The comments below were submitted to the State Bar with consent to make the content public. These comments do not necessarily express the views of the State Bar nor is the State Bar responsible for the views expressed.
Public Policy Alert: Voluntary State Bar Legislation
Non dues paying members of the State Bar? I agree with the comment from the State Bar that "The State Bar of Michigan has demonstrated in its 79-year history that a mandatory bar association is a great, no-cost benefit to Michigan's taxpayers and the most cost-effective way to regulate the legal profession and protect the public."
Justin Altman –
I wholly endorse the idea of a truly voluntary bar. Unfortunately SB 743 is a mess that conflicts with other portions of that subsection, doesn't address the MCR as set by the Supreme Court, and fails to recognize that "admitted to the bar" and "licensed to practice" are synonymous phrases in the Michigan law.
Stephen M. Atkinson—
I have been a member of the State Bar of Michigan for 39 years. This means I have paid maybe $12,000 in dues. The value I have received from the Bar is zero, or less. About time this legalized extortion was stopped.
BTW, how much of my dues were embezzled by the former director you never pursued?
I hope the State Bar of Michigan, all State Bar members, and thinking citizens will oppose SB 743 changing requirements for membership in the State Bar and for the practice of law. There are too many inadequate, or actively bad, lawyers now under the present system and as I read the summary of this bill (have not seen a full copy) it would make being a lawyer a joke and eliminate important protections of the public. It throws the whole burden of regulation on the Supreme Court, which might or might not be a good thing.
Richard Morley Barron—
This bill would undo many decades of State Bar leadership and public service and be a serious setback to the public as well as to the bench and bar. This effort is part of the current political effort to increase individual freedom by abolishing collective action in behalf of a common good. History demonstrates, in my judgment, the dangers of doing this.
I have been a member since 1976. Most attorneys are well intentioned and hard working. For those not so inclined I believe it is significant and imperative for us to have a policing system within our own. The tax payers should not have to be burdened by unscrupulous attorneys motivated by greed.
I am completely opposed to SB 743 and find it to be a purely retaliatory gesture and response to the Bar's attempt to bring transparency to Supreme Court elections. I support whole-heartedly the Bar's efforts as it relates to the regulation of Dark money and voice my strong objection to SB 743.
Ross E. Chapman—
The proposed legislation is extremely ill-advised, seeking to fix something that is not broken; and in the process, sending the legal profession into a turmoil of state administered licensing regulation that would surely add significant costs to taxpayers. This obviously politically motivated initiative raises more serious questions as to whether our legislators understand fundamental principles of our political system. Michigan citizens are poorly served by knee-jerk, fast track law making, with absolutely no deliberative process.
Phillip Churchill Jr.—
Membership should remain mandatory and not change to voluntary.
I support this initiative except with respect to the following:
If individuals no longer pay a periodic fee to maintain membership, who will cover the costs of running the State Bar?
Neil M. Colman—
What a disservice to the public and the bar if this legislation was to pass. The services provided to the public and the bar require sufficient funding, and to potentially eliminate the source of funding will irreparably harm the members of the bar and the public we serve.
I think this is an attack by a legislator who would prefer to neutralize the things the State Bar does to benefit all but which are perceived by some legislators as being an obstacle to those legislators' goals.
I am absolutely opposed to making it voluntary. It will diminish its ability to keep lawyers and the public informed on critical matters. I am proud of the stature of the Bar Association, and recognize it as one of the few examples of a profession effectively overseeing itself.
Alphonse B. Dalimonte—
I explained to Senator Rick Jones that the Bar provided extremely important guidelines for lawyers and that the Bar took the necessary steps to enforce those guidelines. Those procedures and guidelines are extremely important for the protection of the public. A voluntary membership would serve to "gut" that protection.
The Bar also serves to help keep lawyers abreast with changes in the law which benefits the clients a lawyer serves to the benefit of the general public.
The Bar provides a certain level of judicial limitation when jurist lets the cloak take control over good reason and acts contrary to what is fair and just. How would a voluntary Bar for judges serve to help the good order of litigation and fairness?
It is hard to conceive that some lawyers would choose not be a member of the Bar. However, even a minimal number could create disorder in a profession that requires good order.
I am totally and completely opposed to a voluntary Bar Association and urge all lawyers to do the same.
Brett DeGroff –
I am shocked and outraged by SB 743. I personally oppose SB 743 and urge the State Bar of Michigan to actively oppose SB 743 as well.
Much like Right to Work was a politically motivated attack on unions, institutions the current Republican legislative majority sees as an opponent, SB 743 is a politically motivated attack on the State Bar of Michigan. This idea was floated soon after the SBM voiced its support of more transparency in judicial elections. Of course, more transparency means disclosure of vast amounts of dark money which disproportionately flow to Republicans. Keeping with their recent tradition of suppressing any political opposition, Republicans cooked up this scheme to weaken a valuable professional organization that serves not only Michigan attorneys but all citizens of our state through its valuable contributions.
