In Michigan, itís mandatory for attorneys to join the Michigan Bar Association if they want to practice here. Yet some lawyers complain that their dues are used to push political agendas they donít support.
A bill in the state Senate would address those concerns by making membership in the bar voluntary. Voluntary state bar membership is working in 18 other states.
Currently, state law requires the nearly 41,000 attorneys actively practicing in Michigan to pay the State Bar Association fee of $305 a year. Of that total, $110 covers the cost of discipline enforcement. Under the legislation, the disciplinary regulation fee would still be required.
Supporters of the bar say it offers numerous benefits to the public.
ďI think the mandatory bar works well in not just administration of justice but in providing the educational functions of updating the law to help lawyers keep current and competitive,Ē says Larry Dubin, a professor in the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and a former chair of the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission.
Other programs conducted by the bar association include one that permits people to be directed to a lawyer for a consultation at a minimum fee. Another aids lawyers who may need help with a personal problem. The bar also helps educate the public about the law.
The State Bar operates under the supervision of the Michigan Supreme Court. A recent administrative order from the court allows the bar to offer its opinion on non-political issues. Though some members thought that when the bar took a public stance on campaign financing recently, it crossed the line.
The Supreme Court has asked a new task force to examine the State Barís operation and its requirement for mandatory participation. The task force was formed at the State Barís request and has been instructed to consider attorneysí First Amendment rights as well as the need to regulate the legal profession.
Before moving forward, lawmakers should wait to see recommendations from this task force.