Thursday, January 30, 2014

Should State Bar Membership Be Voluntary In Michigan?

Senator Meekhof recently introduced SB 743 in Michigan to change the membership of the State Bar of Michigan from mandatory to voluntary.

The Bill would:

"No longer require that individuals pay a periodic fee for continued membership in the State Bar,
require that individuals who designate themselves 'attorneys or counselors' be licensed to practice law in Michigan, and require that all individuals who practice law in the state do so in compliance with the requirements of the Michigan Supreme Court."

As of 1/23/14, the Bill has been referred to the Committee on Government Operations.


The Bill comes after recent scrutiny of the State Bar when it urged mandatory disclosure of those financing judicial campaign ads.


"Republican Sen. Arlan Meekhof of West Olive says the bar association has become more 'political' and not all lawyers agree with its actions. Meekhof said Thursday that the bill's intent isn't to let attorneys' off the hook from fees for attorney discipline system and other bar functions. Conservatives first proposed a 'right-to-work' concept for lawyers at a Republican policy conference in September."


Many attorneys who pay their annual dues may see no immediate benefit, but the State Bar of Michigan does work as the oversight agency for attorneys in Michigan. Our State Bar dues help pay for attorney discipline procedures (a good thing for libraries when attorneys steal books -- which happens more often than you think).


There are also other benefits like discounts for members for things like insurance, car rental, travel, etc....


One of the biggest benefits I can think of for practicing attorneys is the free access to Casemaker.  For annual dues that cost ~$305 per year, you get access to a free legal research database that would otherwise cost $450 per year.


Also, when I have done pro bono work, the State Bar of Michigan has offered me free malpractice insurance to cover the work, which promotes free services to others.


While making dues voluntary would basically create a 'Right to Work' for lawyers (and I do believe that what is good for blue collar is also good for white collar), I also think that the Bill is, in itself, a political move. Senator Meekhof, it would appear, does not like the fact that the State Bar required mandatory disclosure of judicial campaign financing. However, mandatory disclosure of campaign finance is a transparency issue, and transparency is a good thing when deciding which judge to vote for. Even though judges should be nonpartisan, it is clear that money talks (and they were partisan people before they ran for a judicial position).


The current system works, so I don't see a reason to undo it only to have to create a new system because, as Meekhof said, the bill's intent isn't to let attorneys' off the hook from fees for attorney discipline system and other bar functions.


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