Posts Tagged ‘Washington State Bar’

Last week Nevada’s Supreme Court spared the state’s private practice lawyers from being forced to pay thousands of dollars in annual costs. The court unanimously denied an ill-considered state bar-sponsored rule petition to impose as a condition of licensure a requirement that all lawyers engaged in private practice buy professional liability insurance. The court ruled, “Having considered the petition and the comments from the State Bar and the public, we conclude that the Board of Governors has provided inadequate detail and support demonstrating that the proposed amendment to SCR 79 is appropriate.”

The Court also took particular note of its existing rule that already provides for public disclosure of whether an attorney maintains professional liability insurance.

Interestingly, in preparing its misguided rule change petition Nevada’s Board of Governors relied on data and input provided by an interested stakeholder and current market participant,“its endorsed lawyers’ malpractice insurance company and “the nation’s largest direct writer of lawyers” malpractice insurance.”

The high cost to practice.

As it is, most lawyers voluntarily carry legal malpractice insurance. But it’s one thing to do so by choice and quite another to do so by coercion. Nevada’s high court is to be saluted for its prudence in rejecting the Bar’s proposal, which would have catapulted Nevada into the uppermost ranks of the highest cost to practice jurisdictions in the U.S.

At least, for now, Oregon has the dubious distinction of remaining king of the high cost mountain.

But high cost contenders remain. Mandatory bar association leaders apparently love nothing more than finding new ways to scorch their members with new practice pains and greater financial burdens, especially for those in private practice. Indeed, as of the first of the this year, to keep their tickets to practice Idaho private practice lawyers are now required to submit “proof of current professional liability insurance coverage at the minimum limit of $100,000 per occurrence/$300,000 annual aggregate.”

That resolution passed in Idaho by a scant 51% to 49% vote of bar members. It’s unclear how many Idaho private practice lawyers voted or were even aware of the proposal. I suspect not many. Moreover, had the word gotten out in time as it barely did in Nevada, the outcome might have been much different.

Anecdotally, for example, in July I exchanged emails with a Nevada lawyer also licensed in Idaho. While objecting to the proposed Nevada insurance mandate, he expressed concern should Idaho follow with a similar requirement. He was floored to learn that not only had it already been considered in Idaho — but that even now he was subject to the new rule as of January 1, 2018!

No remedy.

Besides significantly increasing the cost to practice, mandatory professional liability insurance is no remedy for the victims of a lawyer’s intentional acts or omissions and criminal or fraudulent conduct. Why? Because these acts along with numerous others fall under common policy exclusions that too often foreclose relief to claimants. Insurers don’t cover intentional, criminal or fraudulent acts. In addition, mandatory insurance is not designed to protect the public — but to protect the insured. I discussed some of this in my “No lawyer love in Nevada” July blog post.

Finally, Washington lawyers in private practice should remain vigilant lest they be caught unaware like their next door neighbors. Mandatory bars are notorious copy cats. And the folks running the Washington Bar are particularly adept at giving it to their members.


For sometime now and as reported here, the Washington Bar has been considering its own legal malpractice insurance mandate. In July, the Association’s Mandatory Malpractice Insurance Task Force issued its interim report.

I doubt Nevada’s failure to afflict its lawyers with compulsory insurance will do much to dissuade the Washington Bar from its hard-nosed agenda.


Credits: Aprilmaze.jpg, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain.


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bartender | by ken ratcliff

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photoSo last week a young Washington State lawyer tells God and everyone else on a listserv that he’s tossing his shingle into the sock drawer and moving on — all because he can’t afford his annual bar dues.

File:Punishment sisyph.jpgSeems a tad drastic after spending so much time, sweat, and treasure to become a lawyer. But then, understandable when expenses keep overtaking income and the Sisyphean boulder doesn’t stop rolling back down the hill.

Ironically enough, his move comes even after lawyers in his jurisdiction saw fit to vote to cut their bar association dues from $480 to $325. This was no easy feat either — even though the usual crony cast of insiders, stakeholders, apologists and true believers gnashed their gums in disbelief and dismay.

“We’re all sitting here just going “Wow,'” said one bar association program manager. And according to one report, the reduction amounts to $3.6M or 25% of the bar’s budget. “Oh the humanity!”


And so the hand wringing went on, even after spinning the news coverage over how “fewer than half of eligible lawyers voted . . . and by a slim majority – 52 percent -“ voted to reduce their dues. And the point?

