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Posts Tagged ‘State Bar of Arizona’

High temperatures, sweaty cheeks, thunderstorms, flash floods and fungus-dispersing dust storms are our annual devil’s brew during monsoon season. This time of year is the flip side of what locals otherwise consider heaven.

Circumstances permitting, more fortunate desert dwellers of the non-snowbird variety temporarily pack up their monkey butt powder and flee for whatever short-lived respite is found in cooler climes.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c2/Demonstration_of_Sweat.jpgBut notwithstanding sticky summer’s infernal doldrums, elsewhere there’s news of a different sort involving your friendly state bar associations. Here’s a quick rundown from The Irreverent notebook:

Washington State Bar President Unexpectedly Resigns

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/54/Flag_of_Washington.svg/320px-Flag_of_Washington.svg.pngWithout much notice or fanfare but citing “personal matters that require her attention,” Washington State Bar President Robin Haynes abruptly resigned last month following news reports she was under investigation stemming from accusations by two former law firm employers claiming Haynes had committed financial improprieties, specifically allegations she embezzled some $9,300. See “WA State Bar Association president accused of embezzling nearly $10k” and “President Of Washington Bar Association Resigns — Right Before The Criminal Charges.”

In a statement reported by Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper, Haynes’ lawyer explained, “While Ms. Haynes has done nothing wrong and looks forward to clearing her name in a fair tribunal, she was also aware that even the rumor of an investigation would cast a shadow over the important work that the State Bar Association does.” See “Former bar president accused of using law firms’ credit cards for gym, political donations.”

Haynes who at 39 was also publicized as the youngest Washington Bar president ever — had a term that was not without some controversy. This is because she used her ‘bully pulpit’ to editorialize often in the state bar magazine against sexism and bias. In some ways, her admonitions took on the cast of what’s become the méthode du jour embodied in the polarizing proposed ABA Model Rule 8.4(g) amendment that would impose an unconstitutional speech code on lawyers. See “Allies in the Law” at February 2017 NW Lawyer where author and former WSBA Governor Phil Brady writes in her defense, “We’ve seen a lot of negative reaction to WSBA President Robin Haynes speaking up about the sexism present in our profession.”

Haynes, like the rest of bar leadership was also an ardent defender of the bar’s recently passed 141% dues increase. See “The Dialogue Continues.” Inasmuch as the bar’s governing board and court had nullified a member referendum calling for a dues increase vote, Washington State Senator and WSBA Member Mike Padden subsequently introduced Senate Bill 5721 to require the WSBA “to obtain an affirmative vote prior to increasing bar dues for membership.” Unfortunately, Padden’s bill did not get out of committee and to the floor for a vote.

California State Bar non-regulatory function split moving forward

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/98/California_State_Assembly_room_p1080879.jpg/320px-California_State_Assembly_room_p1080879.jpgLast week, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously approved SB 36, a bill that has had multiple amendments since it’s 2016 introduction. According to the July 17, 2017 assembly bill analysis, it “prioritizes the State Bar’s regulatory functions by separating the trade association functions into a new nonprofit and helping improve governance of the State Bar.”

To do this, SB 36 splits off the Cal Bar’s 16 specialty practice groups into a private nonprofit. The bill covers a lot of terrain impacting both bar governance and structure, including eliminating elections for officers of the Board of Trustees and changing the current governing board super majority into a simple majority of practicing lawyers. It also gives the Bar explicit authority to re-fingerprint active lawyers so that it can receive arrest alerts about them. Assuming swift legislative passage next month and gubernatorial signing, it becomes effective January 1, 2018.

Meanwhile in Arizona, a rule amendment petition asking the Arizona Supreme Court to similarly prioritize public protection by bifurcating the State Bar of Arizona’s regulatory and non-regulatory functions is still awaiting court action. In June, a reply was filed by the petitioner responding to the State Bar of Arizona’s wholly predictable comment against the petition. It’s worth reading here.

