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Posts Tagged ‘mandatory bar association’

The mandatory-membership State Bar of Nevada has been on a troll. Petal by petal, Nevada lawyers are finding the Daisy Oracle’s divining just one answer. When it comes to their bar’s affections — she loves them not.

15simplependulum.gifNot too long ago Nevada’s bar was rightly criticized for indifferent handling of bar complaints. Inattention caused a backlog of attorney complaints. In response, the bar hired a new prosecutor to head Nevada’s Office of Bar Counsel. But in the minds of some lawyers, the result was an overreaction — an excessively prosecutorial pendulum swinging way past the other side.

Alongside this perceived heightened hostility, the Nevada bar’s tone-deaf governing board started amping up a series of alarmingly adverse initiatives — each a solution in search of a problem. Fortunately, thanks to member uproar some of what the board spewed out was dispersed away — like a speech code petition that would have unconstitutionally restricted lawyer free speech, free exercise of religion, and freedom of association.

Likewise, another ill-conceived, under-studied board initiative to impose trust account random audits was also denied by a dubious state supreme court concerned about the untold costs on lawyers forced to pay for audits — whether they were warranted or not.

But other board schemes did not go by the wayside. These include a needless increase in mandatory continuing education hours via a new mental health and addiction credit requirement and a freshly implemented $100 bar tax on lawyer advertising. In addition, Nevada lawyers with the temerity to take continuing legal education courses from non-bar accredited providers are now subject to what amount to penalty fees.

But that’s not all. Already one of the top five highest cost to practice states, things will get exponentially more expensive for Nevada’s lawyers if a pending petition to require legal malpractice insurance gets approved. Like the board’s other harebrained ideas, it’s also evoked strong member dissent.

The malpractice insurance proposal — a boon to insurers — is the governing board’s lame response to recent news stories about lawyer theft and exploitation of the vulnerable.

But it’s especially galling since it won’t protect victims. Malpractice insurance won’t pay any claims to those injured by a lawyer’s criminal acts. Everyone except apparently a grandstanding board knows that legal malpractice policies exclude claims arising out of dishonest, fraudulent, criminal, malicious, or deliberately wrongful acts, errors or omissions.

These days, it’s hard to keep up with all the meddling. As with all mandatory bars, those in power prefer to operate below-the-radar with as little notice as possible. Remarkably, some lawyers in Nevada have started to pay attention at the wave of noxious Nanny-state runoff flowing from the board.

When will it end? It’s hard to say. The past several bar presidents have been cookie-cutter activists self-anointed with their own overweening meddlesome mandates each seemingly trying to outdo their immediate predecessor.

It’s been said legacy is just another name for ego. And do these folks have egos. In April, the Nevada Bar unveiled a Past Presidents Wall of Fame and feted these erstwhile ‘luminaries’ at a reception held at bar headquarters.

The easiest money to spend is always somebody else’s — such as the mandatory monies of Nevada lawyers forced to join and fund the State Bar of Nevada in order to practice law.

At long last some lawyers are waking up. They’re getting restless, rebellious and restive. Three of the four incumbent board members in Clark County, for instance, were just voted out of office following board elections this past June. They were replaced by three reform-minded governors. Unfortunately, the three reformers will be outnumbered on the 15-member board. But it’s a start. Kudos to Nevada’s Clark County lawyers for administering an overdue reality-check. By contrast there’s nary a reformer in sight on the Arizona bar’s board.

Regulator or Trade Association?

Mandatory bar associations can’t figure out whether they’re regulators fretfully charged with disciplining lawyers to protect the public or fun-loving trade associations looking out for lawyers.

It gets confusing even for bar governing boards let alone bar members. All mandatory bars suffer from the same regulator/trade association confusion. A lawyer recently running for bar president in Texas, for example, brought a refreshing take on his presidential vision. On his campaign website, he declared, “the State Bar should be in the customer service business with Texas lawyers being the customers.”

More often, particularly in Nevada, the vision is anything but customer-friendly. Just the same on its website, the Nevada Bar says its “Mission is to govern the legal profession, to serve our members, and to protect the public interest.”

First do no harm.

In Arizona, governing board members are required to take the pledge. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong pledge. Having imposed a “Code of Conduct” on board members, the Arizona Bar requires their loyalty and “respect” for “the validity of the Board’s decisions and their value to the organization, even if not in the voting majority.” The Code further obligates board members to “uphold and enhance the reputation and public image of the Bar.”

More preferable in my opinion is an oath modeled on the physicians’ Hippocratic Oath. Before taking office, mandatory bar board members everywhere should be forced to swear to “primum non nocere,” – first, do no harm. Help if you can but at least do no harm.

This new pledge, though, is merely a stopgap. The true remedy is to uncouple the regulatory and the trade association functions performed by mandatory bars. Eliminate the confusion and the inherent conflict of interest of trying to serve two masters — the public and lawyers. It can’t be done. Recent board history in Nevada amply bears this out.

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Credit: 15simplependulum by Lookang at Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/17/Flickr_-_USCapitol_-_Squirrel_in_front_of_the_U.S._Supreme_Court.jpg/339px-Flickr_-_USCapitol_-_Squirrel_in_front_of_the_U.S._Supreme_Court.jpgFree speech and free association relief for lawyers may be on the way. The nation’s highest court agreed this week to hear Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a case that revisits the issue raised last year by Friedrichs v. California Teachers Associattion, “Whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment.”