After all, the referendum election did garner 12,339 participants or about 44% of all lawyers in the state and of that number, 6,416 lawyers or roughly one-fifth of all Washington State Bar Association lawyers voted “YES” to roll back dues. U.S. Presidents win popular elections by margins less than that. 

photoBut poll-spinning isn’t an art form limited to politicians. Last November, for example, the Arizona Bar’s sock puppet, Arizona Attorney Magazine, ran a front page story “We’re Happy,” citing how happy and satisfied Arizona lawyers were — based on survey responses from barely 4% of its 17,200 active members.  That thin reed was deemed front-page news — even though not long before the economy really cratered, a survey by the American Bar Association belied the Arizona Attorney magazine’s hallelujahs. Almost half of the lawyers surveyed by the ABA reported career dissatisfaction and only 4 in 10 lawyers would recommend a legal career to others.

A dinghy of exemption.

So you’d think one lawyer throwing in the towel would hardly be news. And even though under WSBA Bylaw Article III, Section H.5., Washington lawyers can apply for one-time hardship exemptions in case of proven extreme financial hardship.”

photoBut when prospects haven’t been good for a while, a one-time exemption is a rubber dinghy in a vast troubled sea.

Indeed, up until the April 2012 rollback referendum and the dues reduction effective January 17, 2013, Washington enjoyed the dubious distinction of being 8th highest on the list of “Ranking By Cost to Practice in Each State.”

As a matter of fact, in proponents’ Statement for the Referendum – Washington State Bar Association, the rationale was explained, “The dues rollback referendum was started because mandatory annual fees imposed upon Washington lawyers exceed those charged to lawyers in most other states. In addition, the WSBA is making inefficient use of money and is not being totally open with members about where the money goes.photo

“Our Board increased fees when an economic crisis was underway, despite hardships of members who are unable to find professional work and struggling with student loans and mortgages.”


“Let them eat cake!”

Added one Bellevue, Washington solo practitioner, “Sixty percent of the lawyers in Washington are solo practitioners who aren’t making big bucks. It doesn’t seem as if the bar really took the cries of their members seriously. We were saying, `We need you to tighten your belt, and you’re telling us no.'”

But then invoking my favorite aphorist, François de La Rochefoucauld, state bars “all have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others.”

                                                                                                                                                        The Rankings.


But Washington was only 8th highest. As of 2010, ahead of “The Evergreen State” on the annual dues hit parade was No.1 Connecticut at $675; No. 2 Tennessee at $570; Georgia in 3rd at $536; New Hampshire in 4th place at $520; Hawaii at No. 5 with $501; and Alaska and Texas tied at No. 6 with $501 and then No. 7 Oregon at $500.

And rounding out the top ten were Wisconsin at No. 9 at $472 and No. 10, the Grand Canyon State of Arizona at $460.

Staffer-to-member bloat.

And then there’s member-to-staff ratios, which are important when you wonder where all that money goes. You wonder, too, for example, how as its Executive Director Karen A. Gould explains, the Virginia State Bar, in 2010 the fifth largest mandatory bar in the country has the fifth lowest dues of mandatory bars at $275. And yet, it manages to serve its 45,000 members with a member-to-staff ratio of 478 to one, placing it 22nd on the member-to-staff list.

And then there’s 10th highest cost Arizona, which comes in first with a tumefied ratio of one staffer to 158 members.


“Some things are just too coincidental to be a coincidence,” said Yogi Berra. Nonetheless, for the cost of $75, anyone with an interest in the data on membership dues, administration and finances of 181 responding state and local bars, including total cost to practice in each state, membership dues levels, dues increases, membership retention, etc., can buy the “2011 State and Local Bar Membership, Administration, and Finance Survey e-Book.”


Photo credits: “Gillie in one of his resting places,”  by Dwight Sipler,  photofarmer, at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Sisyphus” by Titian, Prado Museum, at Wikipedia Commons, public domain; “Nadya with sock puppet and fish, 2007” by Nadya Peek at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Rubber dinghy,” by Ben Sutherland at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “an unwitting victim…bwahahhahahaa,” by bark at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Let them eat cake!” by Alaskan Dude, Frank Kovalchek, at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Sleepy Head,” by Ben Salter, Capt’ Gorgeous, at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution.

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