Member Groups

The Public Servant
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

September 2010, vol. 12, no. 1

Government lawyers: The case for discounted bar dues


I write as your new Chair of the Standing Committee on Government Lawyers for 2010-2011. Using our excellent newsletter as a platform, let me share my agenda with you for the current bar year. As the title of this article suggests, a major initiative of mine involves establishing a reduced ISBA membership fee for the public servant lawyer. Before I outline my proposal in detail, a short history lesson is in order.

In March 1999, the ISBA Board of Governors authorized the creation of our committee to recognize the growing number of government lawyers in the profession and to encourage their active participation in the Association. Then, as now, the government lawyer comprises a large percentage of licensed attorneys employed by a government entity, a legal aid society, or a legal assistance program. The 20 members who made up that first committee held their inaugural meeting in June 1999 with Lynn Patton, an Assistant Attorney General, serving as chair. There is no doubt that over the last 11 years of our existence, the committee has helped influence ISBA policy through discussion and debate of the issues that affect the Illinois legal community. Given the diverse backgrounds and special talents of our members, the committee will continue to play a key role in shaping the future of the ISBA.


I believe the time is right for our association to further represent the government lawyer by structuring reduced membership dues based on the member’s admission date to the Illinois bar. There is plenty of precedent to support this proposal. Currently, there are 18 voluntary state bar associations in the country, including Illinois. The other 17 state bars are Arkansas, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont. Over half of these associations offer reduced or discounted dues for the government lawyer using the admission date to calculate an annual fee. I will briefly explain each state bar association’s membership category and fee structure.

The Connecticut Bar Association offers a 23% discount in dues for “full-time judges, legal services and government attorneys and law school faculty.” In neighboring Indiana, the state bar requires a “resident member admitted to practice more than 6 years” to pay more than twice as much as a “government member” with the same years of experience. The Kansas Bar Association charges a “regular attorney” admitted in 2004 or before, $60 more than her government attorney counterpart. In Kansas, a “government employee must be a full-time city, county, state, or federal employee.”

The Maine bar has two separate membership categories for the government lawyer—“Judicial Members (members of the Maine and federal judiciary who do not elect to be standard members) and “Public Interest Members.” This latter group is made up of attorneys “who are employed full time by a government entity (Federal, State, County, or Municipal); attorneys who are working in a legal services organization; military attorneys; and attorneys, including faculty, employed in a publicly supported law school or university.”

In Massachusetts, the bar has established a special category for the government attorney, who must either be a full-time government employee or legislator. Unlike other state bars, the reduced fee remains the same regardless of the member’s bar admission date. A “Public Attorney” in Minnesota, provided she is employed exclusively by a government agency full or part-time, is entitled to discounted dues. The New Jersey Bar Association structures its fees based on the attorney’s admission date, but discounts them for “government lawyers” and “judges.”

Ohio provides “full-time government-employed” attorneys, whether they practice inside or outside of the state, with discounted dues. The attorney “must be employed by a local, state or federal government agency; a legal aid society or non-profit legal assistance program; or a public defender’s office” and certify that the position she holds is the only source of earned income.

The Pennsylvania bar prorates a fee schedule based on the admission date of its members for attorneys and “government attorneys” with the government attorney paying about 20 percent less than his private sector colleague.

Finally, the American Bar Association offers reduced dues to “judges and lawyers in government or legal/public service.”

The government lawyer qualifies for a special dues reduction in nine state voluntary bar associations and the ABA. The ISBA should follow the lead of the national and state bars and structure a discounted fee rate for the Illinois public servant lawyer. During the upcoming year, the Committee on Government Lawyers will be working on developing a specific discounted fee proposal. We will keep you informed of our efforts on this issue. We also welcome your comments or suggestions with regard to this matter. Please submit your comments to the Committee’s staff liaison, Janet Sosin at jsosin” ■