June 2012 Bar Bulletin
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June 2012 Bar Bulletin

Why I Am Proud To Be a KCBA Member

By Steve Ellis


In a few months, I will have practiced law in King County for 42 years. From my first day of practice, I have been a KCBA member.

My initial membership was not due to choice; it was required. I didn't give KCBA membership a great deal of thought then. It was simply what King County lawyers did in 1970, if for no other reason than the fees we charged were governed by a KCBA fee schedule, a copy of which I still have somewhere. The fee schedule didn't focus on hourly rates (although mine was $25), but rather on packages of service. Fee schedules are long a thing of the past, having been ruled a restraint of trade by the U.S. Supreme Court in Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773 (1975).

Over the years, I remained a member primarily because of KCBA's uniqueness. Insofar as I know, KCBA is the only voluntary U.S. bar association providing direct pro bono civil legal services to the less fortunate. While every American legal community has some tradition of pro bono services, they are usually offered by a myriad of volunteer groups on an uncoordinated basis, rather than coordinated by the local, volunteer bar association.

This is not true in King County. KCBA has continuously maintained pro bono civil legal services since it created the Legal Aid Bureau in 1938, and today it reigns as the largest Washington provider of such services. In the past 10 years, KCBA's volunteers provided over 296,000 hours of pro bono civil legal services to nearly 100,000 clients worth an estimated $62 million (at an assumed rate of $200 to $250 per hour). These numbers are simply astounding.

KCBA was founded 125 years ago by a group of lawyers appalled by the efforts of some Seattleites (including lawyers) to decimate our Chinese community by forcefully removing people from Seattle by boat. The founding members successfully intervened to stop the forced emigration, later organizing into a formal association to govern the profession and punish lawyers who participated in the anti-Chinese riots.

In other words, KCBA was founded upon principles of basic decency, fair play and justice for all, and it strives as hard today, as it did then, to achieve these purposes. I take great pleasure in being one of a long string of members dedicated to the notion of basic decency. When I think of all those who have worked for this over the preceding 125 years (some of whom I know well and many whose names I will never know), I feel privileged to be within their profession and of their company.

The KCBA I joined in 1970 didn't look much like that of 2012. In 1970, the vast majority of KCBA's faces were as white as mine (without, of course, the beard) and its atmosphere was sleepy. Today, its faces more resemble the true rainbow of diversity in all of its aspects and its atmosphere is much more electric.

Many worked to achieve this diversity during my generation's stewardship. Since the founding of its diversity scholarship program in 1970, the KCBA has given $1,937,850 to local law schools to promote diversity. While we still have far to go, KCBA's present diversity is no accident. It was a result dreamed of and planned for by its membership of 40 years ago.

It is pleasant to contemplate what the next generation may do during its stewardship to promote principles of basic decency. I trust that the KCBA of 2050 will enjoy multiple diversities of peoples and opinions, all engaged together in forward-looking practices designed to keep our chosen profession lively, thoughtful and focused upon helping those in need. While I won't be around to know the details, I do know the spirit that will enliven them; it will be the same spirit that I know today and that our founders knew in their time.


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