President's Page

President's Page--The Importance of the Unified Bar

by Alfred M. Butzbaugh

When I was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 1992, the State Bar was grappling with Keller v State Bar of California decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990. Keller upheld the concept of the unified bar association to which lawyers are compelled to pay dues as a condition to practice law, but imposed restrictions on ideological positions advocated by a unified bar.

The State Bar had been an active advocate in the tort reform debate of the late 1980s, arguing against the proposed legislative reforms. Lawyers took strong positions on both sides of that issue. Some who supported tort reform resented the State Bar’s advocacy; they questioned whether the State Bar should remain a unified bar to which they were required to belong. A movement resulted to transform the State Bar from a unified bar to a voluntary bar.

•The unified bar supporters argued that all lawyers should support the State Bar’s core programs which benefit our profession, our justice system, and the public’s perception of our profession. Voluntary bar supporters countered that they should not be mandated to pay dues to support programs with which they disagreed.

•Voluntary bar supporters argued that a voluntary bar would be focused on the needs of lawyers. Unified bar supporters countered that the primary goal of a voluntary bar would be to generate revenue; it would operate as a trade association, not as a professional association dedicated to improving our justice system and serving our profession.

•Some argued that a voluntary bar would be freed from the ideological restrictions imposed by Keller, allowing the State Bar to advocate any issue and to campaign for or against any judicial candidate. Others countered that special interest groups would vie to control a voluntary bar; the State Bar would become a pawn in the gameplaying of politics.

To implement the Keller restrictions, in 1992 the Michigan Supreme Court issued Administrative Order 92-4, replaced by Administrative Order 93-5, restricting the ideological activities of the State Bar. The voluntary bar movement was quieted.

Core Programs

It has taken the State Bar a few years to adapt to Keller, AO 92-4 and then AO 93-5, but we have learned. Now, the State Bar focuses its resources on those core programs which can make the difference for our justice system, our profession, and our members, such as:

•Access to Justice for All, dedicated to assuring legal services to the poor, which nationally is used as a model by other bar associations.

•The Open Justice Commission, co-chaired by Justice Marilyn J. Kelly and Judge Harold Hood, whose mission is to assure that the justice system treats all lawyers and litigants fairly.

•The Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program, which assists lawyers, judges and law students with chemical dependency and other impairment issues; it has a cadre of 110 volunteer lawyers who are available to respond quickly to assist those in need.

Other important State Bar programs are listed in the sidebar. I hope you will read the Lansing Report this month in which Interim Executive Director Dan Kim provides detail on those and other State Bar programs.

Importance of the Unified State Bar

When I first became a State Bar Commissioner in 1992, I was unclear whether we should remain a unified bar. During my service as a Commissioner, a State Bar officer, and now as President, I have given this much thought. I am convinced that we must remain a unified bar.

There are 27 state unified bars. For those state bars which are voluntary, they are not as committed as we are to those programs which are at our core. If we were to become a voluntary bar, our core programs, which do not generate revenue, would be at risk for elimination, even though they add value by improving our justice system and our profession. At great risk would be: Access to Justice for All, the Open Justice Commission, and the Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program. They bring no revenue to the State Bar. But these programs greatly benefit our profession, our justice system, and the public’s perception of our profession. All lawyers should financially support them, and the unified bar assures that through bar dues.

We, as lawyers, are confronted with, and take positions on, important societal and legal issues. Lawyers regularly advocate positions on those issues which conflict with positions taken by other lawyers. That advocacy tends to group lawyers ideologically.

If our profession polarized into separate ideological organizations, we could not speak as one unified voice to fulfill our duty to improve our justice system and our profession. The unified bar protects us from polarization which would paralyze us from the fulfillment of that duty. The unified bar assures that all members have the opportunity to participate. It binds together the extraordinary and wonderful diversity of our profession: in gender, race, geographic location, firm size, areas of practice, affluence and types of employment.

The process the State Bar uses to determine its position on issues is cumbersome and lengthy; it can be frustrating. To some, that makes the State Bar seem irrelevant. But it is that process which allows all voices to be heard. It guards against domination by the powerful; it forces careful consideration of the cause of the moment. That process builds consensus. When the State Bar speaks on important issues, it fairly presents positions broadly acceptable to our members.


Our predecessors took a principled stand when in 1935 they persuaded the state legislators to enact the unified bar enabling statute. Roberts P. Hudson, the first President of our unified bar, the State Bar of Michigan, described the reasons.

Your organization is designed not only for the benefit and betterment of its members, but primarily for the public at large who require the services of the profession. It must never be subservient to political dictation or intimidation, nor control from outside its membership. It cannot represent the interests of any group or political faith. It must not draw distinctions of color, race or creed. It must not submit to politically minded leadership. It must not stand aloof from its membership. It must purge itself of the unfit. It must not recognize geographic boundaries. It is now and must remain democratic, independent and representative of the best ideals of citizenship.

Neither mere words, nor formula, nor organization can create high standards. The success of your organization will, as in all other organizations, depend upon the unremitting labors of its commission and officers and upon the co-operation and assistance of its membership.

We welcome into the organization all the Bar of Michigan and pledge to you the best efforts of the Commission.

It is a glorious heritage and it is for the members of the Bar of Michigan to support and foster and maintain.

The aspirations and dreams of President Hudson, and the lawyers of his generation who toiled to establish our unified bar, remain our aspirations and dreams. If we, as a profession, are serious about our commitment to serve the public, improve our justice system, and improve our profession, and I believe we are, we must continue to dedicate ourselves to those ideals which are at the core of our State Bar. Amid the tumult of controversy, we must stay the course. We must protect our unified bar.

State Bar Programs (Printed as a sidebar in the original July President's Page)

In addition to the Bar’s programs on Access to Justice for All, the Open Justice Commission, and Lawyers and Judges Assistance, are the following:

•The e-Journal, which is delivered fresh to our members’ computers every day, with a daily summary of the published and unpublished appellate court opinions; the State Bar received the Gold Circle Award from the American Society of Association Executives for the e-Journal; soon to have a cumulative index of case summaries by practice area; the e-Journal is now available for download to personal hand held devices

•The Member’s Newsletter, also delivered fresh every day, summarizing and linking news stories about legal issues

•Ethics Hotline, supervised by regulation counsel Thomas K. Byerley, which handles an average of 30 calls per day

•Law School for Legislators in which 71 incoming legislators participated after the last election cycle

•Websites for 37 State Bar sections and several committees

•Unauthorized practice of law prosecutions

•Client Protection Fund to reimburse clients from whom lawyers stole

•Character and Fitness investigations for bar applicants

•A lawyer referral service for lawyers in those areas not covered by a local bar referral service

•Directory of all lawyers, soon to be on-line

•New Presidents Retreat for incoming local and special purpose bar presidents

•Bar Leadership Institute for incoming State Bar section and committee chairs

•Annual Meeting, with CLE, networking, and section meetings

•Community relations projects: this year three pilot programs have been started to teach conflict resolution in elementary schools, with plans to expand the programs statewide; Michigan High School Mock Trial; Classroom Teachers, Lawyers, and Children in 13 sites, "Ask the Lawyers" TV programs; Michigan Legal Milestones; and Law Day activities

•Membership benefits: LOIS automated legal research, Open for research assistance, insurance products, office products, credit cards, car rental, cell phone service, and travel

Michigan Bar Journal Home
Archived Issues