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Credits: monkey via morguefile.com; Washington flag, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; sweat demonstration by Dogbertio 14 at Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution; California State Assembly via Wikipedia by David Monniaux, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

 

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Elections for seats on the respective governing boards of the State Bar of Arizona and the State Bar of Nevada kicked off coincidentally on the same day, May 4, 2017. Although I’m an active member of the Nevada Bar, I can’t vote in board elections since I’m no longer a full-time resident of the Silver State. For this out-of-state Nevada lawyer, it’s taxation without representation, including coming new burdens like the board-approved extra hour of mandatory continuing legal education to support lawyer sobriety and sanity.

But even if I wanted to vote in Nevada, I haven’t a clue or a care about who’s running. Not like I know much about the 20 candidates running for 9 seats in Maricopa County, Arizona. Talk about a crowded field. Arizona has a 30-member board that “oversees the policy making and operation of the organization.”

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Paper_bag_mask_with_4chan_smiley_at_Anon_raid.jpg/640px-Paper_bag_mask_with_4chan_smiley_at_Anon_raid.jpgThere’s only one openly declared reformer, although there may be one or two stealth nonconformists in the field. But if they’re not saying, who knows for certain?

The fact is it’s nothing but a popularity contest anyway. The candidates are largely unknown to most lawyers. How are you supposed pick 9 out of 20? It’s almost like a judicial retention election. So expect a lot of undervoting.

For lawyers in Pinal County, Arizona’s third-most populous county, there’s only one choice since only one candidate bothered to run. No surprise, it’s the pro status-quo incumbent.

What representation?

Taxation without representation used to be the order of the day here at least for board elections. But starting May 4th, out-of-state active members of the Arizona Bar can vote. Inactive and retired members, though, still have to assume the position. They can’t vote even though the Bar happily collects a yearly $265 and $215 respectively, for the compulsory ‘privilege’ of subsidizing a bloated bureaucracy.

The ugly truth is that even with the opportunity to vote, it’s taxation without representation just the same. State bar governing boards are free to act without the consent of those they supposedly represent, especially since board members don’t act as their actual representatives. Board members don’t serve to deliver the views of those that elected them. They’re told to be trustees of the public interest not guardians for the well-being, prosperity, and happiness of lawyers.

Unfortunately for candidates and their electors, it’s a conflicted interest that most who run haven’t acknowledged, understood or reconciled. They sidestep the Bar-advertised to serve-and-protect mission of regulating lawyers to protect the public. Instead, they campaign like they’re running for a trade association with promises of giving “increased value to all of its members—without imposing additional regulations” or providing “valuable services to its members.” 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/51/Frijoles_refritos.jpg/320px-Frijoles_refritos.jpg

Term limits and beans.

Still, at least there will finally be new faces on the Arizona Board. That’s because the only good news coming out of the 2015 State Bar Mission & Governance Task Force was the overdue imposition of term limits on board members who with not much better to do wouldn’t go away. Holy frijoles, some of those board members were nearing 20 years on the board!

The new rule says a board member can serve “no more than three consecutive three-year terms.” Alas, like the proverbial bad penny, if after 9 consecutive years they sit out a full term, they can seek reelection to additional terms.

In Arizona, the election runs 15 days until 5 pm Friday, May 19th. Not that apparently members care. Based on voter turnout for the 2014 Arizona Bar Board Elections, fewer than one-quarter of active Arizona attorneys gave a hoot or a clue about voting for the candidates running that year.

In 2014, only 4093 members cast votes — and that was with much more interest and aggravation since the board had just passed an unwarranted dues increase. Clearly, the disinterest, resignation, and apathy is worse among lawyers than for political elections. With that in mind, I think voter turnout may be even less this time.

The solution.

The real solution is not a board election or ginning up voter enthusiasm. Structural change won’t come from within. The status quo is too well entrenched. The true believers are too satiated drinking bar integration Kool-aid.

Mandatory bars like Arizona’s and Nevada’s need to be split between a mandatory membership component that regulates lawyers to protect the public and a purely voluntary membership component that looks out for lawyers. Such a division of functions at last fixes the existing confusion and conflict between board members who view the mandatory bar as a regulatory agency and those who see its purpose as promoting member interests.

