How often have you been introduced to someone as “a lawyer”? It happens to me all the time: “Meet, Lori Buiteweg, she’s an attorney.” The immediate reaction is typically raised eyebrows, followed by, “Oh! What kind of law do you practice?” When I respond, “I work with families going through transition,” (I try avoiding the D-word because it has unnecessarily negative connotations), I usually hear, “Boy, I could have used you a few years ago,” or “I wish you could help my friend.”
As lawyers, we are in the privileged position of being able to actually do something for those in need of help that may make many years’ worth of difference in their lives, sometimes even a lifetime’s worth of difference. With that privilege comes the responsibility of belonging to our state bar.
I am pleased to report the financial responsibility of Michigan lawyers is well below the national average. Bar dues for active membership are $90 for discipline, $180 for State Bar membership, and $15 for the Client Protection Fund for a total of $285 annually. The average required professional fees for active lawyers in the 51 U.S. jurisdictions is $352, excluding the cost of mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirements in the 45 U.S. jurisdictions that have them. (Michigan lawyers have a strong tradition of participation in continuing legal education, and we are in one of only six U.S. jurisdictions that do not have some form of mandatory continuing legal education requirement.)
A closer look at our neighboring states illustrates the value Michigan lawyers are getting. In Wisconsin, the only neighboring state with a unified bar, annual dues, including $254 mandatory bar membership are $490. In Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, lawyers must pay state licensing fees that do not include any bar association benefits; those mandatory licensing fees are $350, $160, and $382, respectively. To get the benefits of bar membership, lawyers must pay an additional amount that can be as much as $305, $280, and $320, respectively.
Because the deadline to pay dues without incurring a late fee is November 30th, it’s a good time to talk about what you get for your bar dues. I like to think of dues as falling into two service baskets: one basket is filled with things we do for our individual members; the other is filled with things we do for and on behalf of the profession that individual members do not have the time or perhaps inclination to do for themselves. Both baskets sit in a larger pallet I’ve labeled, “public service.”
Included in the basket of services we provide individual members:
- Marketing, including enhanced member directory profile (have you filled out yours? It’s like having your own, free personal website, and the aggregated content of all our members’ enhanced profiles makes the directory a powerful online marketing presence) Login into the member area to update your profile
- Career development resources and a Career Center
- Outstanding publications, including the Bar Journal and daily e-Journal
- Resources to help you manage your practice
- Education on substantive areas of law as official partners with ICLE and via sections’ programs
- Discounts on goods and services
- Networking opportunities at the many bar events throughout the year and through section membership
- Personal professional ethics counseling
- Help with addiction and wellness issues
Included in the basket of services we provide for and on behalf of the profession:
- Administer the character and fitness bar admissions program
- Process and pay claims from the client protection fund
- Promote and facilitate the delivery of legal services to the poor
- Provide guidance on policy issues concerning the regulation of the legal profession and quality of legal services
Assist in the rehabilitation of lawyers and judges
- Raise awareness of unconscious bias and improve diversity in our profession to strengthen its credibility
- Educate the public about the rule of law
- Obtain and disseminate demographics of our profession
- Enhance the credibility of the profession through the Client Protection Fund
- Protect the public from the harm of unauthorized practice of law
- Provide a forum for mentor partnerships
- Assist local bar associations with strategic planning
Directly or indirectly, all the work we do at the Bar benefits the public. And the bar membership cost to each individual member is less than $15/month, about the cost of a weekly venti Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks, without the calories.
Want to know how to help us do even more with your money? Ask us to send your dues invoice by e-mail, only. If all our members agreed to receive their dues notices on-line, only, we would save more than $25,000!
Lori is a shareholder at Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach, Buiteweg, & Solomon, P.C.