There are other ways to make support of the SBM more equitable. Newer attorneys and attorneys who work in public service could pay less. Attorneys could apply for need-based temporary exemptions. Any number of alternative plans could be implemented by the SBM if there were any real policy concern underlying this proposal. Indeed, if there were a real policy concern underlying this proposal, the SBM would be the best situated to address the concern as it is governed by attorneys who know the realities and circumstances of our profession much better than legislators.
This proposal is not even consistent with the small government ideology the Republican majority claims it follows. Rather this is government interference in the self-regulation of a professional organization. This is big government at its worst, and any self-respecting libertarian should reject the proposal out of hand.
But of course here, as in so much of what takes place in our legislature today, the Republican legislative majority is not interested in making good policy or with honest commitment to a principle - only political payback. Quite simply, they are drunk with power.
I oppose SB 743 and urge the SBM to do so as well.
Brian Downs –
The hoax that the State Bar protects the public is gone. Virtually no member of the public believes this hoax anymore. This is particularly true of those who have tried to seek justice through the Bar.
The fact that the State Bar uses force to collect dues proves that it is a failure. If the State Bar was really virtuous, then attorneys would be eager to join. Everyone wants to be part of a "good" or "reputable" organization. If you really believe that State Bar is "good" or "reputable" then you should be willing to put your belief to the test. Make it voluntary. Opposition to a voluntary bar merely proves the case that the Bar is not an organization people willingly join.
Ironically, the best thing for the Bar would be to make it voluntary. Then it would be forced to clean up its act and become an honorable organization again.
If it were true, as Executive Director Welch proclaims, that the SBM does so many wonderful things and provides its members so many invaluable benefits, then surely membership would hold steady if the bar were not mandatory. We all know that is not true; Ms. Welch no doubt is a true believer, but the SBM returns little or no value to most of its members. Making it voluntary could only enhance the level of services provided by SBM as it would, for the first time in over 75 years, have to demonstrate its relevance and utility in order to attract members, instead of the current practice of merely declaiming its wonderfulness and patting itself on the back in the publications it forces us to underwrite. This is a replay of LAWPAC, which disappeared once it could no longer steal free prime advertising space on our annual dues notices. SBM clearly fears letting the marketplace determine whether lawyers wish to join the organization and support it with their dues.
If it isn't broken don't fix it. SB 743 would be a disaster. Lawyers are presently not held in the highest of regard. An unregulated Bar would only exacerbate the situation. This bill needs to be defeated, and quickly.
I practiced for 15 yrs in Tenn., a voluntary bar state. Useless.
I support the legislation. The reason for the legislation is quite simple—the State Bar. It used to have a way that individuals could be non-active for an unlimited time period and pay a nominal fee. That policy changed perhaps a decade or so ago, so that the "discount" for non-active status was minimal and the period one could be non-active without forfeiting a license to practice at some future date was extremely limited. It makes no sense that I have to keep paying an exorbitant fee to maintain the option of active practice at some future date. This anti-competitive monopolist policy is in keeping with more general state bar policies throughout the nation that seek to restrain competition and discriminate against out of staters by not recognizing lawyers admitted in other jurisdictions. The 19th century style policies of the State Bar have no place in the 21st.
Thomas L. Frank—
I've been a member of the State Bar of Michigan since 1971. I've seen many changes, especially dues and fees.
The "State Bar," since then, has figured out how to raise dues and fees to its present status.
You feed the beast; it grows and gets more powerful; you feed it more and it now has an interest to protect . . . its own!
Do you really think state government wants to fund the State Bar? I think not! SB 743 will fail.
Victor L. Galea Sr.—
The SBM does not need mandatory dues to do its job, as shown by the success of various county, specialty, and other bar associations, most prominently the American Bar Association. Many members get little or no benefit from SBM activities, and should not be forced to support them. I have been a member since 1984 and can't think of a thing the SBM has done that I would have voluntarily paid for in that time. I have paid extra for section membership, which were the only services I wanted, and would have been willing to pay those alone. Please enact this bill.
Heather Garretson –
This is such disappointing legislation. It fails to recognize the important role the State Bar plays in access to justice issues and in improving the efficiency of the courts. By following the Keller Guidelines - which prevent the Bar from taking positions on political issues - the Bar improves the judicial system for everyone.
Regardless of your position on mandatory State Bar membership, all thinking lawyers should strongly oppose SB 743 . This Bill is the promised retribution against our Bar Association for daring to take a position supporting disclosure of campaign funds in judicial elections . The concept of transparency in judicial elections is universally endorsed by the public and for good reason. In a culture where votes are bought and sold in the executive and legislative branches our courts need be the one place in our constitutional democracy where everyone gets a fair shake. Dark money in judicial campaigns is antithetical to the promise of blind justice. SB 743 is a direct result of the State Bar's position supporting disclosure of campaign funds in judicial elections .
Ralph D. Gilpin—
Until a few years ago, state bar dues were waived for those 75 or over. That was a good thing since in retirement I do pro bono for non-profits and volunteer mediation. In its hunt for more income the Bar reinstituted dues for all. With no fee income it is a burden to stay active. Keeping membership mandatory, though, is the way to go but trim the dues and extras!
I believe SB 743, which would change the membership of the State Bar of Michigan from mandatory to voluntary is a very bad idea. Switching to voluntary membership would be a grave mistake and would be very expensive for Michigan taxpayers.
