If you are like me, you have a pile of papers you’ve been meaning to get to, those odds and ends that make life more difficult: another catalog, ads disguised as important announcements, a letter from your cousin who is always asking for free legal help.
And, oh, oops, your State Bar dues and Wisconsin Supreme Court assessments statement. And it’s late, really late. There’s a letter underneath it stating you’ve been suspended for not paying your dues and assessments. But you never saw any of this before!
This happens every year to many Wisconsin lawyers. For the current fiscal year, 699 lawyers were suspended on Nov. 1, 2016. The State Bar would rather the number was zero, because a lot of things, none of them good, happen when lawyers are administratively suspended.
The supreme court requires the State Bar to suspend lawyers who have not paid their State Bar dues or supreme court assessments and have not signed their trust account statement. You must do all three, including signing the trust account statement, even if you don’t have a trust account. If you don’t complete all these tasks by the end of business on Oct. 31, you are suspended on Nov. 1. You have until Nov. 10 to fix that before the State Bar is required to inform all Wisconsin judges of your suspension. Even if you cure between Nov. 1 and Nov. 10, your name still appears on the list that we send out, but with an asterisk to denote that you have cured.
You cannot practice law while administratively suspended. Period. If you do, you are subject to sanctions from the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR). (See SCR 22.26 for the many things you must do when suspended.) You also lose your permanent notary license (according to a state law enforced by the Department of Financial Institutions).
If you reinstate your license after Nov. 1, you are subject to the $50 late fee, which actually kicks in on Sept. 1 (recall, dues and assessments are due July 1), and must pay a $20 reinstatement fee. And throughout this time, if you practice law, you’re subject to OLR sanctions.
The supreme court
requires the State Bar
to suspend lawyers who
have not paid their State
Bar dues or supreme
court assessments and
have not signed their
trust account statement.
We don’t want this to happen to you, so we send members three notices. The first is the dues and assessments statement, sent in early to mid-May to your address filed with the State Bar. Members who don’t respond are sent a second notice in August, after dues and assessments are due but before the late fee kicks in. If you still don’t respond, we send a third notice by certified mail in early October. Finally, in that last week before you are suspended, we give you a courtesy phone call. Of course, none of this works if you haven’t kept your contact information current, as the supreme court requires. By the way, that contact information is reflected on WisBar’s Lawyer Search – which is how lawyers, court personnel, other legal professionals, and the public find you.
If you have decided to give up your Wisconsin license, not paying your dues and assessments doesn’t mean you have given up your license. Instead, you’ll be suspended. And if you don’t reinstate within three years, your name is removed from the Board of Bar Examiners list that is used to send reminders about filing CLE credits. When you don’t file CLE credits (after all, you’re not a member of the bar anymore, right?), you will be suspended for not filing. If you decide to reinstate or you live outside of Wisconsin and want to become licensed in another state, you must take steps to cure, including petitioning the Wisconsin Supreme Court. To resign your license, follow the procedures under SCR 10.03(7).
So, when that notice comes in early May, please don’t stick it on the pile of papers over in the corner. Suspension requires far more animation than you might think.