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Posts Tagged ‘Public Service Center’

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.

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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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El Pato | by ArmandoH2OTwo 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.

Turducken | by sueanddannyThe 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.”

File:Turduckenhen.jpgHow 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.

Turducken easter06.jpgThe 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.

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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.

 

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West of Phoenix on Friday, an emu was loose on the interstate. Fortunately for the wingless relation of the ostrich, thanks to a state agricultural official’s lasso, troopers were able to corral the gregarious ratite without injury to bird or motorists.

Coincidentally, the same day something else was loose at the State Bar of Arizona —- folly. But unfortunately for lawyers forced to join to earn a lawyer’s living, there was no lassoing the Bar’s latest imprudent expenditure of mandatory member monies.

https://i0.wp.com/i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/161022000320-az-emu-1-exlarge-169.jpgBy a vote of 15 to 4, the Arizona Bar’s board of governors kowtowed to the glib nostrums of the Bar CEO and especially, the vehement urgings of its immediate past president. Exhorted to vote in favor so the expenditure could be included in the 2017 budget, the latter further warned “the train had left the station” if they didn’t approve a new online lawyer referral platform masquerading as a “Public Service Center.” 

Forget the reference to the 19th century technology locomotive out of the same mouth extolling a supposed innovation. And ignore the inconvenient fact the new program preserves the status quo. The Bar remains atavistic middleman preserving its self-governance privilege to protect — not disrupt its economic cartel.

The proposal was ramrodded through with the understanding that specific details and funding could be modified after the proposal was further studied and submitted to the membership for their comments. Good luck unringing that bell.

So much for due diligence. Act in haste, repent at leisure, especially when it’s not your money.

Don’t call it uberization.

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The online lawyer referral was demoed by the third-party provider, “Legal Services Link, LLC,” who touted it as in step with the uberization of services to consumers. That’s rich since it’s lawyers and their guilds who keep “fighting uberization of the law.”  Moreover, as presented, the technology neither disrupts the market or lowers consumer costs. What it does do is expand the Bar’s bureaucracy, grow overhead, and ultimately increase member costs with no choice but to pony up.

Ironically, this online lawyer referral platform a.k.a the Public Service Center is being sold as a way to purportedly enhance “access to justice” by supposedly making it easier for the public to hire lawyers and secondarily, for the indigent to find pro bono legal help. The Bar CEO even proclaimed the platform would provide a safe harbor for lawyers and consumers. Of course when pressed, the third-party provider and the CEO both walked back that breathtaking assurance by disclaiming any liability — as though lawyer users would expect a modicum of disciplinary liability cover or consumers would be assured of always competent, ethical legal services.

No, the $300,000 Center allegedly helps fulfill the latest state supreme court-ordered iteration of the Bar’s mission. The new mission effective 1/1/17 includes “enhancing the administration of and access to justice.” In truth, though, this expensive new initiative does more to promote ‘access to lawyers’ than ‘access to justice.’

And save for allowing the poor with Internet access to post their legal needs, I don’t know how the platform will “move the dial on pro bono” as the CEO pronounced. Who’s kidding who? How exactly does it “increase and incentivize pro bono” as he also proclaimed? Hold your breath for details.

Persons seeking legal assistance complete an online form stating their legal needs to create a “legal project.” This enables Arizona lawyer participants to review the paid or pro bono project. If interested, they then disclose their profiles, fees (if applicable) and other relevant information to the would-be client.

The Bar thinks its online referral platform will generate $120,000 in revenues to help defray the $300,000 annual hit to its budget. This must mean that in addition to paying for it with existing mandatory membership funds, the Bar plans on charging participants an additional fee.

Fear and loathing.

I attended the board meeting to inform myself and to comment as warranted. But in a testament to the bar’s continued opacity and its abiding aversion to dissent, the board president allowed just two minutes of public comment before not after the proposal was presented. Is there any wonder there’s so much fear and loathing of the Bar?

A representative of the local county voluntary bar association was given the same short shrift to comment without any proposal details in advance. Understandably, the local county association is concerned since it runs its own lawyer referral service, which now appears under threat from the Bar’s competing program.

Board members discover fire.

As a side note, I was surprised some board members appeared so impressed by the third-party presentation. You’d have thought they’d just witnessed the discovery of fire. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the digital marketplace has been offering similar consumer to lawyer matching services for sometime.

As a matter of fact, one wonders why the Bar apparently singled-sourced a provider instead of making requests for proposals. Other competing providers include, for example, Axiom, LawDingo, Lawyer.com, Legal Match, UpCounsel, LegalZoom, and RocketLawyer. The latter even had a short-lived pilot partnership with the ABA until all hell broke loose from protectionist forces.

And as a final side note, it was just a few years ago that the Bar invested significant sums of member monies to upgrade its website and online “Find a Lawyer” directory. Now it means to replace its online member directory via a third-party provider. So much for the return on that earlier investment.

And interestingly but hardly surprising was the added disclosure that the Public Service Center and its two new employees will be part of the Bar’s government affairs group. This is the legislative advocacy department that monitors the Bar’s legislative priorities. This makes perfect sense, given the comments of several board members.

It’s fair to say the Public Service Center is primarily a public relations gambit — a tool intended to serve and protect the Bar’s bureaucratic hide from further threatened reforms from the state legislature. As one board member put it, the Public Service Center will enable the Bar to trumpet to the legislature how much ‘good’ it’s doing for the public.

Despite that, the conflicted regulator/trade association Bar will nevertheless face a challenge. How will it square a trade association lawyer referral “access to justice” service generating business for lawyers with any regulatory semblance of public protection?

Portland Urban Iditarod | by Misserion

Misserion via Flickr attribution license

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