George Gregory –
The bill has a number of deficiencies which could be fixed. More importantly it is a bad idea. The present system works well. It is true that not everyone agrees with every position the Bar, its Sections and other subdivisions take. But all of this is pretty transparent. Votes are taken and disclosed.
The problems include (1) it appears to add responsibility to the Supreme court with no funding (no fee from attorneys allowed), (2) it may eliminate protections for the public (for example the State Bar runs a fund to make up some losses clients incur because of some unethical behavior of attorneys, publishing the names and offenses of disciplined lawyers, etc.)
Arlan Meekhof's proposed legislation to change membership in the State Bar of Michigan from mandatory to voluntary is so ridiculous, it pains me to have to comment on it. I note from the bar directory that Mr. Meekhof is apparently not a lawyer licensed in Michigan, so I place even less credence, if that's possible, in what he proposes. Obviously, I am 100% against this proposed legislation.
This proposal seems utterly ridiculous to me! Why break something that works well for everyone. This will deemphasize the importance of having a state bar that protects everyone!
I currently live in Illinois and do not really practice in Michigan. I did practice as an active litigator in the Detroit area for 15 years before moving to Chicago. I passed the Illinois bar in 1993 and maintained an inactive status in Illinois for 15 years at $90 a year. There was no time limit on the inactive status. In Michigan however, there is effectively a three year inactive time limit and the inactive fee is about $280. This does seem a little silly.
For active participating members of the Michigan State Bar, dues should be mandatory and while the current fee seems a bit high, I know there are a number of things the Bar performs in the background that most of us never see. I respect and understand that. If you are an active working attorney and $200 to $300 dollars a year is not affordable, something is wrong.
As a very workable alternative, if a member is not active but wishes to maintain their license for future active duty or other reasons, make the inactive status less expensive and remove the effective three-year limit.
Don't get me wrong, I hate paying dues as much as the next guy but this talk of "voluntary" dues payment is ridiculous. I mean really, who would pay? Why? "Oh, here is my dues for this year. You mean I don't HAVE to pay? Oh, I think I will write a $300 dollar check anyways because I love the Bar so much." Seriously, what a waste of time to even contemplate such an activity.
Christopher G. Hastings—
This is a ridiculous idea that has not been seriously vetted by its sponsor. The State Bar is not a labor union. Not only must the practice of law be regulated, but the important work that is done by the Bar, including policing the unauthorized pie practice dope law and prosecuting attorney misconduct, would have to either be funded by taxpayers or fall completely to the wayside.
Senator Meekhof needs to do his homework. This is not serious-minded legislation.
As a more than 50-year member of the State Bar of Michigan, I oppose the proposed legislation for the main reason that the bar dues that are paid by the members provide the funding for regulation of the profession and as a lawyer who has worked in the area of the Unauthorized Practice of Law and Client Security Fund matters in past years I feel that there is a need for regulation of the profession to protect the public.
I do not necessarily see a problem with the State Bar being a voluntary organization; however that bill does not really address what kind of authority the Supreme Court has in regulation, imposing monthly dues, etc, as is typical in states that do not have mandatory bar association membership. Maybe it isn't needed, but that bill almost makes it sound like once you are admitted you never have to pay an annual fee ever again, which surely isn't the case?
J. Russell Hughes Jr.—
It is straightforward and simple. It is the kind of legislation that is applauded by most of the general public and in its type, one I could support. Furthermore the idea of a voluntary association is popular and would prevent State Bar Members from having to pay dues to an organization which espouses positions that they do not hold or believe to be true, especially when it is abhorrent to their faith and morals. (No pig roasts for the Muslim or Orthodox Jewish or Seven Day Adventist members).
The State Bar Association may have in part brought this idea of voluntary membership upon themselves and there is a lesson to be learned from it.
HOWEVER, I have some concerns about those who see this noble profession as only a job or only a way to make themselves wealthy. And I have concerns for those who know how to pass a difficult State Bar Exam but do not have the sense to come in out of a lightning storm or are otherwise not qualified to be attorneys. So we have a dual problem: How is the paying public protected from being exploited by the wealth seekers? And how are the poor protected from those that cannot serve them properly, especially form lack of continual legal education?
And then there are the concerns for the small firms or solo "bread and butter" practitioners who serve a more rural area and much less affluent portion of the State. These qualified attorneys often barely make the same money as do substitute teachers with two years of college. (And they also take on causes pro bono especially as they see a David and Goliath need). These attorneys need to have the services of the State Bar to be effective attorneys for the clients they serve. This can be done by having the Master Lawyers teach seminars regularly, statewide covering the basics over and over again for the general practitioner who covers everything from adoption to zoning in the northern lower and upper peninsulas as well as those serving the less populated down state areas.
What the State Bar can learn (if this bullet is dodged) is:
1—The State Bar of Michigan should not espouse values that would be offensive to the general public and the practitioners who serve them.
2—They may want to address Annual Dues of attorneys who have been in practice for ten or more years and who have never been disciplined by the State Bar. Perhaps a "good attorney" discount should apply.
