As former presidents of the D.C. Bar, we take issue with The Post's April 4 editorial on the "Lawyer's Role." Ita contains serious factual errors, and it presents a mistaken and one-sided view that disserves the legal profession and the public.
First, the factual errors and omissions:
1. The D.C. Bar's purposes are not limited to the "stated function of registering and disciplining lawyers who practice in the District." The Bar's stated purposes, as laid down by the D.C. Court of Appeals, include many other functions, such as improving the administration of justice, maintaining high standards of integrity and conduct, providing a forum for relations of the bar with the public and carrying on a continuing program of legal research and education. These broad purposes were mandated in the Rule of the Court establishing the D.C. Bar "as an official arm of the court" so that "the public responsibility of the legal profession may be more effectively discharged."
2. The editorial compounds the error by stating that the Bar's activities "such as lawyer referral and studies of the court system" are "social services" and a "matter of social policy," not "professional ethics," that lawyers should not be compelled to support. Nothing could be more wrong. These activities go to the heart of professional ethics and obligations and are repeated in the Code of Professional Responsibility. As Justice Brennan wrote, in rejecting a similar attack on the compulsory Wisconsic bar, such activities "serve the function . . . of elevating the educational and ethical standards of the Bar to the end of improving the quality of the legal service available to the people . . ."; accordingly, they are "a legitimate end of state policy," and the courts may constitutionally require lawyers to share in supporting "the costs of improving the profession in this fashion" (Lathrop v. Donohue, 1961).
3. Contrary to the editorial's statement, the Bar is not compelling "any person to do the bar's bidding on a matter of social policy." The question is simply whether members' dues can be used to carry out the states purposes of the Bar so that, in the language of the Rule, "the public responsibility of the legal profession may be more effectively discharged."
4. The editorial said nothing about the needs of the community for legal services, the value of the "social services" being performed by the Bar, the cost of those services and whether they can be carried on voluntarily in any effective fashion.
From these factual misconceptions the editorial drew the unwarranted conclusion that license to practice law in the District "should not require a lawyer to do anything other than not cheat his clients and abide by the law." aThis is neither good law, good policy, nor common sense. Surely the public has a right to expect something more from lawyers than simply being honest and law-abiding. With the lawyers' professional monopoly goes corresponding obligations to serve the public -- obligations spelled out in the Code of Professional Responsibility, which specifically enjoins all lawyers to assist in maintaining the integrity and competence of the profession, in making legal counsel available and in improving the legal system.
The activities the editorial calls "social services" carry out these obligations to the public. It is undisputed that they are within the Bar's mandated purposes, that they are needed, and that they should be continued. The dispute is over whether they should be funded from members' dues or supported voluntarily. These services take money, currently over $1 million, or more than one-half of the annual $65 dues paid by each member of the D.C. Bar. There is no way, and it is not realistic to assume, that this level of support can be provided solely by voluntary contributions. Many individual lawyers, law firms and voluntary associations do much public service work. But they cannot take on this additional burden, nor can they do what the unified D.C. Bar, with its large and diverse membership, can do to discharge the public responsibility of the profession.
The Post has supported continued funding for the Legal Services Corporation despite the administration's proposal to cut off funding for that corporation, which helps meet the great need of the poor and disadvantaged for legal services. We find it unfortuate that The Post does not likewise support continued use of Bar dues to meet the profession's responsibility for providing legal assistance and improving the administration of justice. The Legal Services Corporation and other legal aid and assistance organizations in the District, without exception, have told the Court of Appeals that the community needs the services of the D.C. Bar and that voluntary efforts are not enough. In our view, this coummunity deserves something more from The Post's editorial voice than the conclusion that Bar dues should be limited to keeping lawyers honest and that a lawyer should not be required "to do anything other than not cheat his clients and abide by the law."
The statements expressed in this article are joined in by other past presidents of the D.C. Bar: E. Barrett Prettyman Jr., Charles T. Duncan, Daniel A. Rezneck and Charles R. Work.