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.
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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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.