3—A fair dues amount should be sought and perhaps a sliding scale, again for those who have been in practice for more than five years (perhaps a new attorney, years one and two discount).
a) Perhaps the certification that one is grossing less than $51,000, should pay one fee. Those grossing up to $100,000 another fee, Those grossing more than $100,000 and less than $250,000 another dues rate earning more than $251,000 a full rate.
Anyone who does not wish to reveal his or her income from the practice of law, may opt to pay the rate for those grossing $251,000 or more.
YET, we should not fall into the trap of having the more sucessful pay for those who are barely making it. All should pay as they go. No grants to low income attorneys allowed, said the low income attorney.
The State Bar has been a great protection and resource for Michigan's citizens. It has helped further access to justice and delivery of justice. It would also be unfair to allow some attorneys to get free rides from the benefits the State Bar provides to attorneys.
Finally, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Frank W. Jackson—
I am against this bill. I think that, if passed and signed into law, it would do great harm to the citizens of the State of Michigan.
Jon H. Kingsepp—
When any legislator submits a bill of this nature it is for some other purpose than what may be publically expressed. The dismemberment of this 79-year-old organization would significantly impact the public because of the resulting consequence of a declining membership undercutting the value the state bar association brings to the public. The SBM is a significant factor in providing continuing education through its programs to its members; assisting and protecting the public from unprofessional conduct; and assisting the public in assuring the availability of necessary legal representation. So is the legislation really evidence of the present tone of legislators to engage in retribution?
If the State would like to continue to keep track of the lawyers who practice, this payment of membership dues is perhaps the only way to do this. There are no ongoing Continuing Education Credits in Michigan to report, unlike most states. We need to retain the membership dues provision, to allow some degree of oversight and tracking of the number, location and area of practice for each lawyer in the state. Our political affiliations should not rule a process that lends some degree of control over the practice of law in the State of Michigan.
William R. Knight –
I joined the State Bar of Michigan more than 30 years ago. I am proud of the service the bar provides all of the citizens of our state. I strongly oppose the short-sighted and ill-conceived SB 743.
R. Timothy Kohler—
Either we pay into a control account which serves the public or we subject our license fee, which will not go away by this act, to the general budget of the state which for certain will modify the benefits, check balancing and assurances currently provided to the public. Further, Lawyers will still want to promote the legal system and justice in the state for all to enjoy.
Senate Bill 743, introduced with little fanfare, simply put, is designed to defund the Bar Association, under the auspices of making it a voluntary association. The proffered purpose, is apparently to emancipate attorneys from "forced membership" in the Bar, tantamount to "Right to Work" for attorneys. Sheer poppycock.
There has never been an issue with "restriction of access" to the profession raised in any legitimate quarter before, nor a groundswell of attorneys wishing to be emancipated from the chains imposed by the Bar.
By contrast, the State Bar has been an excellent organization, with a history of providing service, education, and oversight to the legal profession. Moreover, membership in the Bar poses no meaningful restrictions to access to our profession, simply by virtue of paying a relatively modest annual dues assessment, in exchange for the necessary services, educational opportunities, and ethical guidance the Bar provides to the membership.
In my opinion, the legislation is simply retributive nonsense, because the Bar had the audacity to take a position regarding the funding/transparency of judicial elections, and the potential impact it may have on the ethics of a supposedly independent judiciary.
Taking a position on issues which directly impact the independence of the judiciary, and thus, the legal profession as a whole, does not transform the State Bar into a "political organization," simply because some politicians do not like the position the Bar took in regard to the profession, which is its duty.
Our politicians should focus on attempting to invigorate our lagging economy, and stop wasting our tax dollars on special interest nonsense.
I have been a financial consultant since 1999 and have not practiced law. As a voluntarily inactive member of the State Bar for the past 15 years, SB 743 brings to my mind a concern that I have had: the exorbitant charge for this privilege. In some states inactive members need pay no fee to retain that status. In Michigan the fee is some $280.
I like to receive the Bar Journal and annual directory and to support the State Bar. However, I do not think that I have received services worth anywhere near the $4000+ which I have paid over the past decade and a half.
When I went inactive I thought that it meant that I could reactivate my status easily if I should decide to. When last year I was considering it I was told that the reactivation process was not nearly that simple and might even require that I retake the bar exam.
Somewhere between 0 and $280 is a reasonable price for inactive membership. Thank you.
Martin P. Krall Jr.—
The long held belief that attorneys should be governed by the Judicial Branch of government would be shattered by this bill. In my opinion this would reduce our profession to individuals holding licenses from the executive branch. I urge the Bar to actively oppose this legislation.
In the operation of our democracy, it is important that the lawyers contribute their expertise to the consideration of the development of laws that impact our basic legal system and the functioning of the third branch of government - the Judiciary. This legal expertise is needed to assure the most vulnerable in our society continue to be afforded fair and equal treatment under the laws that are developed and the process of enforcing those laws. For these reasons, I oppose the reach of SB 734.
Douglas E. Kuthy—
I think the proposal for a voluntary bar association is a fantastic idea. I have always resented being "taxed" for the "privilege" of practicing law. This is long overdue. I might be a little more charitable towards the bar if it didn't treat itself like royalty at my expense - witness the palace it just built for itself in Lansing - and the lack of any meaningful benefit I get from membership in it.
