State bar associations can’t force lawyers to subsidize their operations and political activity with mandatory dues, according to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. So, what does that mean for the Louisiana State Bar Association, which requires attorneys to pay upwards of $200 each year?
“We believe that the recent court ruling will not adversely affect our status,” says LSBA President Barry Grodsky in a prepared statement. “The LSBA is committed to providing quality services and regulation, and we believe that can be best accomplished as a mandatory bar.”
Nonetheless, Grodsky says he’s closely monitoring the effects of the Dec. 3 Fleck v. Wetch ruling—which is not final—wherein justices cast doubt on laws requiring lawyers to pay bar association dues in at least 30 states, including Louisiana. The issue arose in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law requiring teachers to pay fees to support a union, arguing in Janus v. AFSCME the mandate violated the free-speech rights of employees who did not support the union. Justices, in a 5-4 majority, urged the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to view Fleck v. Wetch through the same lens.
While there’s no telling how a switch to voluntary membership would affect the LSBA, mandatory dues appear to be a key factor in how the organization functions. For the year ending June 30, 2017, the organization accumulated over $4.1 million in mandatory membership dues alone, comprising about 53% of its “total support, revenue, gains and reclassifications” during the 12-month period.
After being admitted into the organization, new LSBA members must pay $80 each year until they have been practicing law in the state for three years, at which point they must pay $200 annually. Exemptions apply to those who have been members for at least 50 years, as well as to certain special circumstances determined by the organization’s Board of Governors.