Let's cut back to the essentials


Like many California attorneys admitted in more than one jurisdiction, I look with giggling amazement on what passes for the bar association's brief in support of the Hertzberg fee bill. Forgive me, but in the best of political weather, there is no way the bar can justify dues of more than $400 when virtually every state in the union is wildly under that figure, including my other jurisdiction, Pennsylvania, at $175.

Even incurable bar hacks agree that politics and lobbying should be (almost) voluntary, though judging by Hertzberg's tiny fee reduction, we are to believe those activities only cost a few dollars per lawyer.

Consider then these other thoughts on the remaining activities that supposedly will now cost a whopping $419 per lawyer:

Admissions are self-funding. Applicants do and should pay the full costs.

Lawyer discipline should be a Supreme Court function, as in other states, and the costs spread to all citizens who, along with the courts themselves are the rightful and only beneficiaries of discipline activities.

The public funds other state enforcement activities (e.g., environmental, labor laws, housing, health, crime, etc.,) and nailing errant attorneys should be no different.

Indeed, given the low regard in which attorneys are held, the public would have greater confidence in a discipline system not controlled by us.

Continuing legal education can be left to private providers.

The court could set standards, monitor compliance and certify CLE providers, as is done in other jurisdictions.

Compliance would be greatly simplified and enhanced, to wit: Require that attorneys appearing before or filing any pleading in any state court or agency, or entering into any fee agreement with a client, attach a certificate of current CLE compliance (provided by the monitored and certified private provider).

Sanctions for failure to do so, or fraudulently doing so, would include (a) voiding the filings, (b) voiding any criminal client fee obligations and (c) making non-compliance both a felony criminal offense and a prima facie case of malpractice.

With those sanctions, we would get very cheap, self-administered CLE compliance very fast.

Bottom line: Who needs a State Bar to do anything but administer the self-funding admissions process? That should result in a bar fee of zero.

Of course, the public won't let lawyers get away without paying something for the privilege of practicing law, so perhaps a still high fee of less than $200 would help fund the court's CLE administration and give our sorry excuse for a bar some political cover; it could still halve its staff and halve it again.

Assemblyman Bill Morrow and Sen. Quentin Kopp may not be on the perfect path, but they are at least moving in the right quadrant of the compass.The bar has not justified its (costly) existence to me and neither has Hertzberg, a bar apologist whose bill begs for yet another Wilson veto message: "They still don't get it."

Robert A. Edwards is a San Francisco labor law attorney