Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Aloha Leslie!

Leslie and Kris Hug Goodbye!
Our friend Leslie Ching Allen has been a good buddy for years. But sometimes work can screw things up; she's been a prosecuting attorney at the Washington State Bar Association longer than anyone else. Naturally, when the time came to downsize, her number came up and she was put onto the street.
The downsizing was not the fault of management. A pack of complainers organized a surprise referendum to cut Association dues by more than 25%, without any sort of plan as to how to do it;  they just wanted to save $125 a head and expected the grown-ups at the Bar to figure out how. The complainers had all the time in the world to organize their campaign and then spring it on the Association; by the Bar's foolish rules, only two months were allowed to elapse between the ambush and the vote. This was not enough time for a rational discussion, and indeed there was very little discussion of the issue; a couple of articles in the newsletter, a few posts on a website, and that was it. Half the membership didn't bother voting, probably because most of us are really, really busy and don't read the newsletter.
Under these circumstances, it's not surprising the cut passed. Organizers had a few thousand votes in the bag by circulating the petition for the referendum, and they were careful not to make the petition generally known so those likely to oppose it could think it over. When only about 10,000 people vote, starting off with a couple thousand is a hefty advantage, and as an additional factor, the proponents of the cuts were making a basic "free money" argument: vote for the cuts and you'll get a refund, and it won't otherwise affect you. Under these circumstances, it's remarkable that the opposition pulled within a few hundred votes of blocking the change. But the cut passed and so the Bar had to reduce staff. Fewer prosecutors doesn't mean there will be fewer complaints filed against lawyers; it just means that it'll take longer to resolve matters.
I certainly feel compassion for any lawyer who thinks that saving $10 a month is going to make his practice a success. The plain facts are that there's a shortage of work for lawyers at the rates lawyers have to charge to stay in business. If costs came down, the rates they have to charge could come down and the amount of work available would increase, but $10 a month isn't going to do that. It's just going to make it harder for lawyers whose businesses are sinking to stay afloat.
The complainers may have a problem, but the Bar isn't it. The three law schools in this state alone churning out nearly a thousand lawyers a year into a saturated market are being irresponsible, but the loan money they extract from students is an awfully strong enticement toward corruption. And, of course, if they don't do it, there are hundreds of law schools nationwide willing to indenture students (since student loans are not discharged in bankruptcy, law school works out to a form of indentured servitude to the schools with one advantage: unlike classical slave owners, law schools don't have to find work for the students - if the students can't pay, interest increases the debt!)
So anyway, a hard choice had to be made at the WSBA, and Leslie got the ax. I don't envy the person who had to make that choice, since it must have been difficult, but what is Leslie to do?
Fortunately, Leslie had a pretty good record; in fact, it was so good that had been being recruited by another bar association! Even better, it was the bar of her home state! She had turned down the job offer because her first loyalty was to her current employer but once that loyalty became moot, she accepted the offer and is happy about going back home after so long. We will miss her since she's moved away, but talk about being dumped in a sewer and coming up with a mouth full of gold!
I'm going into perhaps more detail than is strictly necessary because this is a story that in other forms is being repeated around our nation and perhaps the world. An economic crunch is being manufactured as a side-effect of greed, and one reaction is to tear down the structures of civilization to provide fuel for a campfire. Whether it's Planned Parenthood, ACORN or bar associations, the organizations that make the weak able to live in a world dominated by the strong are under attack; organizations that spread the Enlightenment are being engulfed by the Endarkenment. This movement is difficult to fight because it's operating at a level difficult for humans to perceive, but its results are felt by every person thrown out on the street.
But there is hope. In Leslie's case, it's turning out alright. For others, maybe not so good.
There's no neat ending to this story; this is just a dispatch from a work in progress. We're all glad Leslie's going to a better position, and perhaps we've learned a little bit more about the larger problem.


Leslie Allen said...

It only took me 3 years to find and read this article! Thank you so much Randy for a thoughtful comment on the effect of the referendum on this individual lawyer. Fortunately for me, while the Hawaii lawyer discipline job didn't work out, I was offered a family law job by a former classmate, and I find my self very challenged and very happy with my work. Thank you friend. Come visit. Hawaii is paradise (hot,though). Would love to see you and Kris.

Randall Winn said...

It's really nice to hear from you Leslie! I'll have to put Hawaii on my bucket list. I'm glad to hear your life and work are happy.