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bar dues

Paying to be an Arizona Lawyer

I just paid $505 for my Arizona bar dues. That’s right, Arizona is a pay-to-play mandatory bar. I paid $505 just so I can be a lawyer for the next year. That’s about $42/month and just under $10/week just so I can work in my profession.

Now, I’m not opposed to a mandatory bar, as we are a self-regulating industry. I am opposed to a state bar not giving their members their money’s worth. I’m definitely not getting $505 worth of value from the State Bar of Arizona, even with our member discounts. I have yet to meet a fellow Arizona lawyer who disagrees with me.

One thing that makes me furious with the State Bar is there was no need to raise our bar dues from $460 (which was already at the high end of state bar dues). The Board of Governors approved the raise despite seeing that the State Bar was forecast to have a multi-million dollar cash surplus at our then rate.

Benefits of the State Bar of Arizona

Before I continue my rant, let me give credit where credit is due. There are some benefits to being a member of the State Bar of Arizona (besides getting to do my job):

  • Ethics Hotline: The State Bar has a number where you can discuss your ethical questions with a qualified lawyer. They will usually not give you a direct answer to your question (unless it is a black-and-white issue). My first year as a lawyer, my goals were to make a profit and not get disbarred. I was on a first name basis with one of the State Bar’s ethic’s lawyers because I called so much.
  • Fastcase: I don’t pay for Westlaw or Lexis. I do most of my case law research with Fastcase through the State Bar. It’s not worth $505/year, but it’s a valuable resource.
  • Arizona Attorney Daily 5: I like getting this email every weekday from Tim Eigo, the editor of Arizona Attorney magazine. It has information about newsworthy legal stories in current events, many of which that are relate to my practice areas.
  • Conference Rooms: When I started my firm, I used a mailbox at a UPS Store for my address and worked from home. When I had to meet with clients, I used the conference rooms at the State Bar in Phoenix which were free to use. They need a better scheduling system, but it’s useful to those of us who live nearby.
  • Investigate Ethics Complaints: One thing the State Bar does is investigate complaints against lawyers. If you read the Lawyer Regulation section of our magazine, you know there are some lawyers who either need help, have no business running a law practice, and/or have no business being a lawyer. Someone needs to be the watchdog over us.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/joegoauktiatrcompetition/11654037604
Image by
tiatrcompetition20133 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Back to Ranting

One thing that annoys the crap of me about the State Bar is the fact that they charge for continuing education events (CLEs) at their own facilities. They don’t pay their speakers, so their costs to put on an event is close to nothing, and yet they charge $54-$149 per person. You will not see me at one of their CLEs as a speaker or a participant unless they change how they operate.

What I’d Do Differently

If I ran the State Bar, I’d immediately assess the budget – what’s needed and what’s not. When I asked the Bar what our dues pay for, I received a response that said our dues cover about 60% of their budget. (And don’t forget that cash surplus they’re sitting on.)

Additionally, the State Bar should either offer their CLEs at their facilities for free or pay their speakers. With the money they’re sitting on, they could bring in some top-notch speakers who are worth every penny.

I don’t know how the State Bar goes about getting discounts for its members, but I want better ones. They should look for ideas on the Local First Arizona directory to see if there are companies who might was to partner with the Bar – for office supplies, office furniture, document shredding, marketing services, and company shwag. Let’s keep our money supporting our community where we can. I’d also find value in discounts for airline tickets, a custom tailor, and hotels outside the Phoenix area, and because I’m concerned about lawyer safety, I’d love to see discounts for self-defense classes and bulletproof undershirts.

(The one place a lawyer can’t take their gun is into a courthouse. If someone was targeting one of us, that would be a place where we’d most vulnerable. I don’t own a gun. I want a bulletproof undershirt because of the rates of violence against transgender persons.)

Putting my Money Where my Mouth Is

My rule is you can’t bitch unless you’re willing to do something about it. The minimum I can do is vote in the next Board of Governors election this spring. For any incumbents, I’ll look at how they voted on the last bar dues increase. In the candidates’ personal statements, I want to see their ideas to reduce our bar dues and/or provide greater value to the membership. I hope my fellow Arizona lawyers will do the same.

Alternative Uses for the State Bar Directory

My Arizona State Bar Membership Directory - aka Massive Dust Collector

My Arizona State Bar Membership Directory – aka Massive Dust Collector

I just paid $475 for the privilege of being a licensed Arizona attorney for the next year. One of the most frustrating things about having to pay for a mandatory state bar membership is watching the people in power spend it on things we don’t need or want – like a paper membership directory. It’s the phone book of lawyers. Every licensed attorney in the state gets one – and our dues pay to have it printed, shipped, and mailed to us every year.

Some people like having a paper directory. I’m sure this is the same minority that still uses the regular phone book while the rest of us use the internet to look up whatever information we need. I wish there was a way to opt out of getting this, or at least limit it to one directory per law firm. I recently joined a law firm that has 7 other attorneys. We don’t need 8 directories!

