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Why Does the AZ State Bar Charge for CLEs?

Arizona has one of the highest bar dues in the country and it’s a mandatory bar so you can’t be an Arizona lawyer unless you’re a member (although the Arizona legislature may change that this session). We’re also required to complete 15 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) each year, including 3 hours of ethics training.

Photo by Ellasdad from Flickr

Photo by Ellasdad from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I just paid $475 for this year’s bar dues. That’s just the price to maintain my license.  (For anyone who still paying off their law school debt, $475 = 1900 packages of ramen.) The State Bar also offers a variety of CLEs, and recently there have been a few that I’ve been interested in attending either because I wanted the information or I thought it would be a good forum to make connections with other lawyers.

But I’m not going to CLEs that are put on by the State Bar of Arizona and here’s why – they charge for them. Why does the State Bar of Arizona need to charge for CLEs? In my experience, they don’t pay their instructors to teach and they own their building so they don’t need to rent space. So why are they charging $39 to $129 to let their members attend an educational event?

As an outsider looking in, it appears that the State Bar is milking its membership for money any chance it can get. I’m already unhappy with the way my State Bar is running the show. (The legal industry is a self-governing profession and I voted in the last Board of Governors election so I’ve maintained my right to bitch.)

Now there may be a legitimate reason why the State Bar has to charge for CLEs. I responded to a recent announcement about an upcoming CLE with that very question because I am genuinely curious why they charge. If there’s a real reason, I’ll respect it. So far they haven’t responded.

I can’t change the fact that Arizona has a mandatory State Bar (for now) or that we have mandatory CLEs, but I can put my money where my mouth is and get my CLEs  elsewhere – like ASU CLE. They don’t pay their CLE instructors to teach either but all the money goes towards law student scholarships. And ASU Law School alums get to choose what they pay – so I could get my CLEs for free if I was so inclined. (Hat tip to ASU Law for thinking about their students educational needs after they graduate.)

2 Comments

  1. Jeremy says:

    Coming from someone who plans and runs classes (albeit for profit) and used to run a business education series (the GP Brownbags), it can be a lot of work and have a lot of little costs that add up. For instance: Recruiting and identifying instructors, scheduling classes, coordinating registration, promoting including flyers and website work, and, in some cases, paying for the services that help get those things done. Depending on whether the training includes programming after hours, they can have an impact on utility use budgets justifying that cost being passed along. Also, some training may also include food or refreshments, which costs would be passed along.

    Having no experience with these events, I can’t say what factors of those apply, but I’ll leave you with this: for the six months I was coordinating the weekly brownbags at Gangplank, I was spending upwards of three to four hours a week. At my hourly, I missed out on upwards of $300 a week doing that for the barely 15 participants per week. I can imagine that covering the costs of the staff member at the Bar Association who organizes these makes up a majority of the reasoning for the fee.

    I have no idea where your bar association fee goes every year, but if they take the reasoning of “lets keep membership fees low and charge members for the extra services” then that could be why a CLE fee exists.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      That would make sense as a valid argument but Arizona has one of the highest bar dues in the country and have set themselves up to have a mutli-million dollar cash surplus. Base on this information, they should be able to handle the marketing costs.