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Dues debate raises cost concerns

By: Eric Heisig//January 21, 2014//

Dues debate raises cost concerns

By: Eric Heisig//January 21, 2014//

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An attempt to restructure yearly dues for older and younger attorneys drew criticism Tuesday for the fiscal effect it would have on the State Bar and the Office of Lawyer Regulation.

The proposal, put forth by the bar, would effectively require attorneys who still practice between the ages of 70 and 74 to pay dues, though the amount would vary depending on how much work the attorney does. Attorneys who are age 70 and older currently do not pay dues.

It also would extend to five years a reduction in dues offered to new attorneys; two more than they already receive.

The justices only held a public hearing on the issue Tuesday, and did not discuss or vote on the petition. They are expected to take up the petition at another rules conference.

State Bar President Pat Fiedler, in his testimony, called the petition a “step in the right direction” and said the bar believes in this petition as “a matter of fairness.”

But the proposal, if passed, would mean the bar would lose about $94,640 a year in dues.

Steve Levine, a State Bar Board of Governors member, said any financial hit to the bar – which has had a troubling few years – would not be a wise move. He also said that “keeping that thank you,” to older attorneys is important.

Keith Sellen, the director of the Office of Lawyer Regulation, said his organization and the Board of Administrative Oversight oppose the measure as written because the reduction in dues would also extend to court assessments. That means, according to Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the OLR would lose between $92,000 and $99,000 a year.

If the petition was changed so court assessments are not affected, Sellen said, the board and OLR most likely would be OK with the measure.

Fiedler presented the measure, at least in terms of the younger attorneys, as a goodwill measure.

“I’m convinced that the job market was much better [when I graduated] than it is today,” he said.

Fiedler pointed to a report released by a bar task force in December that looked at the financial and employment woes that many young lawyers are facing. Giving new attorneys more time without dues would, he said, show that the bar is trying to at least “alleviate some pain” during a tough time.

Still, Levine said a dues reduction for a new attorney would amount to about $112 and a “drop in the bucket” compared to the debt that most law students have. There are other measures that can be taken, he said, such as appealing to the law schools to lower tuition.

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