The State Bar of Michigan performs many valuable functions that benefit the general public, including promotion of pro bono legal work and protecting the public against the unauthorized practice of law. Without the mandatory fees charged attorneys in this State, those functions cannot be performed properly. I urge the Senate to vote against this bill.
G. Vernon Leopold—
I oppose this draft legislation. Membership in the State Bar organization should remain limited to attorneys duly licensed to practice law within the State of Michigan. I believe that Michigan attorneys and judges are best qualified to determine the qualifications of applicants who desire to engage in the practice of law within Michigan. SBM performs numerous services to its members other than admissions. Vesting licensing in a state governmental agency would constitute duplication and unnecessary expense.
Chester W. Lewis—
I support SB 743. I am a member of the state bars of Connecticut and Michigan. Connecticut attorneys are not required to belong to the state bar, although I think almost all of them are members because of the quality of the Association and its services to members. Even though Connecticut has about one third of the population of Michigan I find the services of the State Bar of Connecticut superior to the State Bar of Michigan.
James Logan –
I have been a member of the State Bar for over 50 years, and during that time I have never seen a bill more deserving of defeat than this one. It is truly a bill with a solution in search of a problem.
During my time as a member of the State Bar I have paid dues each and every year and never found it to be a problem, especially one to be corrected by elected politicians.
Dennis Loy –
I fully support this legislation and agree with many of the earlier comments in its support. The legislation simply separates the regulatory (licensing) functions from the trade association functions, which should stand or fall on their own merits (which I agree are many), unsupported by the tie to the regulatory functions. None of the learned professions save attorneys are permitted to self-regulate and I am not convinced that we have any stronger claim to self-regulation than do doctors, accountants, et al. States without a unitary bar, such as New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania or Ohio, cannot on any credible basis be seen as less "ethical" than those like Michigan, with a unitary bar. Given that the regulatory payments will go to the state, it is hard to see how this proposal imposes any material burden on the taxpayers—and it also serves to remove the illusion that when the SBM speaks, it speaks for all lawyers. While I have no doubt that the SBM will oppose the legislation—rational for it, since the alternative is organizational suicide - I stand with those who believe it to be a good idea for lawyers and for the public.
I oppose making membership in the Michigan bar optional. Attorneys wield power the general public does not. Power must be checked or it will be abused. The bar protects the public from unethical and substandard lawyering. The people of Michigan need the bar.
Whose idea was this, (Kwame Kilpatrick?) Lawyers in this state are self-regulated through the bar. Without the state bar, the State Supreme Court or some other agency will fill the vacuum at taxpayers' expense of bar functions or will fail to provide necessary or helpful services. A hand-over of the policing function of this profession to others will imperil us, as well as the public.
Robert Mathis –
I am strongly opposed to SB 743, as it will take away many important and necessary programs funded through membership in the State Bar of Michigan.
The State Bar of Michigan currently supports, along with many other volunteer lawyers, programs and services that enhance access to justice for all Michigan citizens. The Access to Justice programs include the development of policies and programs that benefit underserved populations (including juveniles and those with special needs), the encouragement and coordination of free or discounted civil legal services, pro bono legal services, and the increase of resources for civil legal aid programs.
The State Bar of Michigan also provides a Client Protection Fund that helps Michigan citizens that are harmed by a few lawyers who have violated their oath and the trust of their clients by stealing from them. The State Bar also helps solo attorneys and small law firms with assistance on how to set up a new law office, manage an office, and supervise support staff. The State Bar of Michigan even provides assistance to lawyers that fall prey to alcoholism or gambling or drug addictions.
The benefits of the State Bar of Michigan are vast, and include many more benefits than listed above, which is why I strongly oppose SB 743.
Craig L. McAra—
This is an outrage. The bill would eviscerate the Bar and all of the good work it does. Nobody likes paying dues, but I have heard and seen nothing that would suggest attorneys support this bill. We need to be fighting this more publicly. I wrote my senator (Robertson) and asked him to vote against it.
David M. McCleary—
I am all in favor of this bill. The bar does little to stop unauthorized practice of law and is mostly looking out for the big law firms. As I have said so many times, "if it's so great, why is it mandatory?"
James R. McCormick—
Mandatory membership in the State Bar of Michigan gives new lawyers an immediate awareness of being part of a great and honorable profession consisting of the "Bench" and the "Bar." Participation of all attorneys as dues-paying members promotes adequate funding for CLE, maintenance of ethical standards and civility and camaraderie among courtroom adversaries. This benefits the public as much as it strengthens the profession.
Lawrence P. McKaig—
I am firmly against such a bill and hope the Bar Association takes vigorous steps to defeat it.
The Bar Association has done a commendable job in maintaining standards for admission, and I believe those who participate in a profession should govern it. Every issue of the Association's magazine lists orders of discpline and disability, which shows that we are actively policing ourselves. We should continue to do so.
The state of practice for young lawyers today, with the flood of new members which I anticipate to result from the passage of this bill, will likely make it difficult if not impossible for newcomers to the practice to make a living.
