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Editorial: Dues debate drowns in silence

Lawyers are impassioned debaters, but not, apparently, when it comes to their wallets.

Faced with the first dues increase in seven years, and a hefty one at that, State Bar of Wisconsin members have thus far sat back and said nothing.

If the bar’s Board of Governors approves the proposed $35 a year dues increase in June as expected, Wisconsin attorneys will cough up $259 a year to practice in state starting in 2014. That’s a 15.6 percent increase, the largest since the bar started collecting dues in 1957.

In advance of proposing the higher amount, the bar held seven listening sessions around the state in the fall.

According to attendance numbers provided by the State Bar, a whopping 0.02 percent of the bar’s membership turned out for the first listening session Sept. 19 in Wausau.

That’s six members.

And that, sadly, was the high point. Members of the bar’s Dues Evaluation Committee then visited Green Bay, Madison, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Milwaukee and Kenosha, and those six sessions attracted a grand total of 11 lawyers.

Only two lawyers participated in the session in Milwaukee, home to many of the state’s lawyers.

One member attended Kenosha’s session and no one turned up in La Crosse on Oct. 22.

More than four times the number of members who showed up at listening sessions summoned the strength to click “yes” or “no” in Wisconsin Law Journal’s recent poll on the dues increase, however. Of the 49 people who voted online as of April 17, 73 percent said a $35 annual increase was not acceptable.

The poll also registered two impassioned comments decrying the bar’s decision to raise dues at a time when many lawyers are struggling to bounce back from the recession.

But where were these commenters at the April 13 Board of Governors meeting at which the proposed increase was discussed at length? A total of seven guests attended, but none were there specifically for the dues-increase discussion.

By failing to voice any concerns when the time was given, State Bar members have no option now but to meekly hand over the extra cash come 2014.


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