This situation made me think, “What would be a better use of our directories than letting them collect dust on the shelf for the year or automatically recycling them upon arrival?” I did some research and here are some of my favorite ideas.

Make spit balls or paper airplanes to throw during boring CLEs

Paper mache project

Kindling

Door stop (I’ve actually done this with my bar directory.)

Booster seat for kids

Cut a hole in the middle and hide stuff in it

Garden mulch

Wrapping paper (The minimalist in me loves this idea!)

Kill bugs with it

Alternative for packing peanuts

Origami

I recently got a new desk and I’m pretty sure my bar directory is going to become my new foot rest. I can’t help my state bar membership directory fulfill its destiny as a phone book but I can give it a new purpose.

What did you do with your state bar directory?

Oppose the Proposed Arizona Bar Dues Increase

I was frustrated and angry to learn that the State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors is considering raising our bar dues starting in 2015. Our dues would go up $25/year for four years. The State Bar gives new attorneys lower dues for their first two years of practice so this will be the first year I pay the full $460 for my annual bar dues. I don’t want them go to up to $560.

Arizona Grunge Flag by Free Grunge Textures from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Arizona Grunge Flag by Free Grunge Textures from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The legal world is a self-regulating profession so I’m not frustrated with the State Bar; I’m frustrated with our State Bar. Yes, they regulate us, but they regulate us as we’ve told them to. So if I’m unhappy with the way they’re running the show, it’s my obligation to openly oppose it. I’m pleased that some members of the Board, namely Sam Saks, Melissa Ho, and Geoff Trachtenberg, are publicly opposing the increase. And for anyone who is unfamiliar with the Arizona Bar, it’s a mandatory pay-to-play state. You can’t be an Arizona attorney without being a member of the State Bar and our bar dues are already among the highest in the country.

My source at the State Bar told me there are 17,680 active attorneys in the Bar. Let’s say 17,000 of them have to pay full bar dues because they’ve been in practice for over two years. These 17,000 will pay $7.82 million in bar dues in 2014. If the proposed increase is accepted, these 17,000 attorneys will pay $9.52 million in bar dues in 2018. I would want to see what will cost $1.7 million more than what it costs now.

The fact that the Board of Governors is considering increasing our dues means that it’s time to take a closer look at how our money is currently being spent. I want to see how much money is coming in and where it’s being spent. I don’t mind paying for services that are necessary (like lawyer regulation, LOMAP, and the ethics hotline), that we’ve collectively agreed we should pay for, and occasional increases due to inflation. I don’t want to pay for things that don’t enhance the profession.

For example, I recently received my 2014 Arizona Bar Directory in the mail. How many people use the paper printing of the bar directory?  We have an online database. How much did we pay to print and ship these phonebooks? Unless this is somehow a moneymaker, the paper directory should only be printed for those who order and pay for it.

Maricopa County Court House by Ms. Phoenix from Flickr (Creative Common License)

Maricopa County Court House by Ms. Phoenix from Flickr (Creative Common License)

I wanted to gauge how my fellow attorneys felt about this issue so I sent a survey to my fellow Arizona legal eagles who graduated in or after 2007. As of this post, I’ve received 24 responses, mostly from the class of 2011. Twenty-one respondents said they took out loans to pay for law school (most of them over $100K) and all of them are still paying them off (up to $1,600/month). To ask them to pay $560/year just to be able to keep being attorneys, is asking a lot.

For anyone who wants to dismiss this problem by saying that attorneys don’t pay for their bar dues, their firms do; over half of the respondents reported that they were responsible for their bar dues, either paying directly out of pocket or because they were the owner of their firm so any business expenses can cut into their take-home pay. Even when the firm pays its attorneys’ bar dues, every dollar they spend on dues is a dollar they can’t put towards business development, pro bono work, and community involvement.

I gave the respondents a chance to share their thoughts about the proposed increase. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I would want to know what I’m getting with the extra money. The dues are already crazy high compared to most other states and I don’t understand why.”

“One would think that with technology to handle much of what used to be paperwork for bar applications, testing (we do not have to create our own exam any longer), etc., costs would go down, not up. These costs ultimately get passed onto the public in higher fees and legal representation is already prohibitively expensive for most people.”

“Bar dues are effectively a tax on attorneys, which we have only minimal representation on due to the lack of transparency of the bar association. I feel that many of the bar’s programs and expenditures are of little value and should be funded from non-mandatory sources. If the legal community really feels those programs are needed, people will contribute voluntarily to support them.”

For anyone who wants to have their voice heard, this proposal will be considered by the Board of Governors on Thursday, December 12th, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday, December 13th, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Arizona State Bar office in Phoenix. Any member of the Bar can attend the board meeting (I’ll be there), and you can contact the Bar if you wish to speak on this issue. The vote is expected to occur on Friday.