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A bar association represents or seeks to represent the attorneys practicing law in a particular state. Their functions differ from state to state, but often include administration of the state bar examination, regulation of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) and other requirements, and discipline of attorneys for ethical or other violations. State bars typically provide services for members such as maintaining a directory of attorneys in the state, facilitating social events for attorneys, publishing a bar journal and providing classes to fulfill these CLE credits requirements.
A mandatory or integrated bar association is one to which a state delegates the authority to regulate the admission of attorneys to practice in that state; typically these require membership in that bar association to practice in that state. Mandatory bars derive their power from legislative statute and/or from the power of the state court system to regulate practice before it
Most states require bar membership to practice law in the state. Although most states mandate bar membership, mandatory bars continue to be challenged in a number of states. Within the last decade, serious challenges have been mounted against mandatory bars in California, Florida, Washington, and Wisconsin—just to name a few. Although many in these states are trying to do away with their mandatory bar dues, other states, such as Hawaii, recently changed from a voluntary to a mandatory bar.
Although advocates and opponents of mandatory bars often cite to the different activities carried out by each, many voluntary bars do much the same work as their mandatory counterparts and vice versa. Some bars, both mandatory and voluntary, perform a wide range of pro bono and/or public service works, while others focus almost solely on attorney discipline and standards of practice. Each bar’s focus is more a function of the will of its membership than whether it is mandatory or voluntary. So, what is the difference? Money, dues and fees.
Mandatory bar membership advocates point to the positive benefits of membership for members, the profession, and the public. A mandatory bar can commit to more long-term programs and projects. Although a bar’s programs and focus change with its leadership, the stability afforded by mandatory membership and fees can be used to effectuate stronger pro bono and public interest programs that serve community needs more than the immediate needs of the bar’s attorney members.