March 2012 Bar Bulletin
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From the Desk of the Executive Director

Vote No on WSBA License Fee Referendum

By Andrew Prazuch

At its meeting February 1, the KCBA Board of Trustees voted to oppose the upcoming Washing­ton State Bar Association referendum vote that would reduce the annual license fee from $450 to $325.

KCBA is urging all our members to vote "no" when you receive your referendum ballot. KCBA's official statement is located at http://www.kcba.org/whatsnew/pdf/wsba_dues_rollback_2012.pdf.

The proponents' primary argument is that WSBA's license fee is allegedly among the highest of any state bar association. At first glance this claim might seem accurate, but a review of the source material for this statistic quickly tells the full story. A more careful analysis must take into account that WSBA's fee covers both regulatory oversight functions and discretionary profession-critical services.

Contrary to the proponents' approach, WSBA's fee cannot be compared to the fees of the Massachusetts, Illinois or Pennsylvania bars since those bars are voluntary state bar associations with no regulatory component. For an "apples to apples" comparison you must add those states' attorney regulatory license fees to the analysis. When you do, WSBA's license fee suddenly is more comparative than the proponents have suggested.

WSBA's dues, a daily $1.23, are well worth what Washington attorneys get in return. It is important to note that the bulk (71%) of the annual fee supports the oversight and disciplinary functions of the profession. Why is this important? Because the proposed fee rollback would not leave enough funds to carry out the oversight and disciplinary functions.

Remember that the state bar is self-regulated (with review by the Supreme Court) and therefore must promote the highest levels of ethical behavior. The public's confidence in our legal system can only be maintained if we have a justice system that in reality and perception is fair and equitable. The alternative is that the government will grant oversight of the profession to another body. Should lawyers be regulated by the same agency that licenses hairdressers, notaries and taxi drivers? We risk this if the fee is reduced.


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