“Have you ever been sued?”
Thanks to my status as an officer of the State Bar of Michigan and the lawsuit filed against the Bar, Taylor v. Warnez, I can no longer say no, even though this case has come to an end.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied certiorari in the case, but member Lucille Taylor’s complaint, the State Bar’s responses, and the decisions of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit are all available through whichever legal research tool you use, including the State Bar’s free legal research tool — find it at michbar.org/programs under the Research and Opinions heading. You should read them. I’m not the only defendant. Every member of the Bar in Michigan, living or dead, who has believed in their heart-of-lawyer hearts that we are different from a trade union, is an implicit defendant.
The answer the State Bar filed in response to Taylor v. Robert J. Buchanan is the State Bar’s official word. Here’s my personal take: I want to thank Ms. Taylor, a distinguished member of our Bar, for this lawsuit. It’s been a wake-up call. Whether you’re an SBM fan, foe, or just trying-to-make-a-living member, we’ve all taken the State Bar of Michigan for granted. Fact is, if the State Bar of Michigan didn’t exist, we’d still be regulated and paying licensing fees to the state. But we wouldn’t have a role in what that regulation should look like.
The idea of the “bar” as a description of the lawyers within a single jurisdiction is centuries old. As a noun of multitudes, the bar is as familiar a term as a pride of lions, a pack of wolves, a murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, or a litter of puppies. In most countries, the bar functions outside of government, but in the uniquely American version of the bar adopted by a majority of U.S. states, the bar has been integrated into the regulation of legal services for the benefit of the public. Within those 32 states, there are wide variations; each state has put its distinctive mark on what its integrated bar should be. But every integrated bar is grounded in a recognition of the common identity of lawyers as “officers of the court” with the obligations and privileges that come with that designation. In states without an integrated bar, the bar has not been given the elevated independent status afforded lawyers in the rest of the world. Instead, lawyers are treated like any other profession.
I’m grateful that many decades ago, my state chose to integrate our bar. As a result, the State Bar of Michigan is not the plaything of rich old dudes; it belongs to all of us. If I read words that I don’t agree with from a section of the State Bar in the Michigan Bar Journal, I can talk back, not because I happen to be president of the State Bar this year, but because I’m a licensed Michigan lawyer. Everybody has a vote, and everybody has a voice. Our State Bar presidents have come from across the political spectrum. The children and grandchildren of bluestocking firm lawyers have equal status with lawyers who were the first in their family to go to college. If you have time and energy to contribute to its work, the State Bar welcomes you with open arms.
The State Bar of Michigan is what it is because the lawyers of Michigan, acting on the status the state has given us, have collectively made it what it is — a living, evolving entity shaped over many decades by the voices of every Michigan lawyer who wants to have a say. I’m reminded of the anthem of Michigan’s rightfully cherished University Musical Society: “Everybody In, Nobody Out.”
It’s hard to write about the virtues of the integrated bar without sounding like I’m running down voluntary bars. I’m not. From day one, I was embraced by my local bar, being sworn in at a ceremony sponsored by the local bar’s young lawyers’ section. Engaging with my local and voluntary bars has been essential in creating relationships with judges and other colleagues, and networking allowed me to develop and maintain referral sources and mentor others and be mentored as laws and the profession changes. Further, so many law-related education events like Law Day and high school mock trial competitions wouldn’t be possible without the support of our local, voluntary bars. In these and so many other ways, our voluntary bar associations are essential and wonderful resources for lawyers and their local communities. But I think they are strengthened, and their good works amplified, by a strong state bar integrated into state government.
To be called to the bar is to belong to an institution with a shared code of ethics. Whatever its form, the organized bar has not only been the engine for the establishment and maintenance of standards of conduct, but it has also been — throughout the world and across the centuries — the source of fellowship, mentoring, innovation, and reform. I think that legacy is advanced by the wonderful American invention of the integrated bar, and I’m honored to have defended it passionately as both an individual and as defendant president of the State Bar of Michigan.