Important information about WSBA license fees and GR 12.1 suggested amendment

The proposed GR 12.1 amendment wouldn’t nullify last year’s referendum vote reducing license fees.

iStock_000018537271Small200You may have heard about the suggested amendment to GR 12.1, which is currently pending at the Supreme Court and open for comment.

It’s important to note that the suggested amendment before the Court would in no way nullify last year’s referendum vote that reduced license fees, nor would it change the current authority of the Bar to set license fees and of the Court to determine whether the license fees are sufficient to carry out the WSBA’s functions.

The suggested court rule amendment states that the “amount of any license fee is subject to review by the Supreme Court for reasonableness and may be modified by order of the Court if the Court determines that it is not reasonable”;  it does not address in any way the member referendum provisions, which are contained in the WSBA bylaws.

License fees are currently set at $325 through 2014. As the Board of Governors (BOG) moves into budget discussions in the summer it will require a vote from them on 2015 license fees. There currently are no proposals before the BOG to increase license fees for 2015.

We encourage members to reach out to BOG members if you have questions or input you’d like to provide as they move closer to budget deliberations for 2014 and setting the 2015 license fees. And, if you’re interested in reviewing the BOG budget as well as additional financial information, you can find it all on the WSBA website.

29 thoughts on “Important information about WSBA license fees and GR 12.1 suggested amendment

  1. Gary M. Georgeff

    This is an obvious attempt to end run around the results of the member referendum. The referendum would probably have never happened if the Board would not have used the WSBA to meddle in political issues. The WSBA is a licensing agency and membership is mandatory if one is to practice law in Washington. As a matter of principle it should never take political positions on issues of substantive law, as it obviously did last year.

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  3. John S.

    @Judy Massong –

    So the amendment is just a convenience for members who are doing research on the bylaws? Not likely.

  4. John S

    Nick S makes an important point about the BOG needing to decide that a referendum falls within GR12. It is also worth noting that WSBA Bylaw VII.A.2.c., pertaining to referenda, states “The petition must comply with GR 12. The BOG will determine, within 30 days of the filing of a petition for a referendum, if the subject of the petition falls within the requirements of GR 12.”

    A key point is that the WSBA automatically sends fee setting decisons to the Supreme Court where they are “approved” with an order. This is done with no notice to membership, as a matter of annual routine. They could easily disapprove a referendum on the theory that the order had already been signed by the Supreme Court.

  5. Nick S.

    It is also worth noting that WSBA Bylaw VII.A.2.c., pertaining to referenda, states “The petition must comply with GR 12. The BOG will determine, within 30 days of the filing of a petition for a referendum, if the subject of the petition falls within the requirements of GR 12.”

    How will this change to GR 12 affect future referenda regarding license fees and has the BOG indicated how it will view future petitions on this subject in light of the proposed change?

  6. Nick S.

    I agree with Kathryn F’s comment above. I think most WSBA members are sophisticated enough to understand the relationship between the bar and the Supreme Court, and including a rule change related to fees is not needed to adequately explain that relationship.

    Rather, if there is some concern by the BOG about members understanding and appreciating the Court’s jurisdiction in these matters, perhaps it is time to reexamine our entire structure, to include the WSBA bylaws and the State Bar Act.

    It seems many people who spoke up during the referendum asked why we must have a “mandatory” bar association, rather than a bifurcated, voluntary system that many other states have. I believe moving to such a system would clarify the Court’s regulatory functions and the bar association’s non-mandatory functions (not only to lawyers, but also to members of the public).

  7. Helen N.

    Important issues you brought up! I think the answer is found in the whole definition of reasonableness – a rather open ended term.

  8. Kathryn F.

    If it is true that the proposed amendment changes nothing, and other legal authority already addresses the issue, then the proposed Amendment is by definition redundant. I’ve frankly never heard of rules of laws enacted in duplicate form–one version in dumbed-down language, because lawyers! “do not understand” the law or need to be rescued from doing legal research. That seems a thin justification at best.

