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Posts Tagged ‘State Bar of Arizona’

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/g/GromovatayaIrina/03/l/1458732114nc9vo.jpgIf the American Bar Association (ABA) is underwriting something — America’s lawyers be wary. This is the organization led a few years ago by an oblivious President with the stones to blame students for opting for law school in a declining economy — this while the selfsame was roundly criticized for its own considerable regulatory failings.

And despite having done more than its share to create the lawyer glut, the ABA stands around even now, in the words of one critic, “limp-wristed” while law schools race to the bottom repeatedly lowering LSAT admission scores trawling for matriculants as enrollments decline. Any wonder another commentator declares, “The ABA can’t be trusted”?

More recently, politically correct ABA do-gooders have recommended bar associations adopt a “speech code” for lawyers — the violation of which means discipline.

And just days ago, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a new model rule concerning continuing legal education, recommending in part that state bars uniformly impose a 15-hour minimum continuing legal education requirement per jurisdictional reporting period. As usual, the ABA trots out the self-serving claptrap offered without a scintilla of empirical proof that “MCLE continues to play a crucial role in maintaining public confidence in the legal profession and the rule of law and promoting the fair administration of justice.” Pretentious pretextual poppycock notwithstanding, left out as usual is the truth that MCLE mostly serves to line bar association coffers nationwide. Ka-ching!

Such was the context for the announcement of a pro bono survey project launched by the ABA last year. It was just rolled out in Arizona.

On its website, the ABA explains it offered “its pro bono survey instrument, free of charge, to states interested in studying various aspects of the profession’s pro bono culture.” One can only guess what that means although after welcoming survey-takers, the questionnaire reveals its intentions:

“You have been asked to participate in this survey so that we may gain a better understanding of legal services provided to low and moderate income people in your state. This is a nationwide effort to quantify and recognize the pro bono work provided by attorneys, as well as to understand the factors that encourage or discourage pro bono service. We are interested in the perspectives of attorneys who have provided such services as well as attorneys who have not.”

What the “better understanding” leads to, however, is another question. Otherwise, to the frequently asked question, “What are the states expected to do with the results?” — it answers:

The ABA encourages the state leadership teams to review the findings and collaborate to generate state program and policy recommendations. In the summer and fall of 2017, the ABA will facilitate conference calls with each of the participating states to review the findings and discuss recommendations.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/j/Jamierodriguez37/03/l/1426633399eunhs.jpg Carrots turned cudgels.

Since I ignored the first email solicitation from the Arizona Bar CEO to take the survey, last week I received a reminder to “take a few minutes” to participate in “this worthy effort” along with “an incentive to complete the survey.” No further reminders necessary for this resolute non-participant.

Based on the time it took Nebraska lawyer survey participants to complete the survey, it’s anticipated it will take lawyers more than “a few minutes” since Nebraska participants took an average of 32 minutes to finish it. And ostensibly an anonymous survey, that anonymity flies out the window if Arizona Bar members elect the Bar’s incentive to “be included in a drawing for a $150.00 gift card.”

In 2014, the State Bar of Arizona dangled a $250 Visa gift card as the sole prize for contestants vying to create a 15-second Instagram video with the mandatory phrase, “Finish the ballot. Vote for the judges!” To the best of my knowledge, the Bar never disclosed the winner or the wining video most likely because of embarrassing sparse participation. More recently, the Bar offered another gift card incentive to induce participation in its triennial lawyer compensation survey.

Compulsory lawyer servitude.

Ever the jaundiced one, I suspect these surveys will be used to advance program and policy goals of those clamoring for mandatory pro bono. Their salivary glands have never stopped drooling ever since New York became the first state to mandate pro bono work.

In New York, the forced pro bono rule was inflicted on law school graduates as a condition for bar admission. New York bar applicants must perform 50 hours of pro bono work before they can be admitted and some day hope to earn a living as lawyers.

Unlike other professionals, lawyers inexplicably remain the sole special snowflakes compelled to belong to their trade associations as conditions to earn a living. And soon enough lawyers may be the solitary profession whose services should also be compulsorily given away.

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Credits: Morguefile.com, no attribution; Making Faces, at Flickr by a2gemma via Creative Commons-attribution license.

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man_in_fireFact-checking the Arizona Bar Mission & Governance Task Force in 2015, I provided a chart to refute the alternative fact in the draft report that “States that have voluntary bar associations by and large do not have lower overall bar dues.”

The Arizona Bar was wrong then. 16 months later having updated the chart — they’re still wrong. Indeed, because compulsory membership dues have gone up for Arizona’s lawyers since 2015, the claim is even more inaccurate.

Coincidentally, for the procrastinatory or penurious, yesterday was the last day Arizona lawyers could pay annual mandatory dues without incurring a $100 late penalty.  And for those still cash-strapped or dilatory after March 2nd, add another punitive $100 to the grief quotient — not to mention the risk of summary suspension for non-payment.

While it’s true fees have gone up in some voluntary states since 2015, even at that lawyers in those 18 voluntary bar states are still better off than lawyers in mandatory bar states like Arizona and the 11 other chart-topping most expensive mandatory bars. Annual dues in those not-cheaper-by-the-dozen jurisdictions run from $430 to $660.

