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Rant

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.

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.)

Why Don’t People Return Their Shopping Carts?

I was walking through a parking lot the other day and I saw at least 8 shopping carts that the previous user did not return to the store or cart return area. This is something that has been bothering me for weeks – why do people think it’s ok to not return their carts? I think when you use a cart, you have a responsibility to use it properly and return it when you’re done.

Cart by Rick Hall, Undeniable Ruth

Cart by Rick Hall

I posted a question about it on Facebook  and I was shocked when the first 4 commenters admitted that they regularly don’t return their carts. These were their excuses in a nutshell:

  1. I have my kids with me.
  2. I physically can’t walk that far.
  3. By leaving my cart out, I’m keeping a clerk/cart attendant employed.
  4.  If the cart return is more than a few spaces away, I’m not going to use it.

I don’t buy any of those excuses.

  1. Take your kids with you to return your cart or lock them in the car for the 1-2 minutes it takes you to return the cart. If the kid is old enough, make the kid return it for you.
  2. The store will assign a clerk to assist you to your car, load your groceries, and take your cart back for you upon request.
  3. Bullshit – The store will still employ a clerk to collect the carts from cart returns.
  4. Are you fucking kidding me?

My mother had me 21 months after giving birth to twins. I called her and she said she always returns her cart. If she can shop with 3 babies and not leave a cart in the middle of the parking lot, you would be hard pressed to find a valid reason (besides an extreme emergency) for not returning your cart.

This problem and all the comments on my Facebook page about this issue made me wonder what’s the underlying issue here. Is it laziness? Entitlement? Selfishness? Thoughtlessness?

How would you feel if your car was dented by a rogue shopping cart that was blown into your car by a strong gust of wind?

How would you feel if the teenage clerk got hit by a car while retrieving the cart you failed to put away?

Shopping carts are expensive. When they’re damaged they need to be replaced. Stores pass that cost along to you. Don’t bitch about the cost of groceries if you’re part of the problem.

My obvious reaction to this problem is to scream “Put your fucking cart away!” but I think the bigger challenge is to address the pervasive underlying problem and ask how do we create a community where people think beyond the immediate moment and consider the greater good for themselves and others?

Americans = People Who Don’t Move

I have a huge pet peeve about Americans – we have become a society of people who don’t move!   I’m talking about people who are perpetually sedentary.  It really bothers me to see people getting winded from walking across a parking lot.

Everything that's wrong with America
Image by msmail via Flickr

As a country, we have huge obesity problem.  It’s one thing to have a medical condition or to be on medication that result in weight gain, but another situation when people are eating way more than they need and then never moving to the point where they become incapable of doing it.

I get really sad when I see this in children.  My cousin took dance classes since she was little and I used to go to the big  recital in the spring that featured every level from the toddlers to the advanced teens.  One year I saw a four year-old who could barely skip because she was so chubby.  You could see every hop for her was an effort.  I wanted to find her parents and ask, “What are you doing to your child?”

We didn’t used to be this way.  I think a big part of this problem is the fact that modern conveniences have allowed too many of us to adopt a lifestyle where we never need to leave the couch.  Instead of washing, chopping, and cooking food, we have microwave meals or order in.  Instead of sweeping or vacuuming the floor, we have the Roomba do it for us.  Instead of playing outside, our kids play video games.  We used to have to at least walk through the mall to go shopping, but now we can buy everything we want online.

I remember as a kid, our Saturday morning family tradition was walking to the park to play.  It was simple and fun.  I think a lot of people have forgotten how much fun these simple things are.

Without having to go more than five blocks from my house, I can buy groceries, go to the pharmacy, get fast food, eat at a real restaurant, bank, mail something, have my clothes dry cleaned, rent a movie, buy running shoes, and visit a park.  It’s a little eerie when I walk to do my errands and I hardly see anyone else on the sidewalks.  This summer, I’ve made a commitment to myself that if I have to go to any of these places, unless I need the cargo space of my car, I’m walking or skating there.

My end-of-the semester gift to myself is going to be a bike.  My hope is to ride to anywhere that I want to go within five miles of my house, if not seven miles, and where it’s ok to arrive sweaty.  Did I mention that I live in Arizona?  I plan to carry a fresh t-shirt and a stick of deodorant in my Camelbak.  Please feel free to send me sunscreen because I hate having tan lines.

This proved to me that no one who lives near me uses the sidewalks.  I live near the Arizona Canal – one of the man-made waterways that bring water from the Colorado River to sustain central and southern Arizona.  Many ducks live along the canal and there’s a wonderful path for running and cycling that’s separate from the roadways.  There are tons of places for ducks to make their nests, yet the other day I found a pair of ducks nesting under a fallen construction sign that was only six feet away from the sidewalk and major Phoenix street.  I figured the volume of foot traffic was so low that it seemed like a safe place to start their family.

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