MSC task force holds hearing on bar membership question

 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News
The Task Force on the role of the State Bar of Michigan held a hearing May 2 in Lansing examining, among other things, whether a mandatory bar should continue in the state.
Speakers were the first 50 persons who submitted a written request to address the hearing and each was allotted five minutes to present their viewpoint, followed by questions from task force members. Twenty-seven persons were scheduled to speak. 
The first speaker was Allan S. Falk from Okemos. He said that many things that the bar supports, especially legislatively, are things he disagrees with. 
“There’s a long history of not thinking things through,” Falk said. “And I don’t think the bar should be lobbying on anything. I don’t understand how they can take sides.”
He also questioned the necessity for a mandatory bar in Michigan.
“There’s no evidence that a mandatory bar does anything useful that a voluntary bar doesn’t do,” he said. 
Bruce Courtade of Grand Rapids, a past bar president, argued that the positions the bar currently takes are built by consensus.
“It takes a long time to get policy through the State Bar of Michigan. It’s not a haphazard process.”
Current bar president Brian Einhorn agreed. 
“I’ve come to appreciate how rigorous the process is when the bar takes a position,” he said.
Einhorn also disputed the notion that the bar shouldn’t be involved in issues.
“The most important we thing we do is public advocacy,” he said.
Chad David Engelhardt said that the bar provides an essential service to the legislature by providing legal expertise.
“Not all of our legislators are lawyers,” he said. “And even those who are may be asked to make decisions in areas where they’re not experienced. Because of the complexities, the bar provides experts on both sides of an issue.”
Task force members appointed by the court included Chairman Alfred M. Butzbaugh,  Danielle Michelle Brown, Thomas W. Cranmer, Peter H. Ellsworth, John E. McSorley, Colleen A. Pero, John W. Reed, Michael J. Riordan, Thomas C. Rombach, John J. Walsh, Janet K. Welch and Vanessa Peterson Williams. 
Justice Bridget M. McCormack was named as the Court’s liaison to the task force.
Earlier this year Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) introduced legislation supported by the Michigan Freedom Fund to make membership in the bar association voluntary.
Bar membership has been mandatory in Michigan since the 1930s and high court rulings have held that mandatory bar membership is a valid method of regulating the practice of law.
 The State Bar requested on Feb. 6 that the Michigan Supreme Court further the discussion, because of the court’s exclusive constitutional authority to establish “practice and procedure.” That same day the Bar’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to oppose SB 743 in the Michigan Legislature, which would make bar membership voluntary.
The Michigan Supreme Court responded with two administrative orders creating the “Task Force on the Role of the State Bar of Michigan” and calling for hearings to allow discussion and dialogue. 
One of the orders stated that the task force was charged with determining whether the State Bar’s duties and functions “can be accomplished by means less intrusive upon the First Amendment rights of objecting individual attorneys.” 
At the same time, the task force was charged with examining the importance of protecting the public through regulating the legal profession. The group was also asked to examine how mandatory bars in other states accomplish their mission.
The Court asked the task force to report its recommendations to them by June 2.

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