- It was on this day in history that Thomas Paine published his famous pamphlet called "Common Sense" which called for America's independence from England and led to the American Revolution in 1776. Is it time for a revolution of another sort? Is it time to reexamine whether or not The Oregon State Bar makes common sense for lawyers, judges and the system of justice that this public corporation has helped create for the citizens of Oregon?
Recently, an experienced Oregon appellate lawyer posed the question above in conjunction with nonsensical decisions produced by Oregon's dysfunctional Supreme Court. When one gets out of Oregon's Portland beltway one encounters extreme hostility to the Oregon State Bar. It is not uncommon to hear the refrain from lawyers in Willamette Valley and points east of Portand: "I hate the Bar." We all know the perception the legal profession has in the eyes of the citizens of Oregon.
Thomas Paine's common sense approach to the question whether the colonial citizens should revolt from the mother ship of England, asked a very simple question: Did England's monarchy provide stability and civility for its citizens? Given England had been racked with wars and given the capricious ways of England's crown towards the English people, the answer was easy.
The idea of an integrated bar---to which all lawyers would be required to belong, surfaced as early as 1924 in California. The concept did not gain immediate acceptance in Oregon and initially was voted down by the 1933 Oregon legislature. Subsequently, the Bar was approved to supervise attorney admissions and discipline lawyers. Those in favor of the Oregon State Bar as a state agency also saw it as a way of stopping the unauthorized practice of law. Mandatory dues were $3 per year and there were 1,800 members. Currently, Oregon lawyer dues are over five hundred dollars per year and there are about 13,000 Oregon lawyers now. These historical events organizing an integrated Bar in Oregon coincided with the building of a new federal courthouse in downtown Portland circa 1933. Fred Leeson, Rose City Justice, A Legal History of Portland, Oregon, Oregon State Bar and Oregon Historical Socienty, (1998)
Attorney admission, attorney discipline, unauthorized practice of law. The mission of the Oregon State Bar is formally to: serve justice by promoting respect for the rule of law, improve the quality of legal services and increase public access to justice. The Oregon State Bar's annual budget is over $15 million dollars and they are buying two new buildings to fill their mission that will cost over $20 million dollars. They are moving into this Taj Mahal now. These two new buildings in Tigard are brought to you by Portland attorneys Dennis Rawlinson and Albert Menasche who have promised, on behalf of the Oregon State Bar, not to raise attorney dues to pay for all this bricks and mortar. The Bar has about 85 employees.
Of those 85 employees there are four (4) devoted to admissions. There are sixteen (16) devoted to attorney discipline and the unauthorized practice of law. There are only about fifty (50) pending cases for these sixteen regulatory employees. This leaves about sixty (60) Oregon State Bar employees doing other things.
Going back to the original position examined by Thomas Paine in 1776, there are two questions to be asked before deciding if there should be a revolution. First, does the monarchy provide stability and civility for the hard working lawyers and the citizens of Oregon? The second question is whether we need a $15 million dollar organization in a $20 million dollar set of buildings in Tigard to protect the public from sixty lawyers under investigation for disciplinary matters and others for the unauthorized practice of law? Has this legal professional organization lost its way?