The Board will be seeking applications for five positions in January 2024
BY DANIEL D. CLARK
This month’s column is meant to provide an informational primer for each of you as to what the Board of Governors is, how someone becomes a governor or WSBA officer, and why you should care, get involved, consider serving on the Board of Governors, or, at a minimum, be sure to exercise your right and privilege as a WSBA member and vote in Board of Governor elections. The Board of Governors is something that is incredibly important to me and should be to you, as it helps determine policies and requirements that can and sometimes do impact the ability to practice law within our state!
What is the Board of Governors?
The Board of Governors is the WSBA’s elected governing body that is charged with determining the general policies of the WSBA and has several annual key functions that each of you should be aware of as members. Some of these important annual duties and functions include reviewing and approving the WSBA’s annual operating budget; establishing annual license fee rates (subject to review by the Washington Supreme Court); and reviewing and recommending (or not) potential changes to Washington’s General Rules, to MCLE requirements to practice law, the WSBA Bylaws, and other rules.
The Board of Governors was established by the Washington State Legislature in 1933 through implementation of RCW 2.48 et. seq., commonly referred to as the State Bar Act. The Legislature integrated the Washington State Bar Association, which existed as a voluntary organization from 1888 to 1933, and in pertinent part authorized the WSBA to “enter into contracts and acquire, hold, encumber and dispose of such real and personal property that is necessary thereto.” Actions by the Board of Governors are all subject to the plenary authority and supervision of the Washington Supreme Court.
Who Comprises the Board of Governors?
RCW 2.48 et. seq. and WSBA bylaws define membership on the Board of Governors and the governors’ statutory powers. The Board consists of a total of 15 WSBA members. The president-elect and the immediate past president are WSBA officers, and the WSBA executive director serves as the de facto secretary of the Board but is not a voting member. There are 14 governors who serve as regular voting members: eleven come from the U.S. congressional districts and there are also three at-large positions, of which two positions are elected by the full membership and one new/young lawyer position that is elected by the new/young lawyer members of the WSBA. There are also four officer positions:
- Treasurer (elected each year by the Board);
- President-elect (elected every May by the Board);
- President (whose term runs during the WSBA’s fiscal year) and
- Immediate-past president.
Only the 15 Board members have voting power. The president-elect and the immediate past president are WSBA officers and do not vote. The WSBA president, per WSBA bylaws, normally is only allowed to vote when the president’s vote will affect the result. It has been determined that the WSBA president is also allowed to vote in the election of the president-elect. These 17 hard-working volunteer members comprise the Board of Governors and WSBA officers. They volunteer between 80 and 140 hours a month of their time, depending on how many committee, work group, and liaison assignments each has.
Who can Apply to Serve on the Board of Governors?
To me, for over a decade as an active member, the Board of Governors was just a list of names I saw on the masthead of the Bar News each month. I honestly figured that you had to be “somebody” to run for the Board, or be appointed by somebody, or know somebody, and being a governor wasn’t something that a regular member like myself ever could dream to do. It wasn’t until local Yakima attorney Bill Pickett applied for and won election to the Board of Governors representing our district that I realized that real attorneys actually hold and serve in these positions.
The reality is that anyone who is an active member can apply and be eligible to serve on the Board of Governors. The only exception is one new/young lawyer at-large position. To be eligible, applicants must meet the definition of a new/young lawyer in the WSBA Bylaws. Other than that, the only requirement for each of the 11 district governor seats is that the member resides primarily within that geographic district. I proudly served the 4th Congressional District for more than five years. It was a true honor to serve WSBA members in the 4th Congressional District.
How Long are Terms of Board Governors and Officers?
Pursuant to WSBA Bylaws and RCW 2.48.030, each governor serves a three-year term that usually starts at the beginning of the WSBA’s fiscal year (October). Until a few years ago, the WSBA bylaws limited a member’s board tenure to one three-year term. That was changed in early 2020 to allow a WSBA member to serve two consecutive three-year terms. This bylaw change was one that I fully supported, as the Bar spends considerable resources getting governors up to speed. If someone volunteers to serve a term on the Board and members want to reelect them, it makes sense to allow for a second consecutive term and also to allow members who had served earlier in their careers to be eligible to run for another term following a break from service.
If a governor resigns during their term, the bylaws provide for a selection process in which members from that governor’s district apply and are interviewed by the Board, which ultimately determines a replacement. That replacement governor is then eligible to run for a full term at the end of the term that the governor was selected to complete.
How is the President-Elect Position Determined?
The WSBA president is currently determined through election by the Board of Governors from a pool of candidates who apply. Currently, any active lawyer WSBA member may apply. Most years there is at least one candidate from the Board of Governors who applies for the position, but the bylaws do not require prior Board service to apply. Historically, most presidents-elect have had prior and direct Board of Governors experience, but on at least three occasions the Board has elected a president-elect who had zero Board of Governors experience.
The successful president-elect candidate is sworn in during the fall when the gavel is passed from the WSBA president to the president-elect. The current system has a rotation of leadership of three WSBA presidents: the president-elect, the current president, and the immediate-past president. The president-elect and immediate-past president assist the current president during their year of service.
The WSBA president chairs Board of Governors meetings, is the speaking agent for the organization, helps to schedule times and locations of Board meetings for the year, and is expected to work collaboratively with the executive director and the WSBA Executive Leadership Team in fulfilling WSBA operations and the WSBA’s mission.
Serving on the Board of Governors has allowed me to learn about the many complexities of our Bar Association and to interact with the justices of the Washington Supreme Court.
Having had the honor of serving as president-elect and as president, I can assure you that this is a good system and one that is meant to provide stability and continuity in WSBA leadership. I’m excited about internal policies we are collaboratively instituting with the executive director and WSBA Executive Leadership Team that are designed to continually improve leadership within the organization into the future!
Why Should you Get Involved?
I’ve had the amazing opportunity to serve continuously on the Board of Governors since July 2017. During my time of service, I firmly believe that I have had the opportunity for significant professional growth and that I’m a much better, more confident attorney and leader than I was prior to starting service on the Board of Governors. Serving on the Board of Governors has provided a wonderful opportunity to meet thousands of WSBA members I otherwise would never have met. Service has allowed me to learn about the many complexities of our Bar Association, to interact with the justices of the Washington Supreme Court, and to get to know and work with over 140 extremely talented WSBA staff. I’ve developed professional relationships and some personal friendships that I believe will last a career and a lifetime.
I learned so much from the talented attorneys I’ve served with on the Board. I’ve increased my ability to work collaboratively with a truly diverse group of former and current Board members, each of whom brought something unique and valuable to the Board and the WSBA as a whole.
I’d like to formally thank each of the current and previous WSBA members who have answered the call and served on the Board of Governors. These members give up significant time and energy to serve as leaders for our Bar Association. So I encourage each of you reading this to please take a minute and thank someone you know who previously served or is currently serving on the Board.
I realize that for many of you and for many reasons the commitment involved in serving as a governor or WSBA officer is one that you just cannot make. I’d like to strongly encourage each of you, however, to be sure to vote in our Board elections. That is something every member can do. The last few elections have had less than 10 percent of eligible voters participate, including about 6 percent in the most recent main at-large state-wide election. We as a Bar should and must do better at voter turnout! Please, at a minimum, read through candidate materials and vote in upcoming elections.