Denver Bar Association
April 2011
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Colorado Attorney Registration Fees Change for 2012

by Becky Bye

 

A

lthough many attorneys only recently finished paying their mandatory annual attorney registration fees, the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (OARC) has announced a change to its 2012 fee structure pursuant to changes to the current law implemented by the new legislature. Currently, for active attorneys licensed for three or more years, the fees are fixed at $225, and attorneys licensed for fewer than three years pay a fixed fee of $180. These fees are mandated by Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure (C.R.C.P.) 227, Registration Fee of Attorneys and Attorney Judges.

Now, a new change to C.R.C.P. 227 will not make attorney registration fees so black and white.

For the past several years, the economy has affected the salaries and employment outlook for various professionals, including attorneys. Both the Colorado House and Senate have engaged in significant dialogue regarding what actions, if any, the legislature can take to ease the burden on various professionals experiencing a reduction in salary or a hardship in attaining employment.

Due to the significant presence of attorneys within the Colorado Legislature, much emphasis of this discourse has been on the economy’s effect on attorney employment and salary. Recognizing that there has been a large range of salaries and employment levels among attorneys, the house proposed, and recently passed, a bill amending C.R.C.P. 227 to base annual registration fees on salary rather than on years of practice (see Colorado House Bill 11-001).

One of the members of the House who voted in favor of the bill anonymously commented on his reasoning: "Historically speaking, when the Colorado Legislature first mandated attorney registration fees in 1961, it posited that attorneys out fewer than three years were in the midst of looking for work or starting out in low-paying jobs. Around three years or later, most practicing attorneys found good, solid work with a steady salary."

The congressman added, "Now, salary depends on where you work, not how long you work. Some attorneys work for years at nonprofits or other positions making only a small fraction of what some first-year associates make at large firms. Also, many attorneys are under-or unemployed. By passing this new bill, we are trying to ‘spread the wealth’ of all attorneys." 

For 2011: Fees were $225 for attorneys licensed three+ years and $180 for attorneys licensed less than three years. 

For 2012: Fees will be based on salary. Attorneys making $50K or less per year will pay .1 percent of their pay; attorneys making $50-100K will pay .75 percent of their pay; and attorneys making more than $100K will pay 2 percent of their salary.

For attorneys making $50,000 or less per year, annual registration fees will be 0.1 percent of their salary. Thus, for these attorneys, who make up approximately 35 percent of all attorneys in Colorado, the annual registration fees would accrue to $50 per year. For attorneys making between $50,000 and $100,000 (approximately 45 percent of all attorneys in Colorado), the annual registration fees would constitute 0.75 percent of their salaries, or $375 to $750. For attorneys who make six figures or more per year (approximately 20 percent of all attorneys in Colorado), attorney registration fees increase to a whopping 2 percent of their total salary, or $2,000 or more each year. Fees for attorneys with "inactive" status would remain the same.

For the OARC to determine an attorney’s adjusted gross income for purposes of registration fees, attorneys must send, via certified mail, a copy of their previous year’s federal tax filing to the OARC. They must mail this copy within 10 days of the April 18 tax deadline or within 10 days of the date of an extension, if applicable. Because the fee structure is still so new, due to the recentness of the new law, the OARC will be lenient with penalties for non-compliance for the first year.

The House has made preliminary calculations and determined the OARC will continue to maintain or even increase the total fees received from attorneys every year, allowing more investment into the attorney regulation and oversight process.

The bill has been met with criticism. One member of the House lamented, "The passage of this bill signifies that we are turning into a socialist state and nation, and it is starting with the ‘socialization’ of attorney registration fees. Attorneys who make more money should not be obligated to compensate for attorneys who choose to make less money or are otherwise not as capable. This is preposterous."

Regardless of the bill’s polarizing nature, C.R.C.P. 227’s amendment goes into effect April 1, just in time for tax season. D


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