State Bar of California California Bar Journal
Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California May2005
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Inactive fees among lowest in U.S.

The State Bar has not raised the $50 annual fee for its inactive members since 1986. In fact, our inactive dues are among the lowest in the country — the national average is $113. Many states do not permit non-practicing members to “go inactive” at a reduced fee; they either pay the same fee as active members or resign from practice. The national trend is to charge inactive members about 45 percent of what active members pay; that would put the fee for California’s inactive lawyers at $175.

Inactive members receive bar publications and can join sections. They can participate in the Lawyer Assistance Program (10 percent of current participants are inactive). They are eligible for member benefits such as reduced premium insurance programs. If inactive members participate in the homeowners or other improved insurance programs that will be offered shortly, they’ll more than get their dues money back in discounts. Inactive members are exempt from MCLE requirements.

On the flip side, inactive members are subject to many of the same obligations as active members. They can be disciplined, and sometimes are, and we propose that inactive lawyers pay the same $25 special discipline assessment that active members have been paying since 1990. Their misdeeds can result in charges to the Client Security Fund and we propose that inactive members pay $10 annually (25 percent of the $40 active members will pay under the new formula) to support that fund. We are asking that they contribute $10 to the Lawyer Assistance Program, as all active members do.

We believe it is only fair that inactive members begin to bear a small part of the cost of these programs.

The dues bill is a work in progress. Based on some of the feedback we have received, the bar is looking at ways to phase in the fee increase so the immediate impact on members is lessened.

John Van de Kamp
President, State Bar of California

No rational relationship

As a long-time inactive member of the State Bar, I must object to the proposal to increase dues from $50 to $135 for inactive members and from $390 to $395 for active members (April). Active member dues would increase by only $5 — just over 1 percent — while inactive dues would increase by $85 — an increase of 170 percent. The resulting shift in dues burden bears no rational relationship to the cost of State Bar activities funded by dues revenue.

The State Bar budget is overwhelmingly devoted to activities related solely to the active membership, yet under this irrational and arbitrary proposal, inactive members would be funding a much greater — and grossly disproportionate — share of those activities.

If budget pressures require a dues increase, then the burden should fall on the source of those pressures: the active membership.

Lance Vinson
The Woodlands, Texas

Not supportable

Many inactive lawyers are retired on a fixed income, many others have been working outside the practice for years. They remain proud to be lawyers and dutifully pay their annual dues to receive the Bar Journal and be kept abreast of recent developments in the State Bar. But while the current inactive dues of $50 may seem low, what other benefits accrue from even that fee?

It would seem the bar, its active lawyers having mounted up a sizable debt, is taxing those to whom it confers the least benefits — the very members who have no voice in the bar. Under such circumstances, I find a 170 percent increase insupportable and unconscionable.

Ronald A. Suppa
Westlake Village

Across the board

While I think that $50 remains a fair and reasonable level of dues for those who are not in active practice, I wish to point out that an across the board increase of $25 for active and inactive members alike could provide even more additional income than AB 1529 — $4.75 million — and would be far less likely to drive away those who value their continuing connection with the State Bar but derive no income from that association.

Howard M. Belove
Petaluma

More than a Bar Journal . . .

The State Bar’s proposal to increase fees for inactive lawyers by 170 percent, to $135, is outrageous. Retired lawyers use none of the resources that the State Bar complains it hasn’t enough money to pay for. In fact, the only benefit I receive, and the only benefit I look forward to receiving, is my monthly copy of the California Bar Journal. I urge every inactive member, as well as active members who recognize the inequity of this proposed dues increase, to write their legislator and urge a “no” vote on AB 1529.

Joseph A. Darrell
Martinez

. . . also an annual card

What possible justification can be offered by the State Bar for such a disparity in treatment of inactive members? Certainly it cannot be the wealth of services provided by the bar to inactive members — I receive nothing other than the CBJ and a lovely plastic card as a reminder of the fact that I am licensed but not authorized to practice in California. Not even the State Bar could make the case that 12 copies of the CBJ and a card are worth $135 per year, despite the color pictures and gory details pertaining to attorney discipline.

It is understandable that costs go up, and certainly inactive attorneys should bear some of the burden of the State Bar’s financial problems — but a 170 percent increase in annual fees for inactive attorneys, who make no use of the bar’s resources, is simply ridiculous. While I shouldn’t be surprised by the proposal given the State Bar’s history of non-service to its members, I am amazed by the chutzpah.

Dallas O’Day
Chicago

A potential loss

What is gained if retired members choose to resign instead of going inactive? Such a turn would be a real loss for the bar and our community.

Lawrence W. Campbell
San Diego

Inequitable

It seems now that the State Bar is reaching into the inactive lawyers’ pockets to partially fund the malfeasance or misfeasance on the part of the active bar by raising the inactive lawyers’ dues. Inactive lawyers have no need for the disciplinary procedures of the bar, nor the programs sponsored by the bar. They cannot even use their legal stationery. On the other hand, the active bar, the group of lawyers who utilize the services that are underfunded, get a miniscule dues increase of $5.

Inactive lawyers who choose not to bend to this inequitable increase have no choice but to either resign from the bar or go pro bono. What a choice. The board realizes that the active bar would fight such an increase tooth and nail, while the inactive bar is an easy touch, is being taxed without representation and really without standing to complain.

Jack Orlove
Lincoln

Future dropout

With the proposed increase and absolutely no corresponding increase in benefits, I would not continue my membership. I suspect that a substantial number of the 42,000 inactive members would have a similar reaction. After all, we receive little or no benefits for our dues; we do not burden the bar in any substantial manner; and our current “dues” represent some $2.1 million of income that the bar would not otherwise receive.

The bar may find that the negative effect of the proposed increase will result in a decline in overall income from the retired and non-practicing lawyers.

Ronald J. Einboden
Friday Harbor, Wash.

Raise active dues instead

I found it truly amazing that the proposed increase in dues for inactive members — whom I would assume consume minimal resources of the State Bar relative to the active members — is $85 while the increase for active members is only $5. Why not pass the increase on to those best able to fund it — the active members?

David B. Fordyce
Saginaw, Mich.

Exceeding reason

Many older retired attorneys are totally dependent on Social Security and perhaps small fixed incomes to provide for their retirement years. For them, paying $50 per year to retain their inactive status can be a financial hardship. However, to propose that those same older retired attorneys henceforth pay inactive fees of $135 exceeds all bounds of reason.

Margaret M. Myer
Waldport, Ore.

A different approach

I have often thought it was a steal to only have annual bar dues of $50 for maintaining my inactive status. If AB 1529 is enacted into law, then the State Bar of California will be stealing from me when it collects my annual bar dues. In all fairness, the annual bar dues for maintaining inactive status should be increased. As a member of the California bar, I too have an obligation to fund the activities of the State Bar so it may administer its functions properly. But a dues increase of $85 is excessive and unfair to the inactive members of the California bar.

Ron Chen
Renton, Wash.

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