    Also, the continued reference to the dues rates having been ‘already set for 2013 and 2014’ begs the question. Is it not obvious the concern is what happens after that? Unless folks are retiring from practice or resigning from the Bar at the end of 2014, the permanent impact of the amendment will come into play long after simply the end of next year.

    I see no benefit, and only risk, for the proposed amendment in question. If it “changes nothing” we don’t need it. If it does change things as feared, the majority of the members of the Bar already spoke to this in the Referendum.

  9. Carol S.

    Interesting reply. Independent of how I think this proposed rule can be used to nullify the results of any referendum decreasing the license fees for active members, I’m concerned about this continuing assertion that only the Supreme Court has “juridiction” over the WSBA. Face it – if the State Bar Act didn’t exist there would be no WSBA. Futhermore, if this proposed amendment is adopted and the WSBA continues to assess inactive members an annual fee of $200 in spite for the specific language of RCW 2.48.140 (“The annual membership fee for inactive members shall be the sum of two dollars”) just because the WSBA thinks it’s reasonable, what have we, the legal profession, come to? Just ignoring statutes is just plain wrong.

  10. Judy Massong

    In response to some of these comments, I would like to clarify a few points. First and foremost, the amendment that is being proposed is to a Rule, GR 12.1. WSBA Bylaws cover provisions for member Referendum and there is no proposal to amend this Bylaw language. GR 12.1 is a Court rule and has nothing to do with member referendum provisions. The amendment to GR 12.1 codifies our relationship with the Supreme Court which is that they “can modify WSBA licensure fee if it is not reasonable.” They have jurisdiction over us and this includes license fees. The language for this amendment is found in multiple places – State Bar Act, case law,etc. Since some of our members do not understand WSBA’s relationship to the Supreme Court, the amendment codifies this information in one place so that members do not have to spend time researching the issues.
    Second, The BOG has set the license fees for 2013 and 2014 at $325.00 which will not change in these budget cycles. I appreciate the dialog and will try to follow along for other questions/concerns.
    Judy Massong
    BOG – 7Central –Seattle.

  11. Carol S.

    So why doesn’t whoever posted this original message come back and tell us WHY the WSBA is proposing this amendment?? Oh, I know, the WSBA leadership is too busy in Hawaii to approve posting a reply. All clear to me now.

  12. Fed Up

    Curious….If this proposed amendment would, in fact, in no way change the bar dues or the power of the court to set them, why is it being pursued?? And why was this proposal not put to WSBA membership for discussion and a referendum vote before being formally proposed?? (I suppose the results of the last bar dues referendum answer that question.)

    I really wish WSBA would abandon its dogged, glaringly obvious campaign to continue trying to raise the bar dues. The membership resoundingly said “no.” That should be the end of it, at least for the next several years while the economy continues to struggle and the profession continues to lose work in droves to American paralegals and unlicensed, overseas document review “mills.” I can see the obvious benefits to WSBA for constantly increasing bar dues, but the benefit to members…..?? Since my admission a few years ago, the only WSBA “services” I have used are: 1) CLE programs (because they are required to maintain my license) and 2) the WSBA job site which, frankly, is a huge disappointment in its new form. It offers a limited number of WA job listings each week and is, in reality, nothing more than a generic national job site used by the ABA and many other state bars. Can’t WSBA staff be more proactive in networking with established firms/solos in every city in WA and soliciting job opening info., instead of just passively waiting for a few employers to contact them and post 2 or 3 new positions each week?

    I am also troubled by WSBA’s recent endorsement (without discussion or membership vote) of the Limited License Legal Technician rule authorizing non-attorneys to do work often done by attorneys, esp. solos who struggle to get established and survive a brutal economy. This measure enables and perpetuates the increasingly widespread, economically devastating view of attorneys as too costly, unnecessary in meeting the public’s legal needs. (Shades of “Legal Zoom” or “Nolo” here??) I never thought my own bar assn. would take steps that, in effect, make it harder for me to make a living as a lawyer by inviting even more paralegals and high-volume, quasi-legal mills to compete with me for clients. With the oversaturation of attys. in WA and throughout the US, it’s tough enough to compete against other attorneys for clients.