This means supporting reforms — either legislatively or through court petition. It doesn’t mean voting for more of the same.

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Photo Credits: “Run an effective meeting,” by Nguyen Hung Vu at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; “Paper bag Anon,” via Flickr Creative Commons through Wikimedia Commons; Diego’s frijoles at Flickr via Wikimedia Commons;”IMG_687,” by Michael Arrington at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; “wake up sheeple,” by ♫ feingoldens at Flickr Creative Commons attribution.

 

 

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https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/b/BishopPatterdale/01/l/1388869659h90om.jpgAlthough still not a Twitter fan boy, I confess there’s something to the immediacy of firing off 140 character tournedos of untenderized thought. Admittedly, there are drawbacks to expelling every rashly considered impulsivity into the ether. My dogs will disagree but some itches are best left unscratched.

Compared to tweeting, however, ruminations posted on a blog necessitate more marination. This hopefully translates into less likelihood of inflicted harm. Unfortunately, this means the windows of currency to comment on what’s topical a given day or week are soon closed.

Instead of one longer post, here are random notes — albeit longer than 140 characters.

From the SMH File

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/38/See_No_Evil%2C_Hear_No_Evil%2C_Speak_No_Evil.jpg/320px-See_No_Evil%2C_Hear_No_Evil%2C_Speak_No_Evil.jpgNot long after the ABA House of Delegates voted against a proposal that to meet accreditation standards, 75 percent of an ABA-accredited law school’s graduates must pass a bar exam within a two-year period — the ABA put Arizona Summit Law in Phoenix on probation for low bar-passage rates. Bar passage rates have dropped to 25 percent at Arizona Summit for first-time bar exam takers, which obviously meant that the studiously unaware ABA was finally forced to take action against one of the nation’s most expensive law schools.

In a bit of unintentional understatement following the probation announcement, the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit legal education policy and watchdog organization, declared “the decision highlights the A.B.A.’s increasing courage in holding schools accountable.” With apologies to Polonius, if this be courage let there be method in it. See “For-Profit Law School in Arizona Is Put on Probation.”

More from the SMH File

File:Noaa-walrus31.jpgOne only has to read this year’s candidates’ statements to appreciate the continuing conflated confusion of lawyer thinking that results from the State Bar of Arizona’s conflicted regulator and trade association mission. Is the State Bar of Arizona a regulator protecting the public interest? Or is it a trade association serving and protecting members’ interests? It can’t be both — not without a walrus-sized conflict of interest.

And what about its court-mandated raison d’être “to serve and protect the public with respect to the provision of legal services and access to justice”?

But as the following excerpts demonstrate, virtually every candidate believes that running for a seat on the Arizona Bar’s Board of Governors means they’ll be acting on behalf of members’ interests. With elections coming up in two counties, candidates are asking either for “the opportunity to serve my fellow lawyers” or to be “a voice for solo and young lawyers” or that “the needs of our members are voiced and heard” or pledging to “make sure the Bar is here to help attorneys, not hurt them.” And of course there are the usual vague variations on the tried-and-tested trade association theme of serving “to ensure the Bar is working for its members” or that it “performs more services for the membership.”

Promises promises.

Also from the SMH File

Almost 7 years to the day after New Jersey said a so-called “virtual office” did not qualify as a bona fide office, a New Jersey lawyer also licensed in New York and also without benefit and burden of a bricks and mortar office in New York has filed a U.S. Supreme Court petition to overturn the New York rule that prohibits her from practicing in New York without said bricks and mortar office in the state. New Jersey didn’t change its anti-virtual office rule until 2013.

New Jersey used to have the same bona fide office restriction, i.e., “a bona fide office is a place where clients are met, files are kept, the telephone is answered, mail is received and the attorney or a responsible person acting on the attorney’s behalf can be reached in person and by telephone during normal business hours to answer questions posed by the courts,clients or adversaries and to ensure that competent advice from the attorney can be obtained within a reasonable period of time.” 

