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An Emancipation Proclamation For Lawyers

26 January 2017
  Jack Levine
Should lawyers be required to belong to the Arizona State Bar?

HB 2300, recently introduced in the State Legislature by Rep. Anthony Kern, would do for lawyers what Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation did for the freedom of Negro slaves. It would give lawyers the freedom to choose not to join any bar association and still practice law in this state.  At the same time, it would free lawyers from a bar association which many Arizona lawyers feel has become a huge bureaucracy, existing largely to perpetuate itself and which uses its disciplinary authority to intimidate and silence lawyers who publicly disagree with its policies or activities.

The effect of HB 2300, if passed, would confirm to the Arizona Supreme Court “all regulatory functions relating to the practice of law in Arizona, including the regulation of attorneys. It would also authorize the Supreme Court “to collect a mandatory assessment from each attorney as a condition of practicing law in Arizona.” Furthermore, HB 2300 “emancipates” lawyers by declaring that “Attorneys cannot be required to be a member of any organization to become or remain licensed”.

If this legislation is approved, Arizona would join 18 other “voluntary bar” states which do not require lawyers to join bar associations to practice their profession. Such states include, among others, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Initially, all states were voluntary bar states.  “Mandatory bars” did not become popular until the early part of the 20th century when North Dakota became the first state to mandate bar membership in 1921.  Arizona followed suit in 1932.

Many lawyers feel that the requirement of a mandatory bar violates the spirit of the First Amendment’s right to “freedom of association.” Also, in many instances, it is repugnant because lawyers are required to pay dues to support functions and activities that they may not need or disagree with. Furthermore, the disciplinary system in mandatory bar states often treads heavily on sole practitioners and small firm lawyers, while providing almost complete immunity for ethical violations by the large law firms who provide financial ‘s support for many of the State Bar’s special events. Also, in voluntary bar states the public has more faith in their disciplinary systems because it is not run by lawyers.   In voluntary bar states, disciplinary systems are administered by an agency of the Supreme Court of the state for the public’s benefit.

The conversion of Arizona from a mandatory bar state to a voluntary one would benefit the state’s lawyers by substantially reducing the amount that must be paid to practice.  Arizona State Bar dues are currently over $500 per year, second only to Alaska, as the highest rate in the country for states of comparable populations. Many Arizona lawyers feel that their mandatory bar dues are yet another tax, wasted on a bureaucracy to support its spendthrift programs and exorbitant salaries, which, for over 25% of its employees, exceeds $100,000 per year.   This contrasts with voluntary bar states where the average licensing fee, is just barely over $200 per year, which lawyers pay to the Supreme Court of their state to cover the cost of testing, admission, discipline, continuing legal education, specialization and other core functions. 

If HB 2300 is enacted into law and Arizona does become a voluntary bar state, its lawyers can rejoice in echoing the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  “Free at last! Free at last”. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

About the Author: 

Jack Levine

Jack Levine has been an active member of the Arizona Bar since 1964.  He is a graduate of the New York University School of Law.  After graduating he served as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.   He was a member of the State Bar of Arizona’s Board of Governors from 2011-2013 and is a past Chair of the State Bar’s Sole Practitioner/ Small Firm Section’s Committee on Lawyer Discipline.

He is a member of the American Bar Association, the Arizona State Bar Association, the Maricopa County Bar Association, the Arizona Association for Justice and the Arizona Employment Lawyers Association.  He is a past Chair of the Trial Practice Section of the State Bar of Arizona, a past President of the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association and was the founder and initial Director of its Continuing Legal Education program.  He has also served as a Mediator and Advisor to the American Arbitration Association on liability insurance claims.  


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