Vol. 81, No. 8, August
Exploring Mandatory Membership
A respectful, informed discussion on
the merits of membership status should focus on how best to address the
challenges facing our profession.
by Diane S.
I made an announcement in my swearing-in speech that surprised some
people. I announced that
I want to spend time this year exploring the issue of mandatory
membership in the State Bar
of Wisconsin. Let's take a good look at what members think of this bar
association and the
fact that to practice law in Wisconsin, you must be a member of the
State Bar. Let's look at
whether the State Bar should seek permission from the Wisconsin Supreme
Court to become a voluntary
bar association or whether we should remain a mandatory bar.
How should this discussion be framed? Should we form the issue
as "pro"-voluntary or
"pro"-mandatory membership? Is that the question? The real
underlying question is: What are
the reasons to have a bar association at all and how can the bar
association best advance
The State Bar exists because lawyers have a
special duty to serve the public
and the judiciary, maintain integrity and competence in the law, and
assist members of the
profession. Traditionally, all professionals care about and seek to
serve the public and to
maintain the public's trust in the profession. We share those
public-spirited goals and ambitions
with educators, psychologists, doctors, and many other professionals.
lawyers, we are unique
as professionals because we alone are entrusted with serving in the
highest positions in an
entire branch of government _ the judiciary. To understand whether a
voluntary or mandatory bar
association is the best form for this organization, we must define
clearly the organization's
We come to this discussion at a time when major issues touch on
responsibilities. The State Bar has answered the call to measure the
shortfall in civil legal services with
its Access to Justice study, and the Board of Governors has now
petitioned the supreme court
to form the Access to Justice Commission recommended in the study's
report. It is hoped the
court will grant the petition and authorize the formation of the
commission as soon as possible.
The commission would allow the State Bar to partner with all branches of
government and with
industry, business, and educational leaders to better marshal resources
to meet the civil
legal needs of people who cannot afford lawyers.
This is also a time in which our judicial elections have become
notorious. Can we as
professionals be respected when judicial campaigns are conducted in a
tawdry fashion? Can
lawyers improve the public's understanding of the judiciary and improve
the conduct of campaigns?
Can lawyers who might reasonably disagree on outcomes of individual
cases agree on a
respectful, dignified process to ensure that the judges who hear those
cases decide the cases on
their merits and not on the basis of campaign contributions or a
predetermined and announced agenda?
Would these issues about access to justice or judicial campaigns
be better addressed by
a voluntary bar association or a mandatory association?
I did not honestly think I would be addressing this issue in my
term, After all, I've
been there and done that. I participated in the study and debate on this
issue by the Board of
Governors in 1991. The record of that debate establishes that I voted
for a voluntary bar in
1991. I knew as I voted on that day that the outcome of that debate
would not affect my
involvement in the bar association. But, clearly, this issue is crying
out to be revisited and then
brought to rest. Today, the only outcome that matters to me personally
is that we make
professionalism the point of this conversation.
There isn't any organization in the world
than we are to have those
conversations. We can be trusted to conduct this discussion at a high
level with respect and
learning. If we understand the challenges faced by our profession, we
will have the best means
to shape an organization to address those challenges.
In the end, we will either remain a mandatory-membership bar
association or become a
voluntary-membership bar association. Let's make sure we understand how
best to continue to
advance the profession either way.