The truth about House Bill 2221.

  • Mar 5, 2016
  • First Amendment Freedoms, State Bar of Arizona, Voluntary Bar Legislation

HB 2221 was not proposed by the Arizona Legislature because the Legislature wanted to dictate the way that lawyers practice. It was proposed because many members of our Bar wanted these changes, believing that the current mandatory membership provisions violate our First Amendment rights, particularly with respect to the discretionary programs that we are all required to pay for, even though many of our members do not value such programs, or participate in them.

In addition, under our current rules, the State Bar of Arizona often has a conflict of interest between its duties to the public and its duties to the membership. With increasing frequency there are proposals by public interest groups designed to simplify our legal system and permit non-lawyers to assist the public, thus making our legal system more affordable for people of modest means. Many of these measures are often opposed by the State Bar in order to give lawyers a virtual monopoly in representing the public in legal matters.

Furthermore, the objections to a totally voluntary bar that are being made by Bar leaders were similarly based on the false accusation that if this were to happen, the Legislature would be in control of our Bar, including the disciplining of lawyers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The essential functions of the Bar, including lawyer discipline, would continue to be under the control of the Arizona Supreme Court, in accordance with our Constitutional provisions and the common law, which from time immemorial has always given control of the practice of law to the judicial branch.

As these critics know, there are 18 jurisdictions where membership in a State Bar, as a condition for practicing law, is voluntary. Some of these voluntary jurisdictions have been in existence since 1776, or earlier. The New York City Bar Association, which is one of the oldest voluntary bar associations in the country and probably the most prestigious, often has a waiting list for membership. We should all get behind these efforts to convert the Arizona State Bar to a voluntary one, or at the very least not require members to pay for programs that are not essential to the practice of law, or in some cases, contrary to the public interest.

— Jack Levine, Esq.