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Your dollars and the bar's diversity

By Sheldon Sloan
President, State Bar of California

Sheldon Sloan
Sloan

As members of the State Bar Board of Governors, our most important duty — second only to public protection — is keeping watch over the hard-earned dollars you send us each year both in mandatory dues and voluntary donations. Over the past six years, we have restructured our governance and budget procedures to strengthen this oversight function and ensure that bar funds are spent efficiently and wisely.

As a result, our governors are much better informed about where bar money goes and are able to debate and set new policies that enable bar staff to save even more without hindering existing programs. To this end, I want to highlight two of these new policies so that our members also are well informed about steps we have taken to spend your money wisely.

First, just last month, the board voted to create a new 25-member Council on Access & Fairness to replace five existing legal access committees currently composed of more than 60 members. While we took this step predominantly to advance our major "pipeline to diversity" initiative, we estimate that this consolidation of five disparate committees into a single council will result in a cost savings of $250,000 to the bar. We operate in a world of finite assets, and it is our duty to our members to maximize the effectiveness of our dollars.

Let me point out, though, that we made this decision only after determining that the consolidation would help us move our pipeline project to a new level. The five committees — Legal Professionals With Disabilities; Senior Lawyers; Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination; Women in the Law; and Ethnic Minority Relations — have been extremely helpful in allowing us to achieve the success we have enjoyed to date, but it's time to pull it all together and operate not as a task force, but rather as an ongoing part of the mainstream structure of the bar.

The new council will be composed of members from the judiciary, bar associations, corporate counsel, law schools, universities, school districts, education, law firms and public agencies and will be charged with increasing the diversity of the bar by identifying promising students early on and educating and supporting them toward becoming lawyers. These efforts currently, and in the future, are not supported by bar dues; the funds for these projects are raised through voluntary check-offs on your annual fee statement. This past year, lawyers generously gave nearly $770,000 for these efforts.

While we are on the subject of the fee statement, that brings us to our second major cost saving of the year. Historically, more than 70 percent of the bar's members have paid their annual membership fees by the statutory deadline of Feb. 1. In the past, however, an automatic extension of 45 days beyond the statutory deadline had been granted. After careful analysis, we determined that the automatic extension cost the bar an extra $175,000 in actual costs (with no dollar figure attached to labor costs) because of the second notices that had to be sent to more than 60,000 attorneys. This does not include third and fourth mailings that had to be sent to members who missed both deadlines.

As my good friend and colleague on the board, Governor James Penrod of San Francisco, said at our August meeting: "The members who pay on time should not have to pay the extra costs for getting the rest of the members to pay their dues." And even more, members who do not pay should not be allowed to practice law for up to eight months before the Supreme Court suspends them.

The board agreed, and this year all fees must be paid online or postmarked by the statutory due date of February 1. If not paid by that time, beginning on February 2, late payments will be assessed a $100 late fee for active attorneys and $30 for inactive members.

To help our members pay on time, the bar is waiving all bank fees for online payments. Last year, the online bank charge to members was $5, with the bar picking up the rest of the bank fee. This year, there is no fee to members for paying online and the bar will pick up all of the bank charges.

This is a good business decision and one we have highlighted repeatedly in the California Bar Journal and on our Web site. Our members receive their fee statements 75 days before the statutory deadline for payment — all 2007 fee statements were mailed on November 15. If you did not receive your 2007 fee statement, call our Member Services Center at 1-888-800-3400 right away. Please check our Web site at calbar.ca.gov to be sure that your current contact information is listed there. This is the source we use to mail dues bills and to contact you when you are close to being suspended. If we cannot find you, you may be in danger of having a suspension on your record for a very long time, so take a minute and check now. Please.

These are two of the major decisions we have made in the past few months to save on State Bar expenses. Our oversight committees will continue to monitor bar spending and programs and work to keep expenses down. For those members interested in bar spending, the results of the bar's most recent audit may be found on our Web site at calbar.ca.gov/audit05.

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