    Apologies, dear readers, for wandering off topic, but I really am struggling to understand why I keep having shell out almost $1,000 each year for dues, CLE fees, and CLE travel expenses to a bloated organization that appears to exist for no other purpose than to perpetuate its existence.

  13. Helen N.

    Unfortunately, excesses from the past leaves us with little confidence about the future. If the economy was rolling along or the sequester wasn’t a certainty, some of us might be willing to err on a folly. For most rank and file attorneys, it isn’t easy making a living and to that group I belong.

  14. Kathryn F.

    Terry, perhaps you are not aware of the history of this. The members of the Bar ***did*** trust our BOG’s judgment with respect to setting our fees prior to the referendum. However, their collective ‘good judgment’ included scheduling meetings for themselves in Hawaii. The reference about Hawaii is not some specious jab, … it actually ocurred. It is not “micro-management” for the members of the Bar to expect the BOG to use our Bar dues judiciously. … I for one am not in favor of an amendment that grants the authority to “undo” the fee referendum that the majority of the bar members passed especially when it is being promoted by assurances of “don’t worry, this changes nothing and we promise not to use it.”

    Seriously? It’s both insidious and insulting at the same time.

  15. Carol S.

    It’s actually fairly easy to break out the funding for the mandatory activities. In some of the materials prepared in response to last years’ Referendum petition the WSBA prepared a chart showing the budget for what the WSBA considered to be “mandatory” items vs. “non-mandatory.” While I disagree that some of the items the WSBA lists in the “mandatory” section are truly mandatory, and think $512,690 for BOG and the Office of the Executive Diretor is way too high, the WSBA said the mandatory functions cost $9,700,580 and the non-mandatory costs are $3,496,474.

    And no, we don’t have to trust the WSBA leadership and the BOG. After all, they’re back in Hawaii again as we speak.

  16. Nick S.

    Why has this change been proposed if it simply restates existing law? Why is this change necessary? WSBA has done a poor job explaining this rule change and the need for it. I’m still not clear what the point is.

  17. Terry A.

    Hmm. Sounds pretty nefarious, this raising dues just so fat-cats can take trips and all, but you haven’t really answered the question. Reduce fees to what? How do you or I know what amount will “sufficiently fund” their regulatory responsibilities? My point here is we can micromanage what they do all we want, but in the end they have to write the checks to get it done. So don’t we, at some point, have to trust them (with accountability through BOG elections) to set their own budget and collect fees to meet that budget and remain solvent? In our zeal to attack what they’re doing, are we undermining the entire institution- including the things we want them to do- by putting an irrational and arbitrary constraint on their resources? The amendment referenced above, from what I can see, attempts to protect the institution from that sort of mass hysteria.

    I guess this will be bait to some of you, and I respect the desire to get involved and make a difference. I anticipate thoughtful responses, so at this point I’ll just bail out and read them… take care folks

  18. Carol S.

    Let’s see. Our mandatory Bar Association wants to raise fees so they can go to Hawaii…and give our dues money away to fund their private projects. Yes, our mandatory members shoud be able, by referendum, to reduce those fees, to an amount that will sufficently fund their regulatory responsibilities.

  19. Terry A.

    I’m a bit confused by this debate. If we’re upset about the WSBA spending money on things we don’t like or think are important, that’s one thing- I can agree programs and priorities should be subject to referenda. The fee is what it costs to do what we want them to do- whatever that cost is, subject to member scrutiny. But “reducing fees by referendum” would a strange and self-defeating exercise if you mean the actual fee amount should be established by popular vote. I’d love to set my cable bill that way. I didn’t think that was what we did (or wanted to do) however… am I mistaken? Not baiting anyone here, seriously looking for clarification…

  20. Carol S.

    Why is the WSBA prposing this rule then – if not to take away the right to reduce fees by referendum? Why doesn’t the WSBA tell us why they are proposing this rule?

