumbents who got us choking on the sausages. We’ll see. Overrated sleep or not, at best, I’ll do my part.




Photo Credits: Figure 5 from Charles Darwin‘s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals at Wikipedia Commons, copyright expiration, public domain; Don Quixote fighting a windmill on his horse, Rocinante. By Gustave Doré, 1863, at Wikipedia commons in the public domain in the U.S. and countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.


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Management by committee: the final ‘life cycle.’

In 1997, in discussing the “Company Life Cycle,” marketing researchers Thomas Schori and Michael Garee encapsulated the hazards of managing a company by committee. Their article,“Management by committee’ signals final stages of company ‘life cycle,” warned that organizations managed in this way were doomed to “turgidity, headed for imminent decline.”

I spent a long time in corporate life and know well of what Dr. Schori and Michael Garee speak. I thought of this when I recently and belatedly discovered how this management style has pervaded so many state bar organizations. Indeed, it’s so prevalent it almost suggests a genetic flaw in the lawyer psyche.

Indeed, it has even permeated the august Arizona State Bar whose 16,000 lawyers apparently necessitate governance by a 30 member Board of Governors. Boy, that’s one big board room.

And with a Board that large, even if each member limited his or her remarks to but 10 minutes per meeting, that would still amount to a 5 hour meeting!

Specifically, what turned my mind to this topic was a January 31, 2011 blast email from the Arizona Bar notifying members that the State Bar’s Committee on Rules of Professional Conduct was reviewing Arizona’s new medical marijuana law and its ethical rule implications. Guidance on the matter is supposed to come before the law is implemented in late March 2011.

While the law makes the business of medical marijuana permissible, it still runs afoul of federal law. So to help keep Arizona lawyers from violating ethical rules, i.e., ER 1.2(d) “A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent,” the state bar’s committee has decided to weigh in. But the problem is, the committee has 33 members!

Not quite a salute

In the army, there’s a term for an excessive amount of people attempting to accomplish a given task. What’s that word next to “Cluster”?

File:Crowd in street.jpgStrength in numbers?

The largest bar organization in the U.S. is California’s with more than 228,000 active lawyers. But when it comes to governance, California is a mere piker compared to other bar associations. It’s run by only a 23 member Board of Governors.

By comparison, Colorado has almost too many members to count on its Board with well over 150 governors to manage a bar association made up of approximately 14, 000 lawyers.

Colorado FlagSo if California inexplicably ever wanted to follow Colorado’s Governance lead, California’s Board of Governors would have to number 2,280 Members. Fortunately, unlike the Arizona Bar which so often providently emulates Colorado’s “Nothing without Providence” style, California has yet to adopt the Colorado governance model.

Back in Nevada, not including its ex-officio member, the Nevada Bar has a 16 member Board of Governors to oversee its 8,600 plus lawyers. And for a bar of like size, New Mexico has a 22 member Board of Bar Commissioners.

Cast of thousands.

File:Cecil b de mille directing.pngBut then the Colorado Bar and the Arizona State Bar have a Cecil B. DeMille mentality. DeMille is famous for making the film, “The Ten Commandments,” which delighted audiences with its “cast of thousands.”

The Rugby Scrum.

Why is management by committee so commonplace? Well, there’s no better example of a bureaucracy’s bona fides.

Years ago, I worked for the consummate corporate political animal. This guy was so risk averse that his decision-making style was to get as many subordinates as possible jammed into his office and via conference call speaker phone to help him make decisions. Consensus via management by committee provided him with the political cover he sought.

Ironically, he delusionally believed this approach made him a good boss and earned him the respect of his superiors. It did neither. Instead, it solidified his reputation for weakness, indecisiveness, and unreliability.

File:Rugby scrum 1904.jpg

It also consigned him until his retirement, to junior status at the bottom of the executive management ranks. I derided his management by committee meetings as ‘rugby scrums.’ However, I realize now it was a disservice to that manly sport to make that comparison.

LBJ’s version of management by committee.

There are instances, of course, where tough-minded managers bring others into a decision-making process but not for purposes of political cover. Instead, it’s a Machiavellian way to co-opt critics by muzzling them by participation in the process. Once they’re part of the decision, they’re personally conflicted from criticizing it or else they risk criticizing themselves.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, was one of the most bare-knuckled, hard-nosed politicos to ever walk the halls of Congress or to occupy the Oval Office. He’s remembered for one quote in particular, which epitomized Johnson’s version of ‘management by committee.’

LBJ’s management style was a far cry from the corporate rugby scrum. Better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in,” he colorfully said.

So in the case of bar association management by committee, is it done to diffuse accountability and gain political cover? Or is it to mute criticism from lawyers who by their nature can be noxious, vexatious, and argumentative? Clearly, a bar committee of sufficient size will need to study these queries to provide the answers.

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