The KCBA Board of Trustees recently approved a membership fee reduction for government and public defense attorneys. The new membership fee, set at $95, will take effect at the start of the 2012–13 membership year on July 1 and will be accompanied by a targeted campaign to increase membership by attorneys in this practice group.
King County is home to at least 800 attorneys who work on behalf of government and public defense agencies. They are prosecutors, public defenders and "in-house" attorneys who handle the business, real estate and litigation needs of federal, state and local government agencies located in King County. Their work supports the public in a variety of important ways.
Unfortunately, because of a significant decline in membership, their practice perspective is not well represented by KCBA. Currently, only a small percentage of attorneys in this practice area are KCBA members.
KCBA's agenda for the 2011–12 fiscal year included addressing trustee concerns about declining participation from this practice group. Two focus groups were held - one with entry and mid-level government and public defense attorneys and one with past and present bar leaders who practice in this area. These discussions, and additional outreach conducted by our executive director and membership manager, identified important benefits and barriers to increasing participation.
KCBA's mission, which is focused on advancing the interests of a diverse membership, would benefit from increased participation on our leadership boards (KCBA, YLD and KCBF) as well as our Judicial Screening, Judicial Evaluation, Public Policy, Diversity, Future of the Law Institute and Pro Bono Services committees. Current and prospective members would benefit from broader networking opportunities.
Expanding our membership should provide increased financial support for the bar's pro bono services and diversity programs. The focus group participants agreed that government and public defense attorneys would benefit professionally and personally from participating in bar activities that support access to justice, diversity, the judiciary and the community.
The most significant barrier to participation is financial. Government and public defense attorney salaries are below average when compared to private-sector salaries for attorneys with comparable years of experience. Generally, KCBA membership fees and section dues are not covered by their employers.
This is not unique to King County. Bar associations around the country have identified financial constraints as a barrier to participation by this practice group and have addressed it by offering an alternative dues structure. They have found that increased membership offsets the dues reduction, resulting in unchanged or increased dues revenue. In our case, KCBA only needs to recruit 71 new members who practice in the government/public defense area to offset the revenue loss associated with the dues reduction.
In addition to offering an alternative membership fee, KCBA will be launching a targeted outreach campaign to encourage government and public defense attorneys to join the bar. You can assist in this outreach effort.
Take a few minutes to talk with your friends and colleagues who practice in this area about the benefits you have enjoyed because you participate in your local bar association. Tell them about KCBA's mission and its many accomplishments on behalf of the profession, the courts and the community. And close the conversation by encouraging them to join KCBA.
The success of our bar association depends on active participation by attorneys from all active practice areas, including those whose daily work serves the public interest.
Kate Battuello is an assistant attorney general in the Torts Division of the Washington Attorney General's Office.