I am writing to encourage you to vote on the WSBA fee referendum. Voting ends at 5:00 p.m. on April 6th (here is the the link to vote). I also want to encourage you to take some time to familiarize yourself with the issues. It is critical to know that this referendum will be decided only by those who vote. Therefore, for your preference to be registered, YOU must vote.
This vote is a big deal. If the vote passes and your licensing fees are reduced 27% ($125 per year), it will significantly change the nature of our trade organization and it will result in massive cutbacks in what the WSBA does to protect our interests.
The WSBA devotes most of its budget and energy on its mandatory regulatory functions. It also spends about 26% of its budget on what are considered non-mandatory programs. The fee reduction would reduce the total budget by 27%. Non-mandatory programs that would likely be severely impacted or eliminated include the 27 different sections (including family, real property probate and trust, solo, elder, etc.), Casemaker, WSBA legislative efforts on behalf of our bar, several access-to-justice programs including the Moderate Means and the Home Foreclosure Legal Aid Project, Lawyers Assistance Program, LOMAP, the young lawyers division, the ethics hotline and many other programs.
You can find quite a bit of information about the license fee referendum here.
You can find out easy to understand information about the WSBA’s budget here.
Many of the arguments I have seen supporting the reduction in fees seem to be based on generalized feelings of lawyers wanting to spend less, or a feeling that the WSBA budget should be tighter. Both of those are fair feelings and shared by us all to some degree. These arguments fail to answer the questions of what programs fee reduction proponents think should be cut or changed, what might be the significance of a simultaneous massive program cut, and what are other ways we may be able to make changes on which the majority can agree.
Some proponents have argued they don’t feel the WSBA provides them any tangible benefits. That is true for many of us in some regards, but sometimes the benefits are less obvious or more intangible, such as supporting the access-to-justice efforts and opposing the Supreme Court’s proposed APR28 legal technician rule.
A good example of a tangible benefit was the implementation of mediator immunity in home foreclosure mediation. ADR section executive committee members Paul McVicker and Jeff Bean volunteered well over a hundred hours, much of it in Olympia, on this legislation, and without the expertise of the WSBA lobbyist, Kathryn Leathers, it is unlikely they would have been successful. Kathryn’s position is a “non-mandatory” expense. (Of course there is much more to this story which will soon be posted on our website.)
Another example is the work of board members Alan Alhadeff, Paul McVicker and myself on promoting ADR usage in access-to-justice programs such as the Moderate Means Program, pro bono programs, and the development of a larger “low bono” program. All of these efforts are supported by various WSBA staff members and non-mandatory WSBA programs.
I would also note my personal concern about the law of unintended consequences in the face of such a dramatic change to our Bar. One such consequence I can imagine seeing is the WSBA moving to more of a user fee structure where section dues, CLE/book prices, the ethics hotline, Casemaker, the disciplinary process and many other programs will need to either raise or implement fees. The net result could be no net reduction or even an increase in overall fees.
I strongly urge you to vote. A few votes can make a huge difference in a relatively small electoral group. As a mediator specializing in high conflict and resource draining cases, as a member of the WSBA ADR section executive committee, and as a lawyer concerned about justice and reasonable access to it, I believe the WSBA’s work is reasonably efficient and my $125 contribution to “non-mandatory” programs provides me valuable tangible benefits and greatly benefits my solo practice and our state as a whole.
The ADR section has unanimously voted to oppose this referendum. I will be voting NO. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reply to this discussion or contact me directly.
Warm regards to all,
Mediating high conflict cases in Puget Sound
KCBA opposes the referendum, too. This is especially persuasive because the proponents say KCBA can pick up the slack if WSBA is defunded. That's not right.
DATE: February 15, 2012
TO: KCBA Membership
FROM: KCBA Board of Trustees
You likely are aware that a petition was filed with the Washington State Bar Association requesting a member vote on whether to roll back the WSBA annual licensing fee from $450 to $325.
KCBA's Board of Trustees has considered the petition and has voted to oppose it. The Board also urges you to vote "NO" when you receive your ballot.
If implemented, the proposed licensing fee rollback would imperil many programs and services that WSBA currently offers. These include the Washington Leadership Institute, the Law Office Management Assistance Program, the Ethics Line, the legal research tool Casemaker, and programs dedicated to assisting new lawyers.
While KCBA can and does provide within King County many programs and services similar to those offered by WSBA — including substantive sections, committees, and pro bono, diversity and CLE programs — only WSBA has the capacity to make available such programs and services on a statewide basis to lawyers and other persons who benefit from them. The proposed licensing fee rollback would greatly reduce that capacity.
Because the proposed rollback would reduce WSBA's income by more than the cost of its non-regulatory programs and services, it also would impede WSBA's ability to perform the regulatory functions (e.g., licensing and discipline) that it is charged by law to carry out. This would be true even if WSBA completely eliminated all non-regulatory programs and services.
The WSBA will distribute ballots regarding the licensing fee rollback petition in early March. Because several thousand persons signed the petition urging a rollback in the WSBA licensing fees, it is essential that all KCBA members vote if the rollback effort is to be defeated. Please consider the harm that passage of the petition would have on attorneys and persons served by attorneys throughout the state, and vote "NO."