Anne McClorey McLaughlin—
I wholly concur with Executive Director Welch's remarks. Deregulation of our profession is not in the public interest.
I do NOT support this Bill. We must continue to maintain the high standard of excellence enjoyed by the Michigan Bar. We must continue to police and protect our legal profession. We must continue to improve our legal system through pro bono assignments and continued education. These goals can only be achieved through a mandatory Bar.
I strongly oppose the proposed legislation to change membership in the State Bar of Michigan from mandatory to voluntary. The State Bar provides many resources to the general public and provides discipline where necessary. The effect of this legislation would be to allow nonmembers to freeload for the cost of discipline proceedings and erode the ability of the State Bar to provide resources like the client protection fund to the general public. In my opinion, this misguided approach would shift the costs for the services from the attorneys of Michigan to the publicly funded court system.
Thomas R. Morris—
I have been a member of the State Bar of Michigan for 27 years. I support its structure as a mandatory organization for attorneys because I believe that licensing of attorneys is in the public interest and a unified bar organization such as the SBM is preferable to a state-run licensing agency. Moreover, it is a democratic organization run by attorneys and it benefits from invaluable services of numerous volunteers. A tax-financed state agency could not economically meet the excellent standards of the SBM. Finally, it is an excellent organization in terms of opportunities for participation, the promotion of ethics, its educational programs, and its advancement of the public interest.
Margaret J. Nichols—
There is little to be gained by taking the sponsors and promoters of this bill to task for their motives. Instead, let us all focus on the costs that this move is going to have on the public at a time when the state is still struggling out of recession and unable to provide sufficient funding for schools, roads, and protective services, for but a few examples. A few instances come to my mind and I encourage you to borrow them and add to them in your remarks to legislators who might have some influence on this bill's progress. Currently our dues pay for all this and more:
- $7M to regulate the bar. The taxpayers will have to pickup the tab for something that our dues now pay for.
- And this $7M budget is on top of hundreds of volunteer lawyers who willingly serve without pay to act as hearing officers at Attorney Discipline hearings. How do you replace that volunteer work force? With more administrative law judges, at an average pay of $125,000+, again at taxpayer expense.
- Alternatively, the budget for regulation and hearings may not be sufficient which means that the public will pay when ethically challenged lawyers are not dealt with and continue to do harm. In my years on ADB panels, I have rarely seen a one-shot violation of the rules of professional responsibility. Usually there is a cascading number of situations where the attorney gets paid but does no work until someone finally complains. When the grievance commission investigates, it may learn that there are others similarly harmed. The AGC follows up with those others and adds their claims to the restitution requirements of the disciplined attorney. Who will know about these other victims when the State responds to the one lone client that complains? Who will address their restitution in the future?
- Will the legislature replace the Client Protection Fund that now mitigates the harm done by the few lawyers who have violated their oath and the trust of their clients by stealing from them? We as a unified bar do this service now, with no tax money involved.
- Lawyers are human. Sometimes they fall prey to alcoholism or gambling or drug addictions. The state bar is the place we call when a colleague is in trouble. Without the lawyers and judge's assistance program, we will not have a place to turn for help for these lawyers and their unsuspecting clients.
- Will there be a resource for you when you are being faced with a tough ethical question? Now, you can call the state bar for help.
- If you are a new solo practitioner setting up an office and know nothing about office management, you can call the state bar for help getting your bank accounts and bookkeeping set up properly, which again protects the new attorney from unintentionally violating rules that are set up to protect the public.
- What will happen to the bar building, where the sections are always welcome to have meetings? Gone, I suppose. For now, our dues protect our citizens from the few among us who cause the rest of us shame. If this measure passes, these and all the other great ways in which the SBM furthers the goals of access to real justice for all are lost, it will be a sad day for the people of Michigan.
Victor F. Ptasznik—
Attorney fees should be taxable. Every attorney should be a member of the Michigan Bar.
Abolish this organization where old white farts so out of the times come out against cannabis legalization as they slobber down their martinis all afternoon and evening.
John G. Quirk—
Maintaining a mandatory bar membership for the practice of law in Michigan is essential to protect both the public and the profession. I trust that the State Bar of Michigan will oppose this proposed legislation.
Susan E. Reed –
I urge the State Bar of Michigan to oppose this bill. It is unnecessary and seeks to punish the Bar for its democratic and thoughtful engagement on the issue of judicial campaign finance. Those who are concerned about the implications of the bar taking positions that some members might not agree with would do well to note that the judicial campaign finance position in question came from the Representative Assembly -- the elected voice of the membership. The "Keller" rules already work very effectively to ensure that the State Bar's public policy work is exclusively focused on the regulation of lawyers, the improvement and function of the courts, and the availability of legal services. I work and continue to work closely with bar staff on "Keller-permissible" issues in my role as a legal services attorney and find the staff to be consistently and highly scrupulous with respect to the "Keller" rules.
I favor the passage of SB 743, giving licensed attorneys freedom to choose membership or not.
Craig A. Rolfe—
I strongly support this bill to end the mandate of compulsory membership in a particular organization that consistently espouses policies I find repugnant, yet requires my membership and financial support as a condition of my opportunity to make a living as an attorney.
