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Nothing But the Ruth!

Bar Member? Be Your Own Advocate

By | Dec.17.14 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice, Nothing But The Ruth!, Professionalism

Nothing But the Ruth

Forgive me, but I’m going to jump on my soapbox today.

I’m a licensed attorney in Arizona and we have a mandatory bar, so all of us have to pay to play. In 2014, I paid $460 for my bar dues, and Arizona was ranked 10th in the nation for having the highest bar dues. Despite this, the State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors voted to increase annual bar dues to $520 — even though they had information that said this would result in a $3.7 million cash surplus by 2019.

What does a bar association need with $3.7 million?

After the dues increase was passed by the Arizona Board of Governors, we had the vote to fill open positions on the board. In my district, 33 people ran for the nine open seats. I was pleased to see so many people were interested in being involved with the bar and I was shocked that all the incumbents were re-elected (even the ones who voted for the very unpopular dues increase). The bar reported the highest voter turnout ever for my district, with 35 percent of eligible voters participating. Are you kidding me — 35 percent?!

I’m a big believer in the concept that if you don’t vote, you can’t bitch. So that means 65 percent of eligible voters (7,800 attorneys) forfeited their right to bitch about how they will be governed.

Nothing Ever Changes? A Lack of Commitment

The legal profession is self-governing. It only makes sense to me that being a member of a bar association means your are also committed to being involved in some way. I’m not saying this means you have to join a committee or be on the board of governors, but it does mean you have an obligation to be aware of what’s going on and to speak up about how you want to be governed. It baffles me that even though we are in a profession of advocacy, some of us do such a poor job of advocating for ourselves.

It blows my mind when I hear so many people say “nothing ever changes.” Of course nothing is going to change — until we decide to change it.

If you are a member of a bar association, whether it is mandatory or voluntary, please make a commitment in 2015 to be more involved. Be aware of the issues and speak up to the people in power when there is an issue that affects you. As attorneys we have as much of an obligation to advocate for the profession itself as we do for our clients.

And if you don’t participate, I don’t want to hear you complain.

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth is the author of the ABA book “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.

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2 Responses to “Bar Member? Be Your Own Advocate”

  1. Mo
    17 December 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    Great post, Ruth and points taken. The scariest part of it all is that lawyers who are supposed to be advocates, are too often the last to advocate for themselves. Ennui, resignation, fear or all three?

    Unfortunately, voter apathy is endemic whether you are talking bar elections or general elections. Indeed, at 35%, Arizona lawyers lag behind the 40% national average for midterm elections. The reasons are the same, however: disengagement and the belief that voting doesn’t ultimately much alter public policy whether writ large or within a mandatory bar,

    And when speaking of members of a mandatory bar, there’s one more reason. Compelled to join so as to earn a living as a lawyer, there is the deeply-rooted sense that it doesn’t really matter in the end who runs the bar since you’re a captive member anyway.

  2. Will Hornsby
    18 December 2014 at 10:25 am #

    Thanks for the rant, Ruth. I work every day with bar members who tell me their greatest source of professional satisfaction is the work they do as volunteers for bar associations. Wish we could package that enthusiasm and spread it around.


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