Friedrichs unfortunately was left undecided. On the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court split 4-4 and the lower court ruling was undisturbed.

Had the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for public school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, her First Amendment rights would have been vindicated — and potentially so too the rights of the nation’s lawyers.

Indeed, in the words of 21 former Presidents of the District of Columbia Bar, it “would have a profoundly destabilizing impact on bars all over the country.”  Why? Because overturning Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977) would also have meant cutting loose the funding gravy train for mandatory bar bureaucrats. See “SCOTUS Ruling Leaves Keller Alone—for Now.”

Abood underpins Keller v. State Bar of Cal., 496 U.S. 1 (1990). Under Keller, lawyers cannot be compelled to fund a state bar’s lobbying activities unrelated to regulating the practice of law. Just the same, state bars like Arizona’s nonetheless use compulsory member dues to not only regulate the practice of law — but to engage in other activities such as lobbying and advocating for ideological and political causes not all members agree with.

Janus v. AFSCME

The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act authorizes public employee unions to collect “fair share” or “agency shop” fees from non-member employees. Mark Janus is a public sector employee who on First Amendment grounds objected to paying money for union collective bargaining and contract administration activities he did not support. The Seventh Circuit held that Janus’ claims were barred solely because of Abood. See “Supreme Court poised to deal a sharp blow to unions for teachers and public employees.”

Writing at The Supreme Court’s Next Big Union Fight: Six Key Questions,” lawyer journalist Marcia Coyle opined about the impact on bar associations, “And although they are not private sector unions, a decision against the union agency shop fees could also affect mandatory dues arrangements of state bars . . . integrated bars have long relied in structuring their activities on Abood and Keller v. State Bar of California.” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch is expected to provide the fifth vote to overrule Abood and end the collection of agency fees by public employee unions.

Go along to get along

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/Agnes_Karikaturen_Vorwaerts.jpgTo earn a living in their chosen profession, lawyers are forced to go along to get along with an untold number of Constitutional impingements. Lawyers, for example, are subjected to freedom of speech and freedom of association restrictions not ordinarily applied to others. For example, notwithstanding that judges are government officials subject to the “uninhibited, robust and wide-open” core political speech constitutional standards under New York Times Co. v Sullivan, lawyers are nevertheless punished for remarks deemed disparaging about the judiciary.

Moreover, in violation of the First Amendment right of free association, law firms are prohibited from obtaining outside investments. And rather than ask lawyers to opt in to political spending, mandatory bars require members to actively object to the cavalier presumption that lawyers condone the use of their mandatory monies to fund political speech they disagree with. And in perhaps the greatest pirouette of the First Amendment, in 32 states lawyers are forced to join a bar association to practice law.

Sui generis?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Lula-WIKI.pngIt’s common to require members of professions and occupations to pay an annual fee used to regulate and enforce a licensing system. But it’s quite something else to disingenuously assert lawyers are a breed apart — sui generis special snowflakes that while professing to be aspirational guardians of the law protecting individual rights are nevertheless supposed to tolerate infringements of their own rights.

In truth, the only thing unique about lawyers is how unlike other professions and occupations, lawyers countenance compulsory organizational membership and the imposition of fees for non-regulatory purposes merely for the ‘privilege’ of earning a living.

Fortunately, not all lawyers put up with these constitutional infringements with timid or stoic forebearance. In Wisconsin, for example, lawyers have fought for almost 40 years against the requirement that dues-paying membership in a state bar organization preconditions licensure. As a matter of fact, those arguments even predate the Second World War.

In 2013, lawyers brought about changes in Nebraska when the state supreme court continued its bar as a mandatory but ordered that mandatory dues could only be used for regulatory purposes. As for non-regulatory activities, only voluntary funds could be used. This approach subsequently inspired legislation in Arizona and it tracks with legislation just passed overwhelmingly in California.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/f/fb/Blacksmith_icon_symbol_-_hammer_and_anvil.jpg/252px-Blacksmith_icon_symbol_-_hammer_and_anvil.jpgCalifornia’s Bar is an outlier in finally opting to stop fighting reforms. More typical are mandatory bars like Arizona’s and Wisconsin’s that fight lawyer emancipation from forced membership and forced funding of their attorney trade associations with hammer and tongs.

Last month, without a word of explanation, the Arizona Supreme Court denied a rule petition opposed by Arizona’s bar that would have separated funding of the bar’s regulatory and non-regulatory functions. And just last week, Wisconsin’s 52-member bar governing board unsurprisingly voted to oppose a petition pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court that would similarly break up member funding based on mandatory dues to support the bar’s specified regulatory activities and voluntary dues to support all other non-regulatory activities.

Who ever said this was going to be easy? But with Abood overturned — it just might.

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Credits: Squirrel in front of the US Supreme Court, by US Capitol at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Agnes Karikaturen Vorwaerts, by Agnes Avagyan , Narrabilis at Wikimedia Commons, creative commons share-alike attribution license; Português: Caricatura do presidente Lula. 2005, by Mariano Julio at Wikimedia Commons, creative commons attribution;Blacksmith icon symbol: hammer and anvil, at Wikimedia Commons, creative commons attribution license.

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