Opinion: The State Bar's Mission is Clear

18 January 2018   Alex Vakula, President of the Arizona State Bar
"Arizona has one of the most respected and well-run bars in the country."

A recent column posted by Rep. Anthony Kern and attorney Mauricio Hernandez and their talk of yet another bill at the legislature focused on the State Bar of Arizona reminded me of the movie Groundhog Day. Here we go again. Despite pressing issues facing the State, this will be the fourth year that Rep. Kern has run such a bill. The legislature has chosen not to pass the previous versions. Common sense has prevailed in the past and there’s no reason to believe anything will be different this session. Most legislators have no interest in a bill that would create confusion and potentially grow state government. 

The column makes it clear that neither gentleman understands the State Bar’s function. It is not a trade association; trade associations exist for the benefit of their members. The State Bar’s mission, as mandated by the Arizona Supreme Court, says: “The State Bar of Arizona exists to serve and protect the public with respect to the provision of legal services and access to justice.” 

The bar has two primary functions. One is regulating the practice of law. That means investigating and prosecuting complaints against attorneys. The second is ensuring that attorneys have the skill and competence so that their clients are protected and well served. 

The services provided by the State Bar, such as the Ethics Hotline or our trust account assistance, exist so that attorneys have the skill and knowledge necessary to deliver quality legal services to the public. 

On one hand the detractors make the argument that the Bar is dismissing too many complaints, while on the other arguing that this organization is too aggressive when investigating lawyers. They can’t have it both ways. 

Rep. Kern and Mr. Hernandez point out that Arizona attorneys pay more than their counterparts in other states. While our total cost to practice is in the top 20% of all states, we also have one of the most respected and well-run bars in the country. 

The writers fail to point out that Arizona has more complaints filed per attorney than any state in the nation. Indeed, nearly 2/3rds of our budget is used to regulate lawyers, at no cost to the tax payers. And yet our time to complete formal investigations is significantly less. In other words, both consumers and attorneys benefit by an efficient and effective organization, the model for other states.

It’s disturbing that the writers would hold California’s recent bar changes as an example for us. Since when do we look to California for best practices? As Governor Ducey routinely recognizes, Arizona benefits most when it does things differently than California. 

I do agree with one comment: We have to do better for Arizonans. Rep. Kern has already spent substantial time and taxpayer expense on a task force that didn’t find any significant issues with the State Bar. Let’s not continue to debate this issue at a time when the opioid crisis, school funding and our state’s water supply demand their full attention. 

Let’s do better for Arizona and focus on things that do need to be fixed. 

Alex Vakula is a long-time Prescott resident and the President of the State Bar of Arizona



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