For more about lawyer Ekaterina Schoenefeld’s 9-year bona fide office battle, see Catherine Elefant’s always timely My Shingle post at “Solo Seeks To Challenge Archaic Bonafide Office Rules at the Supremes.”

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Photo credits: The three monkeys: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, by John Snape at Wikimedia Commons, the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License; Odobenus rosmarus at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; frustrated gif at giphy.com;SMH at http://gph.is/1WqoSOE at giphy.com.

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https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/h/hotblack/preview/fldr_2008_11_02/file0002062790027.jpgYesterday I got another mass email from the State Bar of Arizona (SBA). “Last Chance to Answer the State Bar of Arizona Member Survey” declared the subject line. “Please take a few minutes NOW to fill out the survey.”  And then to sweeten my interest, “As a token of our appreciation for your prompt response, we’ll enter your name into a raffle to win a $100 Visa gift card.” 

As usual, I ignore the Bar’s survey requests. This was the third mass email about the same topic. After the second email, I asked for a blank copy of the survey questions. After a couple of days, the Bar’s public relations chief emailed a copy. The survey runs 9 pages and 48 questions. By my stopwatch, it won’t “take a few minutes” to answer. Not like it matters. I won’t be taking the survey and humbly suggest no one else should either.

Long ago I worked for a guy whose favorite expression was the blindingly obvious, “Timing is everything.” So right in the middle of a big fight at the Arizona Legislature to reform the State Bar comes a self-serving survey replete with the usual leading questions. Talk about timing.

The questions are meant to lead survey-takers down the Bar’s primrose path. Tell us “how valuable” a member benefit is? “How well does the SBA deliver . . . .”

It’s been a while since I read Elizabeth Barrett Browning but in other words, “How Do I Love Thee?” The State Bar of Arizona wants us to “count the ways.”

And among the 48 questions is the one nearest to the unsated stomach of every bloated bureaucrat, “If the SBA could provide you with one additional resource or service that currently is not offered, what would it be?”

Just in case, there’s a second follow-up that fishes for “a second additional resource or service” to add to your expense line. Missing is the better question, “Does this program make me look fat?”

Buried in the questionnaire is the seemingly innocuous question No. 45, “Do you have a succession plan for continuation of your practice in the event that you are unable to continue in the practice of law due to death, disability, or bar discipline?” On that last point of “bar discipline,” Arizona lawyers may not all be aware of this but the Bar recently made a succession plan a mandatory ethical obligation. So if you answer in the negative and then disclose your identity to enter the raffle, beware you aren’t also entering an unintended second raffle for a bar complaint.

The truth is this survey like all the others isn’t intended to identify or to serve members’ interests. These surveys only serve the Bar’s interests. They are tools to drive the Bar’s mission-creeping agenda and to cover its analysis (CYA).

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/h/hrustall/12/p/c6de1ef8a0319f6a6dfcd0c22fb8b06d.jpgMoreover, the survey and whatever the results may be — either good or bad — serve as a sword and a shield the Bar employs to hide behind or to flagellate critics, especially those ‘pests’ at the Arizona Legislature.

No matter if the Bar again gets an underwhelming response. It usually does. By overwhelming numbers, members ignore these surveys knowing full well what the agenda is about — $100 Visa gift card or not.

But just the same, count on the Bar to loudly trumpet the fake news: ‘Look at the great job we’re doing! Members love us.’ Such pronouncements will continue to fly in the face of reality. How can you dare to assess the satisfaction of captive members forced to join and forced to finance an ever-expanding bureaucratic empire in order to earn a living as lawyers?

And finally leaving absolutely no doubt its intentions comes the money paragraph: “The survey will help us serve you better. It’s also critical to the long-term success of State Bar of Arizona.”

This from the same organization that as ordered by the state supreme court “exists to serve and protect the public with respect to the provision of legal services and access to justice.”

There again is the State Bar of Arizona’s two-headed conflict of interest. It rears its two heads once more. Serve and protect the public but at the same time serve and protect the interests of lawyers —“help us serve you better.”

Reminds me of Jerry Maguire — minus the humor. ‘Help me, help you.’

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Photos: Via Morguefile.com, no attribution required.

