The movement begun in Nebraska in 2013 to deunify the regulatory and trade association functions of mandatory bar associations continues. On January 13, 2017, Representative Anthony Kern introduced HB 2295 and HB 2300 to improve public protection by eliminating the Arizona Bar’s regulator and trade association conflict of interest. Yesterday, both bills were assigned to House Committees for their respective hearings.
According to Kern, “The bills resolve the conflict of interest that exists when a quasi-public organization that licenses lawyers and is supposed to regulate their conduct also remains beholden to lawyer interests. Neither the public or lawyers are going to be well served by such a conflict. The two missions – protecting the public and serving lawyers – do not work well together.”
In accord with its prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government and its duty to uphold the Arizona Constitution, HB2295 represents a determination by the Arizona Legislature that the protection of the public is the highest priority. And that in the licensing, regulating, and disciplining of attorneys in the state, the protection of the public is paramount over other interests sought to be promoted. This bill goes to the heart of the conflict outlined by Kern.
Trade Association and Regulator.
The State Bar of Arizona tries to be all things to all people — but it can’t. Through the years it has employed various semantical machinations to reframe its trade association functions as enhancements to the legal profession. At the same time, it has also articulated a competing mission to serve the public. Indeed, under an updated rule iteration, it now says its mission is “to serve and protect the public with respect to the provision of legal services and access to justice.”
Semantical gyrations notwithstanding, the regulator/trade association conflict of interest remains intractable and irreconcilable.
In addition to doing away with those conflicted interests, HB2295 also reinforces First Amendment free speech and associational freedoms. Proponents also contend it would help lower the high cost to practice law in the state. HB2295 is similar to last session’s HB2221, which fell 5 votes shy of reaching the governor’s desk for signing.
A Voluntary Bar.
Consistent with the Arizona Legislature’s prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government and its duty to uphold the Arizona Constitution, HB2300 provides that to the extent provided by the state constitution, all lawyer regulatory and public protection functions are transferred exclusively to the Arizona Supreme Court.
The bill also provides that an attorney shall not be required to be a member of any organization to become or remain a licensed attorney in Arizona. By eliminating compulsory bar membership, HB2300 remedially makes the determination by the Legislature that conditioning the practice of law on bar membership violates the rights to free speech and free association guaranteed by the Arizona Constitution.
California Bar Deunification.
The Arizona Legislature is not alone in its quest to reform the way lawyers are regulated. According to a report in the ABA Journal, during its last legislative session, the California Assembly “unanimously approved a bill that would have mandated a nonlawyer majority on the bar’s board of trustees to address the antitrust problem, and created a commission to study splitting the bar into a state agency that regulates lawyers and a separate private, voluntary trade group.”
The California Bill failed to pass after the Bar rallied opposition in the Senate. But the fight is far from over. It resumes this session. And the pressure for reform mounts. For example, because of policy changes to the governance of the California Bar that adversely impacted California Bar Section operations, including the Bar’s focus on its core regulatory functions, the Sections are currently considering separating from the Bar. The environment created in the past year, combined with the very high overhead and ever-increasing assessment the Sections are unilaterally mandated to pay, the environment has become too difficult for them to reasonably survive or thrive.
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