In 2012, a member referendum cut Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) dues from $480 to $325. Members were thrilled. Lawyers elsewhere were envious. From WSBA leaders, teeth-gnashing and underwear-twisting ensued. But truth be told, the panty-twisting began well ahead of the referendum. The sky was gonna fall. The Seattle Starks said “Winter is coming.”
Four years later on September 29, 2016, it was payback time. On that day, the WSBA Board of Governors and its executive director got their ‘gimme back.’ The Board approved substantial lawyer licensing fee increases starting next year and running through 2020. The first jump of 138% raises dues from $325 to $449 in 2018. Fees then bump up to $452 in 2019 before riding the Up escalator again in 2020 to $458. The hikes amount to a 141% increase over current fees.
Back on top.
As soon as 2018, the first increase to $449 puts Washington back in the top ten of highest mandatory bar dues states topping Idaho, Utah, Louisiana and California. Of the total 32 mandatory bar states, only Alaska, Oregon, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Nevada and of course, Arizona are higher.
Although the WSBA Board approved the increases last September, it wasn’t until this past January 5, 2017 that the score was truly evened. On that date the Washington Supreme Court approved the dues increases declaring them without explanation “reasonable” and in the alternative, ruled in the same Order again without explanation that the fees proposed through a new member license fee rollback petition “would not be reasonable.”
License fee rollback petition.
Following the WSBA Board’s dues vote last September, members took immediate steps under WSBA Bylaws that provide that within 90 days of a final decision of the Board of Governors, any active member may file a referendum to reverse or modify that decision. Consequently, a license fee rollback petition was timely filed to reject the 2018-2020 fees approved by the Board and to alternatively require that the fee amount for a given year not be increased by a greater percentage than the consumer price index (CPI) increased during the calendar year ending 12 months previous to the effective date of the increase.
Only 1,604 or 5% of the active membership were needed to qualify the petition. A total 2,180 WSBA members signed the petition. The Court gave no explanation other than the conclusory statement: “That the lawyer license fees proposed by the license fee rollback petition, if the petition were to pass, would not be reasonable both as to the level of fees that it proposes and as to the requirement that future license fee increases be tied to the consumer price index.”
Later this month, the WSBA’s Board of Governors meets to decide whether or not to hold the referendum vote given the Court’s order rejecting the petition.
I’m not a Washington lawyer but they should still hold the vote — because even while the Board applauds the Court’s action while sitting on their hands, WSBA members will still want to kick some ass of their own.
Credits: Day 196 – Kicking Ass, by lintmachine at Flickr via Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license; 40 + 118 POW!!, by bark at Flickr Creative Common Attribution license; Giving my bro “a good old kick up the arse,” by 2thin2swim at Flickr Creative Common Attribution license.