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“. . . the membership, what are they? Peons that can be ignored by the higher-ups in the bar and the court get together? That’s the concern here.” – Washington State Senator Mike Padden, Committee Chair, Law and Justice, directed at WSBA officials’ testimony, 2-14-17.

Entertainment 606As previously reported, the mandatory membership Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) has its hands full following the state supreme court’s de facto nullification of a member referendum that challenged a board-approved 141% mandatory dues hike. No matter that the referendum process is provided for in the bylaws. Or that its terms were legally satisfied by more than the requisite signatures to qualify. Or that board members might have done delighted hand stands once the high court pronounced its blessings upon them.

Never mind, too, member due process even though Sen. Mike Padden opined due process rights were violated by actions he termed “under the radar.” Sen. Padden is a lawyer and a member of the Washington Bar and his Law and Justice Senate Committee heard testimony February 14, 2017 from proponents and opponents of his bill, SB 5721. It requires the Washington State Bar Association“to obtain an affirmative vote prior to increasing bar dues for membership.”

The bill expressly states that “any membership fee increase approved by the board must be submitted to active members for approval by a vote. Any fee increase not receiving a majority of member votes received is disapproved and may not be assessed to any member. This subsection applies retroactively to fee increases approved by the board in 2016 or later.” Arizona lawyers can dream.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/l/luisrock62/preview/fldr_2004_08_23/file000180666737.jpgBut what’s clear here is that when a member referendum threatens to overturn a mandatory dues increase, well that’s just too inconvenient for bar leaders hellbent on wresting more money for the bureaucratic maw.

The referendum was signed by more than 2,100 members. And while they may have been stymied by the board and the court, give credit to Washington’s lawyers for not sitting on their hands when confronted with a momentary setback. As a result, things are no longer moving according to plan for the WSBA.

Moreover, such quintessential imperiousness can have lasting consequences, including possibly galvanizing members to as Sen. Padden conjectured of his bill’s proponents that “their only option is a voluntary bar like other states have if these kinds of activities are going to go on . . . violating due process rights. . . .”

Behind the woodshed.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/g/gracey/preview/fldr_2004_08_22/file000930089334.jpgIt’s particularly gratifying to acknowledge yet another legislature taking its own homegrown gaggle of arrogant bar leaders to the proverbial woodshed for in this case, a very public dressing down. The same recently happened in front of Arizona’s House Judiciary Committee where Committee Chair Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, an attorney and member of the bar, became increasingly frustrated with testimony opposing bar reform legislation from the State Bar of Arizona and its defenders.

Not so much for the WSBA.

Washington lawyer Angus Lee, one of the proponents of SB 5721, followed up his testimony before the Senate Committee on Law and Justice by posting about it on his blog. In classic understatement, Lee stated, The Senate hearing on WSBA membership dues, went well for the membership. Not so much for the WSBA.” The bill was passed by the Law and Justice Committee with a “do pass” recommendation.

Lee further declared, “Hearing highlights are a must watch for any dues paying WSBA member.” But why stop there? They’re a “must watch” for mandatory bar dues paying members everywhere.

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https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/a/almogaver/preview/fldr_2008_11_07/file000136151699.jpgYesterday, Arizona took one more step toward reforming the way lawyers are regulated in the state. By a vote of 31-29, the Arizona House passed HB2295. This bill splits the State Bar of Arizona into two subsets. One preserves the mandatory membership character in order to function as an independent regulatory quasi-agency that makes paramount the protection of the public from unethical lawyers. The other subset becomes a voluntary organization that engages solely in the kinds of non-regulatory activities more traditionally associated with professional trade associations. It’s worth watching the HB2295 floor debate here starting at the 3:34 minute mark.

A conflicted identity.

Politicians 81Like mandatory bars elsewhere, the Arizona Bar suffers from what former Wisconsin State Bar President Steven Levine once described as “a schizophrenic identity.”