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Arizona lawyers will be thrilled to read the current Arizona Attorney magazine item on how the Bar Board of Governors’ 2015-2019 strategic plan is “committed to maintaining member fees as approved by the Arizona Supreme Court, without additional increases to members, consistent with the Bar’s duty to serve and protect the public.”  Talk about chutzpah. They haven’t even finished rolling out the last dues increase. As it is, Arizona is already the 2nd highest total cost to practice among mandatory bars.

Paying less.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/m/mensatic/preview/fldr_2005_02_05/file000777960788.jpgOn average, lawyers in the voluntary states pay less for lawyer regulation. This makes sense since lawyers aren’t forced to pay for both regulation and what should be optional trade association functions.  The average cost of lawyer regulation in the 18 voluntary jurisdictions is just over $200. Not so in Arizona where lawyers pay for compulsory membership, which includes an undisclosed amount for lawyer regulation.

And even where lawyers choose to join their voluntary bar associations, the average is $477 — still lower than the $505 Arizona lawyers currently pay and which goes up to $520 on January 1,2019. Using the comparably sized 22,000+ member voluntary Ohio State Bar Association as an example, Ohio lawyers pay $175 per year in court-mandated lawyer regulatory registration fees ($350 biennually) and $305 to belong to the voluntary Ohio State Bar. The total annualized cost for both is $480. In my opinion, the Ohio State Bar Association’s membership benefits are even better than those offered by the State Bar of Arizona.

The data on the following chart on voluntary state bar association membership dues is updated from 2015. It was obtained from readily available public online information from voluntary state bar jurisdictions and in some instances, by direct communications with voluntary bar lawyers and association representatives. Attorney registration fee information comes from state court websites.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f6/UserpageCOI.svg/262px-UserpageCOI.svg.pngThe 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.

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Rep. Anthony Kern

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.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b3/Berckheyde%2C_Jan_-_A_Notary_in_His_Office_-_1672.jpg/378px-Berckheyde%2C_Jan_-_A_Notary_in_His_Office_-_1672.jpgThe 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.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4b/Map_of_USA_highlighting_California.pngThe 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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Credit: UserpageCOI.svg, public domain, Wikimedia Commons; Berckheyde, Jan – A Notary in His Office – 1672.jpg, public domain, Wikimedia Commons; Map of USA highlighting California.png, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License, Wikimedia Commons.

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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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No more “moldy mayonnaise.” Holidays and salad days are here again. “Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs” — nonsense! The lawyer glut must be over. Let the good times roll! Or at least that’s what you might conclude on news an online law school is seeking permission to matriculate students with the goal of having its graduates in Arizona apply for admission to practice in the state.

There are 205 American Bar Association-accredited law schools in the United States. In virtually all jurisdictions, only ABA-accredited law school graduates may sit for a respective state bar exam to gain admission to practice. But according to Concord Law School at Kaplan University, there’s room for one more exception — for Arizonans.

On November 9, 2016 Concord Law School (CLS) Dean Martin Pritikin asked the Arizona Supreme Court to amend its rules to permit not just ABA-accredited law school graduates to apply for Arizona admission but to also let graduates from “an online law school approved by one of the six regional accreditors federally recognized by the Department of Education.” That description conveniently applies to CLS.

Never mind that 65 percent of law schools recently surveyed — by Kaplan Test Prep no less — say there are too many law schools. Survey respondents even said it “would be a good idea if at least a few law schools closed.” 

From these responses, it’s clear too many law schools equals too much competition for students. And talk about timing, one law school just announced plans to close on June 30, 2017. Indiana Tech will shut down its law school less than one year after the ABA gave it provisional accreditation.

As for Concord’s petition, you can read it here. It explains why CLS is not only less expensive but why it’s supposedly as good as ABA-accredited law schools. The petitioner explains, “CLS admits a lower percentage of its applicants than nearly half of ABA schools. During the most recent administration of the California bar exam (by many accounts the most difficult in the nation) for which data is currently available, CLS graduates’ first-time pass rates were within nearly one point of those of California ABA schools, and were a point higher than those of out-of-state ABA schools.”

And Concord’s research of U.S. Census and ABA data even allows it to claim “Arizona has a below-average number of lawyers . . . 1 for every 417 people, as compared to 1 for 247 people nationwide.” Either ratio sounds like a lot of lawyers per capita. But alas, the ‘sweet spot’ for lawyers per capita remains a mystery. Bottom line, it must be whatever the lawyer cartel says it is.

But no matter. If like the State Bar of Arizona, access-to-justice means access-to-lawyers, then what’s one more outlet for law degree sheepskins and lawyers in the state? This is why, says the petitioner, Arizona needs what Concord is selling.

“Arizona has three ABA law schools, only one of which offers a part-time program. Millions of Arizona residents do not live within commuting distance of these schools. CLS’s flexible online format makes law school accessible to those whose geography, work or family responsibilities, military service, or other life circumstances prevent them from attending traditional campus-based institutions. Allowing CLS graduates to sit for Arizona’s bar exam would create new educational opportunities for the state’s residents, as well as expand access to legal services in underrepresented areas. This is particularly important for Native Americans living on reservations within the state’s borders, who are in great need of, but will have little access to, legal education–and thus legal services–without a fully online option.”

Just the same, good luck making your case Concord. You’ll need it. Thanks to the Arizona legal establishment’s persistent protectionism, I’ve little doubt the knives will be out to keep market barriers secure and would-be competitors out.

 

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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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