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State Bar of Michigan Member Advisory

February 14, 2014

Michigan Supreme Court Appoints Task Force to Review State Bar of Michigan Status

A new Michigan Supreme Court task force was created by an order of the Michigan Supreme Court on February 13 in response to a request made by the State Bar.

The new task force will determine whether the State Bar's duties and functions can, "be accomplished by means less intrusive upon the First Amendment rights of objecting individual attorneys," consistent with Falk v. State Bar of Michigan and Keller v. State Bar of California. "At the same time the task force should keep in mind the importance of protecting the public through regulating the legal profession, and how this goal can be balanced with attorneys' First Amendment rights," the order said.

"The State Bar of Michigan is pleased that the Michigan Supreme Court has responded to our request and appointed a task force to review our status as a mandatory bar," SBM Executive Director Janet Welch said in a statement. "We are confident that the work of the task force will provide assurance that the State Bar of Michigan is fulfilling its core mission of service to the public and our members within the constitutional boundaries defined by Keller v. State Bar of California, and we look forward to task force recommendations that can point the way toward even greater organizational effectiveness."

The task force will be chaired by former SBM president and retired Berrien County Chief Judge Alfred Butzbaugh. Justice Bridget McCormack will serve as the court's liaison to the task force and Supreme Court Commissioner Nelson Leavitt will serve as its reporter. Other task force members include SBM Commissioner Danielle Brown, SBM Past President Thomas Cranmer, Michigan State Bar Foundation Board Trustee Peter Ellsworth, SBM Past Commissioner John McSorley, SBM Commissioner Colleen Pero, SBM Commissioner and Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael Riordan, SBM President-Elect Thomas Rombach, University of Michigan Law School Professor and former dean John Reed, Michigan State Representative and Speaker Pro Tempore John Walsh, SBM Executive Director Janet Welch, and SBM Representative Assembly Vice Chair Vanessa Williams.

In response to a number of members who have asked us for short talking points supporting the State Bar's position on a mandatory bar, we offer the following:

Advantages of a Mandatory State Bar to Members

  • Self-regulation and oversight through the judicial branch rather than the executive and legislative branches.
  • Economies of scale provide better member benefits, including many that reduce the cost of practice. Michigan's bar dues are below the national average and less than half that of the licensing fees in the most expensive state to practice law—a voluntary bar state.
  • Member benefits that reduce the cost of practice and enhance quality of the profession.
  • A more cost-effective organizational structure than a voluntary bar.
  • "Big tent" inclusiveness enhances the status of the bar, allows more effective exchange of opposing viewpoints, prevents the profession from being identified with a single political ideology.
  • Affirms the unique professional status of lawyers as officers of the court, distinguishing them from other professions and trades.

Advantages of a Mandatory State Bar to the Public

  • Avoids adding the cost of attorney licensure and regulation to the state tax burden.
  • Less bureaucracy.
  • Serves the public more fully and effectively in enhancing public protection, pro bono service, and expertise in court improvements.
  • Examples of public services provided by the State Bar beyond regular licensing and disciplinary function: programming to enhance ethics and professionalism, civic education, pro bono services, assistance to lawyers and judges dealing with alcohol and drug dependency, administration of the client protection fund, investigation of the unauthorized practice of law, promotion of improvements in the justice system and practice of law. In a state-bureaucratic model, these services and others would likely be discontinued, added to the taxpayer burden, or funded by lawyer assessments higher than the current dues structure.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mandatory Versus Voluntary Bar Status

  • Do lawyers in voluntary bar states pay anything to practice law? YES
  • Does a mandatory bar deliver value to its members that a voluntary bar can't? YES
  • Are the State Bar of Michigan's public service and access to justice programs better than what voluntary bar states can provide? YES

Supreme Court Oversight of the State Bar of Michigan

The Supreme Court Rules Concerning the State Bar of Michigan direct the State Bar of Michigan to aid in promoting improvements in the administration of justice and advancements in jurisprudence, in improving relations between the legal profession and the public and in promoting the interests of the legal profession in Michigan.

Member Advisory is an electronic publication of the State Bar of Michigan.

    State Bar of Michigan
    306 Townsend St.
    Lansing, MI 48933-2012
    (517) 346-6300