Vol. 80, No. 3, March 2007
Recently, I was asked to speak at the midyear meeting of the National Conference of Bar Presidents on the idea that mandatory membership provides bar associations a golden handcuff to their members.
Voluntary bar associations regularly talk about the need to recruit and retain members. They spend considerable time and money figuring out ways to attract new members, law students, even nonlawyer members, and devising programs to keep them as members.
Most voluntary bar leaders assume that mandatory bar leaders never think about these things because lawyers have to belong to practice. They assume that mandatory bars have a "golden handcuff" on their members. In fact, mandatory bars - at least the State Bar of Wisconsin - are concerned about providing service to their members.
It is my belief that mandatory bars have a greater obligation to provide members with useful services than do voluntary bars precisely because we already have your money.
Over the years, the volunteer leaders of and staff at the State Bar of Wisconsin have developed an extensive portfolio of services to help you in your practice. A few of the most visible services are this magazine and the State Bar Web site, WisBarTM - both of which have won national awards - free ethics counseling, free case law updates through CaseLaw ExpressTM, free practice management counseling through Practice411TM, and assistance to lawyers in trouble with alcohol, drugs, or stress through WisLAP, the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program.
We also provide you with opportunities to fulfill your professional public service obligations through such programs as high school mock trial, and assist local and specialty bar associations with grants to help fund local public service projects through the Local Bar Grant Competition. Recently, six associations received grants of up to $2,500 to fund programs dealing with pro se litigants, issues related to children in family matters, and educating students about the impact of drug crime convictions on their life choices. The State Bar also makes available opportunities to fulfill pro bono service, through the State Bar pro bono program and the Lawyer Hotline Program - the information side of our Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS).
Of course, thousands of lawyers provide volunteer service to you and the public through their participation on the 30-plus committees, 25 sections, and four divisions of the Bar. Their contributions range from serving as the editorial board for this magazine, to writing about recent legislation or court decisions that affect your practice and clients, to improving the media's understanding of the judiciary and the profession, to mediating law firm or client disputes, and to serving as local contacts for lawyers in trouble.
Do all members use all services? Of course not. Some members use few if any of the services that the State Bar provides - and they send me letters telling me so. We need letters from all members, because to do the best job possible for you and the public, we need your comments and ideas.
Our goal is to provide you with member services that you value. To that end, we need to know the challenges that you face in your practice, whether in the private sector, in the public sector, or as in-house counsel.
We would appreciate hearing your thoughts. Please contact Jan Wood, the State Bar director of Member Relations and Public Services, at org jwood wisbar wisbar jwood org. We hope to hear from you.
Because, if there is a golden handcuff, it does not run from you to the State Bar, it runs from the State Bar to you.