If the SMB truly supports "freedom of choice," it will support this fundamentally pro-choice bill.
Paul A. Rosen –
This proposed legislation has nothing to do with improving the State Bar. As with the transfer of court of claims jurisdiction from the circuit court to the Court of Appeals, this is an attack on the rule of law. It's happened before in the 1950s when transparency and dissent were under attack.
If the sponsors were really concerned about the finances of young lawyers, they would increase law school funding and thereby reduce the burden of too-high tuition and outsized student loans associated with it. Those behind the legislation were outraged by our State Bar's opposition to "dark money" in judicial elections—it’s just that simple and shameful.
I am opposed to SB 743, as it will weaken many fine programs funded through membership in the State Bar of Michigan. The bar's programs benefit both the members of the bar and the public the bar is intended to serve, and by doing so help to engender respect for the rule and process of law. As a member since 1976, I have supported these programs through payment of dues not solely because I was required to do so, but because I recognized their benefit to members and their clients. I did so even after starting my own firm, when the dues would have benefited my own practice. SB 743 does not, so far as I know, have the support of the majority of bar members. Those I have spoken to were surprised by its introduction and the speed with which it is being pushed through the legislature. This bill seems to me to be essentially political and an effort to weaken the bar organization. If it succeeds in doing so, it will also weaken the public's view of the legal process. Who are the sponsoring politician's principal campaign contributors? How does he contend that this will benefit either the bar or the public? Any effort to weaken the bar will, in my view, ultimately harm the public that the legal system is intended to serve.
SB 743, seeking to change the membership of the SBM from mandatory to voluntary, is an attempt to intimidate and silence the SBM from taking further action protecting the public's interest through advocating transparency in judicial campaign contributions. The need for transparency in judicial campaigns is obvious (how can one seek recusal, for example, if donors are anonymous), and the SBM recently took a courageous stance promoting this transparency. Senator Meekhof has responded with this bill, seeking to silence the SBM on this issue critical to the administration of justice in Michigan.
The SBM is a great benefit to the public, and to its members. As a member of the Attorney Discipline Board, I have seen how our members protect the public from irresponsible attorneys. It would not be in the best interests of the public, or our members, to turn regulation of our profession over to a government bureaucracy rather than maintain the self-regulation which has worked so well. (One can have little doubt that the cost of regulation would increase if the matter were turned over to a government agency.) It is hard to imagine that Senator Meekhof has brought this bill—at this time—with the best interests of Michigan lawyers at heart, rather than in an attempt to silence us from controversial issues such as campaign finance transparency.
I am also concerned about the balance of power issues inherent in Sen. Meekhof's proposal, and I consider the impact of his proposal that the legislative branch regulate the judicial branch troubling.
Our Bar Association has a long history of excellent service to both its members and to the public. Our list of resources, programs, training and other services is exhaustive. Our bar association is a bargain to its members at $300 per year.
I hope that the members of the SBM, and the public, see Senate Bill 743 for what it is: a bullying tactic intended to intimidate the bar from its call for transparency in judicial campaign finance. I hope that the SBM will remain courageous and strong in the face of this intimidation, and that it will not shy away from seeking an impartial and fair system of justice for all of Michigan's citizens—a system that requires judicial campaign finance transparency. It is my hope that every member of the SBM, and the public, will support both maintaining the mandatory nature of the SBM and the call of the SBM for judicial campaign finance transparency. The public and the administration of justice deserve no less.
George K. Serkian—
If Senate Bill 743 becomes law, then it will ultimately result in the following:
1) Separate classes of attorneys—those who are members of the State Bar, those who pay dues, and those who do neither;
2) Erosion in the adherence to the Rules of Professional conduct by attorneys;
3) Erosion of respect for the profession both by non-member attorneys, and by the general public;
4) An escalation of the unauthorized practice of law, since the State Bar's resources will be reduced, affecting meaningful enforcement of this safeguard.
Finally, I don't see how Arlan Meekhof, who is not a member of the State Bar, has the best interests of Michigan's attorneys in mind. His proposed legislation is a shameful exercise of political pandering.
Edmund J. Sikorski Jr.—
I am an Emeritus member admitted to the Bar in 1969.
Senator Meekhof is misguided to say the least. Absent a mandatory state bar who will monitor and enforce the public trust attorneys are entrusted with? One need only to look at the orders of discipline in every issue of the Journal to see the necessity of a mandatory state bar. If one wants further irrefutable proof, just access the proceedings of the Florida State Bar on the subject. It makes Michigan look like the best professional practice environment anyone could imagine. I did for over 40 years and am very proud of it.
My comment pertains to Senate Bill 743, which, among other things, would make SBM membership optional for Michigan attorneys. Having practiced in Michigan for 33 years, and having as a Michigan State Bar attorney grievance panelist for 10 years, I appreciate that the vast majority of Michigan lawyers will remain members of the SBM if this bill becomes law. (To do otherwise would be harmful, in the eyes of the public, to an attorney's general standing and reputation.) Attorneys who "opt out," however, can be expected to be lawyers who either can't afford the price of membership, a bad sign, or those who do not wish to be regulated by the attorney grievance commission, a prospect that is, frankly, frightening. This bill should be opposed by every responsible person and organization in our great state.
