Setting a High Bar
Q&A with the Alaska Bar Association

he Alaska Bar Association is a resource for both lawyers and the community engaging with the legal industry. Below, a spokesperson for the Alaska Bar Association answers our questions about what services the bar provides and its goals for the future.

Alaska Business: What are the principal goals/activities of the Alaska Bar Association?

Alaska Bar Association: The purposes of the Alaska Bar Association are to regulate the practice of law; promote reform in the law and in judicial procedure; facilitate the administration of justice; encourage continuing legal education for the membership; and increase the public service and efficiency of the Bar.

The Alaska Bar recently adopted a strategic plan for 2023-2025 with three goals:

  1. Reduce the access-to-justice-gap and build an attorney pipeline.
  2. Ensure the Bar is more reflective of the people it serves.
  3. Increase public service and efficiency of the Bar: engage, understand, and communicate.

AB: Are lawyers practicing in Alaska required to be a member of the Alaska Bar Association?

Alaska Bar Association: Yes, Alaska is a mandatory bar state, which means that practicing attorneys in Alaska have to be Alaska Bar members. There are some limited exceptions to this rule.

AB: One of the statistics in your 2022 Annual Report is that the Bar processed 181 grievances against attorneys. The law community is in many ways self-regulating. What are the pros and cons of legal experts taking on a regulatory role over their peers?

Alaska Bar Association: The Preamble to the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct [ARPC] discuss self-governance in a way that makes it helpful to understand:

“The legal profession is largely self-governing. Although other professions also have been granted powers of self-government, the legal profession is unique in this respect because of the close relationship between the profession and the processes of government and law enforcement. This connection is manifested in the fact that ultimate authority over the legal profession is vested largely in the courts.

“To the extent that lawyers meet the obligations of their professional calling, the occasion for government regulation is obviated. Self-regulation also helps maintain the legal profession’s independence from government domination. An independent legal profession is an important force in preserving government under law, for abuse of legal authority is more readily challenged by a profession whose members are not dependent on government for the right to practice.

“The legal profession’s relative autonomy carries with it special responsibilities of self-government. The profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self-interested concerns of the bar. Every lawyer is responsible for observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer should also aid in securing their observance by other lawyers. Neglect of these responsibilities compromises the independence of the profession and the public interest which it serves.”

AB: Related to the statistic in the previous question, what are common grievances against attorneys? What kind of issues lead to a private admonition, public censure, or disbarment?

Alaska Bar Association: Common grievances include allegations of lack of diligence/neglect of client matters, failure to communicate/respond to communications, and conflicts of interest. The issues that lead to private admonitions include less serious violations of the rules, for example, a lack of competence in an area of the law or minor conflicts of interest that did not cause harm to clients. Other issues that lead to public discipline might include neglecting client matters, disobeying court orders, serious conflicts of interest, or failure to safe-keep client property. Disbarment is usually a result of serious attorney misconduct involving, for example, theft or conversion of client property, engaging in serious criminal conduct (or conduct involving fraud or misrepresentations that was not charged as a crime), abandoning a practice and harming multiple clients, or practicing law while suspended for previous misconduct.

AB: The Alaska Bar coordinates two pro bono avenues: free legal clinics on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Alaska Free Legal Answers, a web-based clinic. What’s the value that the Alaska Bar sees in ensuring these events take place, and what kind of feedback have you gotten from the community about them?

Alaska Bar Association: Being a lawyer in Alaska comes with the important opportunity encouraged by ARPC 6.1 of performing pro bono service to low-income Alaskans with civil legal needs. In addition to the pro bono avenues you mentioned above, the Alaska Bar also coordinates to put on the Elizabeth Peratrovich Legal Clinic at the AFN [Alaska Federation of Natives] conference. Our pro bono director also works with nonprofit legal providers to help encourage our Bar members to provide free or low-cost legal services to our Alaskan community.

One participant said of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Clinic: “It was super helpful, pointed us in a good direction, and relieved an awful lot of stress about a situation. I would definitely encourage anyone struggling with a legal situation to take advantage!”

AB: Ongoing education is a requirement for practicing lawyers; why is this important?

Alaska Bar Association: Encouraging CLE [continuing legal education] of our members is part of the Bar’s purposes. Our members have communicated to us why they think MCLEs [mandatory continuing legal education] are important: MCLEs force attorneys to prioritize staying updated with legal developments; it helps them gain awareness of new topics and legal advancements; and, when done together, CLEs can increase a sense of community.

AB: Are there any other issues or topics related to attorneys, the legal industry, or the Alaska Bar you’d like to address?

Alaska Bar Association: The Board of Governors voted in May of 2021 to create a Diversity Commission. The formation of the commission was part of the board’s goal to create a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse organization and to increase the membership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the Alaska Bar Association. The Diversity Commission was tasked with furnishing a report to the board which identified barriers and impediments confronting BIPOC lawyers within the Bar and identified ways to better attract, recruit, retain, and support BIPOC lawyers in Alaska. On June 12, 2023, the Board of Governors of the Alaska Bar Association approved the Diversity Commission’s Final Report, which identified ten barriers and proposed actions to address them.