Some history about mandatory bars, including Arizona's

  • Feb 4, 2016
  • Voluntary Bars
  • References: "Our State Bar Associations: The State Bar of Arizona." American Bar Association Journal August 1961 Vol. 47: 809-811. Photo Credits: graph-background,,no attribution ; Arizona Map, 1909, Wikimedia Commons, public domain;

If you read the history of the so-called integrated bar movement, it was driven not solely by high-minded aspirations for professionalism but by a fixation on assuring reliable revenues sufficient to run a professional trade association. The only way to assure such ratable revenues was through compulsory membership.

Unlike two-thirds of physicians who by the turn of the 20th century were happy to join their voluntary professional associations, lawyers were a different matter altogether. Around the country, only about a third of lawyers were interested in joining their voluntary membership organizations. This, then, was the genesis of the compelled membership movement started by voluntary bar associations who like mandatory bars today, used the organs and forums of communication unilaterally in their control to disseminate solely their arguments on the purported merits of preconditioning membership to practice law. by Herbert Harley, founder of the now-defunct American Judicature Society, the efforts culminated with the first mandatory bar association in North Dakota in 1921.

In Arizona, the State Bar of Arizona wasn’t created as an integrated or mandatory membership organization until 1933 when the Arizona Legislature passed The State Bar Act. And in step with the minimal interest of lawyers across the country in joining voluntary bar associations, only 26% of Arizona’s then 676 lawyers and judges belonged to the voluntary Arizona Bar Association. The Association had by that time existed for 38 years having been created in 1895 seventeen years before Arizona statehood in 1912.

Under the State Bar Act, for 52 years from 1933 to 1985, the Arizona Legislature and Judiciary jointly exercised their respective state constitutional powers with respect to the regulation of the practice of law in Arizona. Under a sunset law provision, the State Bar Act terminated in 1985.

Although the practice of law has changed dramatically over the years, particularly the past decade, mandatory bars have continued operating business as usual. Rather than finding ways to leverage and adapt to changing technologies; to innovate and lighten burdens on members; they appear more inclined to ignore legal profession modernity for the status quo and to instead afflict practitioners with upsurges in fees and penalties along with new rules and heightened requirements. The SBA is no exception.

Take, for instance, the many young lawyers coming out of law schools hampered by six-figure tuition debts who can’t readily find work as lawyers sufficient to pay down those financial obligations. Where are state bars in championing transformational reforms? Instead, thanks to state supreme court exemptions and increasing dilution of what it formerly meant to practice law, a growing number of non-lawyers are providing heretofore lawyer-only legal services thereby further deepening the economic and professional challenges, especially for new lawyers.

For the State Bar of Arizona, today’s focus therefore remains on the bureaucratic bottom line for the 15,245 men and 8546 women who make up the SBA’s 23,791 members across all categories, including active, inactive, retired and judicial members. Indeed, such is the bottom-line orientation that unless a member resigns in good standing or had the advantageous fortune of turning 70 prior to January 1, 2009, everybody always pays to belong.

To highlight how out-of-step the SBA is compared to other bar associations, inactive Arizona lawyers currently pay $265 annually for the privilege of membership, which is equal to what some active lawyers pay elsewhere. Retired Arizona lawyers barely fare better by paying $215 each year until they either resign or rest in peace.

In 1961, when the SBA’s slogan was “Service to Society through Professional Relationships,” annual dues were $40. Based on the 3.84% rate of inflation over that period, $40.00 in 1961 had the buying power in today’s dollars of $317.08. Of course, by comparison the SBA’s $490 dues today are considerably higher than $317.08. But of equal importance has been the SBA’s shift away from its old slogan. Today, the Arizona Bar sees itself as a consumer protection organization with a mission akin to a law enforcement agency to “serve and protect the public” — from its lawyers.

– M.R. Hernandez, Esq.