Who’s not paying the bill for the profession?
by Caroline Nevin
When CBA membership became voluntary, 60 per cent of the profession gave us their vote of confidence and renewed their membership. To all those who supported us, I say “thank you”! We are now lean, strong and primed for growth – our revenues are stable, our staff is energized, and our programs and services are expanding.
We owe our current success to our longtime supporters – all the big law firms, large segments of corporate counsel, hundreds of mid-size and small firms, and thousands of solo practitioners, public sector lawyers and young soon-to-be lawyers who give us their hard-earned membership dollars each year.
vSo here’s my quandary: our work is funded by 6,000 men and women who have made the choice to belong, but everywhere I go in B.C. I meet very nice lawyers who sheepishly admit that they value the CBA – and use our benefits – despite not being members at all.
I find that interesting. What it means is that these people have decided that the rest of the profession should foot the bill for a strong lawyers’ organization in Canada and B.C. – to protect their interests and those of their clients, to run Sections, create valuable print and online resources, and generally, to invest in keeping the Canadian legal profession strong and vibrant.
The most fascinating part is that it isn’t just one-way complicity. I had an order form cross my desk last week for our Support Staff Compensation Survey. It costs $237 for members and $525 for non-members. When a Vancouver law office didn’t qualify for the member rate, the order miraculously came back under the same assistant’s name and credit card, but with a new (member) lawyer’s name from Nanaimo. Likewise, there are a number of Section meetings that have regular attendance from non-member lawyers, known to other paying members in the room.
I can appreciate that those who can afford it may be content to have less well-off lawyers benefit; there are many B.C. lawyers struggling to get by who deserve all the help and support we can give them. The people who perplex me are those who can – but choose not to – pay the $50 a month it takes to support the work of the CBA on behalf of every lawyer.
Our dirty little secret is that we all know non-paying lawyers, but we somehow consider it rude to raise the “free rider” issue. I know lawyers in the far reaches of this province who don’t make much money, and lawyers with public or private sector employers who won’t pay their full fee. Yet, they consistently pay for membership out of their own pockets, making a strong personal statement about their role as a member of the legal profession. To those who benefit from the CBA without becoming a member, I say “If they can do it, so can you.”
If you have chosen to belong to the CBA, again, thank you. If you or someone you know hasn’t joined but could, perhaps it’s time you asked “Why not?”
This article was published in the August 2007 issue of BarTalk. © 2007 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.