A Stand on Principal, Or on Business?

As a member of numerous bar associations, I know full well that they won’t always take actions, or take positions, with which I agree. That’s natural. For example, I was not a “fan” of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s decision to change its name, or the efforts by the Pennsylvania Bar Association to create a commission to consider revisions to the Pennsylvania state Constitution. And I have certainly disagreed (vocally) with some leaders of the Philadelphia Bar Association. But as a member (paying my dues myself), I accepted those decisions and still supported the organizations. I never believed that my disagreement on one issue or with one person was fatal to my desire to support the organized bar and its efforts.

Recently, one Pennsylvania firm chose to discontinue the membership of all 70 attorneys from the Pennsylvania Bar Association because they disagreed with the PBA’s opposition to the Fair Share Act, a proposed law that would dramatically revise the law of joint and several liability in Pennsylvania. Interestingly, the firm’s decision seems more calculated to seek more clients than it does to oppose the PBA’s efforts. Otherwise, instead of just issuing a statement, why did the firm include a press release from House Majority Leader Turzai, which the firm notes “praises [the] firm’s bold decision,” and one from the National Federal of Independent Business (with a link to the NFIB.org website) in support of the firm. And the fact that Majority Leader Turzai’s press release was dated the same date as the firm’s resignation letter further heightens the perception that this was a coordinated political effort.

Certainly, the firm can and should advocate its views, and has every right to try to assure its clients that it does not agree with PBA’s position on this controversial issue. I have no objection to any firm doing so, and believe firms should do so. It is a shame, however, that the PBA loses 70 members who have contributed and would have contributed for many years. Who loses as a result? The 70 attorneys do, and they lose their opportunity to try to convince PBA in the future when it might again take a position with which the firm disagrees. It’s like voting. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Now, when the PBA, the voice of Pennsylvania lawyers speaks, the public will assume its voice includes the majority of lawyers, even some who no longer are members.