Erin M. Souchick –
The requirement to maintain membership in the State Bar of Michigan guarantees for the public that the attorney that is being hired has fulfilled the requisite requirements to practice in the State of Michigan. To eliminate the mandatory membership would eliminate the high standards set to practice law in Michigan. It would allow any person to hang a shingle and to practice without demonstrating knowledge and standards set by the State Bar. It is how attorneys govern themselves and protect the general public from the long-ago "shysters" who hung out their shingles without knowledge and skill. It is a method to protect the people of the State of Michigan.
E. Ronald Stadnika—
As I understand the proposed legislation, if enacted in its current form, attorneys will no longer be required to pay the $180 annual membership dues to the State Bar to practice law in Michigan. However, attorneys would still be required to pay the annual disciplinary portion of the dues, currently $110 to fund the two discipline agencies and $15 to fund the client protection fund. Those attorneys who recognize all the good things that the SBM accomplishes would very likely continue to be members, as $180 per year is not an excessive membership fee. Most of the member comments seem to indicate that there is much support for the work that the State Bar does to further the legal profession in Michigan. Those attorneys that value the accomplishments of the State Bar will almost certainly continue to pay association dues and continue to support the State Bar activities. However, those few attorneys that see little value in the things that the State Bar does, other than operate a discipline system for attorneys, would be free to practice law in Michigan without paying a membership fee for the privilege to do so. I don't believe that attorneys should be required to pay fees to an organization that they feel provides them no benefit and supports positions that are contrary to what they believe. Many states, which I believe include New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa, always have had voluntary bar associations. I have seen nothing that would indicate that having a voluntary bar association in those states diminishes the legal profession in any way.
Robert D. Starkman—
This is an incredible and dangerous attempt to destroy our profession. First Right to Work, now this. All under the guise of "free speech." Our dues allow for indigent representation, client protection and grievance processing. Plus, Bar dues allow for professional training, which benefits the public. Please respond vigorously and forcefully that our State Bar Association is not a political pawn for politicians and judges who have an ax to grind.
Keith G. Tatarelli—
I endorse SB 743 (eliminating mandatory annual bar dues) without reservation. I am philosophically opposed to any policy which establishes the payment of an involuntary fee as a precondition to engaging in a chosen profession. This is especially true where, as here, said fees may very well be expended to support legislative and/or policy objectives I find either adverse to my or the public's interests and/or simply counter-productive.
The reasoning of the Supreme Court in State Bar of Michigan v. City of Lansing, 361 Mich 185 (1960) suggests that integration of the Bar is a prerogative of the Judicial Branch rather than the Legislature. If so, the Legislature may be prohibited from legislatively changing the membership of the State Bar from mandatory to voluntary. Regulation of the State Bar would be a function of the Judiciary.
Richard F. VanderVeen III—
The State Bar and its members should oppose Senator Meekof's misguided legislation! Mandatory Bar dues should continue a condition precedent to practicing law in Michigan. This is an ethical and professional obligation we owe our clients, ourselves, our communities and the law.
—Rich Vander Veen, Grand Rapids & Marquette
Joshua R. Van Laan—
I am concerned that this legislation threatens the integrity of our legal system. I think it opens the door for unethical persons to commit illegal acts much easier than they are now able under the current system. Essentially, this proposal eliminates certain checks and balances now in place under the veil of eliminating annual fees. I never like paying the fee either, but I appreciate what that fee stands for. I would hope that the Bar would adamantly oppose this proposed bill.
Peter L. Wanger –
SB 743 seeks a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. The unified bar that is the State Bar of Michigan is a substantial benefit to the people of the State of Michigan. It updates lawyers on new developments in the law; it disciplines lawyers who break the rules. It lobbies the Legislature for the adoption of legislation that will advance the rule of law and the dispensation of justice in our state. I do not want lawyers who are not members of the State Bar of Michigan to benefit from what the State Bar of Michigan does without supporting the State Bar of Michigan by the annual payment of dues.
L. Graham Ward—
Just like 100 years of common law thrown out with "tort reform" in 1996, we now see almost childishness in this retaliatory bill which endangers the public. Then again, with "right to work," perhaps it should have been expected. So sad, so angry!
Bert Whitehead IV—
Although a Republican, and in favor of general Right-to-Work legislation (such as that aimed at unions to prevent forced membership), I am not in favor of this bill. Lawyers, much more than manufacturing workers, have the ability to pay a reasonable fee every year to ensure that the SBM has the funds it needs to provide licensing, provide services, protect the public, review attorneys for grievances, provide member benefits at low cost or free (due to high volume of dues generated by mandatory membership), communicate to the bar about public policy updates and other news of importance, improve the legal system through committees, and all of the other services it provides. I believe that the State Bar's value to lawyers and to the public would be severely undermined if changed to a voluntary membership/dues status.
Another complete waste of time by our Republican legislators who keep fiddling with things that aren't broken, while Rome burns. I hope the State Bar opposes this nonsense with all of its resources.