  21. John S.

    Joe G said: “At worst it is a double-edged sword that could be used to determine that the currently lowered fees are not reasonable …”


  22. Kathryn F.

    “….nor would it change the current authority of the Bar to set license fees and of the Court to determine whether the license fees are sufficient to carry out the WSBA’s functions.”

    In my opinion, the above statement is a total falsehold since it absolutely does alter the process. That is its very point.

    Even as Joe G has conceded, “At the worst it is a double edged sword that could be used by the Supreme Court to determine that the currently lowered fees are not reasonable given the needs of the bar or to determine that heightened fees are unreasonable.”

    If is does not alter anything, why is it being proposed?

    What is “inanane” to me is the belief that a rule adopted is somehow not going to be implemented by those who proposed it.

    We all know it will.

  23. Joe G

    The proposed rule does not make any determination of whether the membership can propose and vote on the membership dues. It merely states that the fees must be reasonable, whatever they are. At the worst it is a double edged sword that could be used by the Supreme Court to determine that the currently lowered fees are not reasonable given the needs of the bar or to determine that heightened fees are unreasonable. It does not set an upper or lower bound. The fears of this provision are utterly inane.

  24. Helen N.

    Great commentary! Pathetic though isn’t the best word to be used…so, now that it is recognized, what next? If enough Bar membership make comments against the proposed rule, will that change the outcome?

  25. Louis T.

    We all should be wondering how it came to be that the WSBA top-downs paid by our bar dues think its proposed rule change is so important to us all that the WSBA itself needs to take an official, sanctified, WSBA view in support of it, but I am shocked that this self-serving blog posting from the WSBA higher-ups would blatantly mislead us all about the rule change they want to see happen over WSBA members’ interests.

    One does not need to engage in rank speculation to know what the WSBA staff pushing this amendment really want to accomplish. They’re obviously still reeling from the reality check the last referendum provided. We said ‘too much!’ and sensibly cut the amount of play money tossed at the WSBA each month to spend on things like all expense paid (by us) trips to Hawai’i. The WSBA staff feel their jobs matter. To thousands of struggling lawyers coughing up more and more dough for a growing and bloated WSBA beaurocracy, many representing struggling people in terrible economic times, the recent referendum on insanely overpadded WSBA staff levels made sense. And now WSBA paid staff don’t like the results.

    The truth is, this mandatory associaton offers its rank-and-file members like me nothing at all each and every month. For a huge price. I’m all for them charging more — if membership is optional, not required. And the WSBA payroll recipients don’t like that reality.

    But WSBA’s behavior deserves some response. They’re now resorting to blatant lies about this amendment. They want to placate us into just going along. The truth is, they want a rule change that can help stop referenda like the one they just saw. I don’t know about you, but I am a lawyer who believes truth comes first, and I am getting too damned old to waste time hearing feeble, self-serving lies — let alone from our bar itself. Pathetic.

  26. Kathryn F.

    After reading the subject language of the Amendment, it appears to me to be largely a device to “get around” the recent vote by the membership to reduce what were very high Bar dues. Adopting a rule that gives one a specific power, but then demurring that are ‘no plans to implement it at this time,’ should give everyone cause for concern. I urge everyone to read the language of the proposed language to CR 12.1 for themselves. We are all lawyers. We can determine what a rule authorizes or doesn’t. I hope members do not simply rely on what others (of either side) merely represent to them the rule provides or how they promise to implement it or not. Please make comments on this amendment to GR12.1 based on what it says.

  27. John S.

    The WSBA just explained what the suggested rule does not do. They did not explain the motivation for proposing this rule at this time. What current problem does the proposed rule seek to remedy?

  28. Helen N.

    Correct me if I have missed something. How is it that this amendment doesn’t have the potential to nullify or undo the intent and wishes of a majority of the bar members? Once the BOG votes to either keep the current bar fees or to amend, the vote would seem to trigger the provisions of this amendment, if passed and then a review by the WA Supreme Court to determine what constitutes “reasonable.” Like a sink hole, there can be reasons to say bar dues are “unreasonable,” if the WSBA seeks to expand once again and its budget has no bounds.

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