In a just published post at The Legal Watchdog, Wisconsin lawyer, blogger, author and scholar Michael Cicchini mentions the article, State Bar’s limits on financial transparency create budgetary blind spots (subscription required) where author James Briggs writes that “The State Bar straddles a line between being a state agency, under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and a private corporation, which is not compelled to share financial information even with the people elected to govern it.” The author then quotes Levine on the Wisconsin Bar.

FunHouse 119But Levine could just as easily be referring to Arizona’s Bar while talking about Wisconsin, “When it comes to the advantages of being a state entity . . . they claim to be a state agency.  But when they want to act in private or in secret and avoid all public requirements state agencies are required to follow, they say they’re just a private organization.”1

Case in point when I filed a public records request last July with the State Bar of Arizona asking for lobbying expenditure disclosures concerning its opposition to bar reform legislation, the Bar’s response included the following lawyer doublespeak: “However, without waiving our right to assert any future objections applicable to a nonprofit organization either by rule or statute, this organization believes in transparency and will provide answers when possible.”

arizona_bar_frank2

Can’t serve two masters or walk around with two heads.

Two hats for two heads.2

By deunifying the regulator/trade association functions, HB2295 solves the longtime problem the State Bar of Arizona has been burdened with, which is trying to serve two masters by wearing two hats for two heads. The result has been an irreconcilable conflict of interest. Why? Because the interests of the public and the interests of lawyers are not the same. More often than not, they are in conflict.

Consequently, the State Bar should not simultaneously serve the interests of the public and the interests of the legal profession. If it truly means to protect the public, then the interests of the public have to be foremost. Because HB2295 separates the State Bar’s regulatory and disciplinary functions from the State Bar’s trade association services and activities, it improves the protection of the public from lawyers who violate the canons of professional ethics.

Moreover, by dividing the regulatory and disciplinary functions from its lawyer trade association activities and transferring all regulation to the Arizona Supreme Court, HB2295 helps to bring lawyer regulation more fully compliant with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC.

In Dental Examiners, the nation’s high court ruled that state regulatory bodies controlled by “active market participants” – such as practicing lawyers -­ are not immune from federal antitrust laws. The solution then, as provided under paragraph B of HB2295 is “active supervision” by the state Supreme Court or by an independent body under the Court — not controlled by practicing lawyers. Despite the recent work of a Court State Bar task force, the State Bar of Arizona continues to operate under a lawyer-dominant governing board elected by lawyers.

HB2295 now moves to the Arizona Senate where the State Bar of Arizona hopes its lobbyists and well-paid executives can sustain a firewall sufficient to stop the spread of reform.

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1 Some 14 years ago, in a First Amendment suit against the State Bar of Arizona brought by former bar member Edmund Kahn, the U.S. District Court for Arizona in an unpublished opinion discussed whether a state bar was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Arizona Bar, which usually asserts it’s a private association not a state agency, tried in this instance to hide behind the Eleventh Amendment by claiming a “level of integration between the State Bar and the Arizona Supreme Court.” The Court distinguished the cases the State Bar invoked, which were Bates v. State Bar of Arizona involving lawyer discipline; Hoover v. Ronwin concerning bar exams and another discipline case in O’Connor v. State of Nevada. The District Court stated that when it comes to cases that generally challenge either the state bar’s disciplinary function or its function administering bar exams and admitting new lawyers, “the state bar clearly acts as an arm of the Arizona Supreme Court in regulating the practice of law.” But the District Court next made a most critical distinction, “In this case, Plaintiff challenges the way in which the state bar spends mandatory dues on non-regulatory functions and the bar’s procedures for addressing objections to its spending. Because this suit challenges the bar’s spending on non-regulatory programs, the link between the state bar and the Arizona Supreme Court is more tenuous.” The Court then went on to declare that the State Bar, a “non-profit corporation” did not qualify as a state agency for Eleventh Amendment purposes because among other factors, it also maintained “its own treasury and any award of damages would come from the state bar’s funds rather than the state treasury.”

2 Cartoon inspired by a bar executive’s email reference to a lawmaker last session counterintuitively overlooking the Bar’s own 800 lb Chimera in its parlor when describing a bifurcated state bar as “Frankenstein.”

 

 

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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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