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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    February 01, 2004

    Inside the Bar

    All members - not just those who actively participate in the Bar or who choose to use any of its services - benefit by dint of their membership.

    George Brown

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 77, No. 2, February 2004

    Inside the Bar

    All members - not just those who actively participate in the Bar or who choose to use any of its services - benefit by dint of their membership.

    by George C. Brown,
    State Bar executive director

    George BrownToward the end of his letter, the member asked an important question: "What are MY mandatory bar dues being used for?" This is a question that can't be answered too often.

    This particular member qualified himself as a prosecutor who does not use the State Bar Center for meetings, does "not attend your seminars - as a prosecutor we have our own seminars with an opportunity to earn over 60 credits per two-year period. I do not use your publications. I do not use any Bar-sponsored insurance programs." He wanted to know "what benefit am I receiving? Why isn't there a reduced fee for attorneys who do not want to use your building, books, and seminars?"

    The questions behind the fundamental issues of the use of dues and the benefit received are simple to answer. CLE seminars, CLE books, and Bar-sponsored insurance programs are not funded by dues. Each of these programs is paid for by the members who use them. Books and seminars are budgeted to break even over time. This is more difficult to achieve than it may sound, because many seminars and some books are designed to serve a niche audience of lawyers or are delivered in areas of the state that will draw few lawyers. Because we know that we will lose money on them, sales from other seminars and books are budgeted to pay for this loss.

    So, then, what does your $210 of dues support?

    About 40 cents of every dues dollar goes for communications, which includes the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine and the annual directory, the Inside the Bar newsletter, CaseLaw Express and both State Bar Web sites, WisBar and LegalExplorer. This dues support is net of the revenue received for advertising. Another 23 cents of every dues dollar supports member and public services. Among the 28 programs and services this covers are the Professional Ethics Hotline, the Lawyer Referral and Information Service, law-related education programs, the WisLAP program, pro bono coordination, and grants to local bar associations for public service projects. The remainder of dues dollars pays for a variety of services and programs, including government and public relations and the activities of the Young Lawyers Division, the Nonresident Lawyers Division, and the Government Lawyers Division.

    Of course, these are not benefits. These are the activities and the features offered and supported by dues. So what does a member receive as a benefit when she or he chooses not to actively participate in the State Bar, read the Wisconsin Lawyer or its other publications, or partake of its many offerings?

    As a publicly employed lawyer, the letter writer receives the benefits of a more manageable caseload because the State Bar has actively lobbied the legislature for more assistant district attorneys, for caseload standards for prosecutors, for more public defenders, and for improved salaries for all government lawyers, as well as for more circuit court branches and for more adequate funding for the courts. Even though the writer may receive employer-sponsored continuing legal education, as a practicing attorney, he receives the benefit of worthy opposing counsel who make themselves better lawyers because they take advantage of State Bar offerings, such as the practice articles in this magazine or CaseLaw Express on the WisBar Web site, or who take State Bar seminars and employ State Bar books in their practice.

    And even though he does not participate in law-related education or volunteer for the Lawyer Hotline, the writer benefits from a citizenry that better understands the purpose of our justice system and a lawyer's role in it. This is one of the reasons the Wisconsin Supreme Court reinstated the mandatory membership rule in SCR 10. And even though he does not need to call upon the services of WisLAP, others have, and they can again function as colleagues in the law to the benefit of everyone.

    The benefits of membership in the State Bar reach beyond the members who make use of the programs and features to benefit all lawyers and the general public.

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