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Lawyers to be surveyed on benefits

The State Bar will conduct a random survey of California attorneys later this month (December 12) in an effort to improve services to members and, as a byproduct, determine ways to generate non-dues revenue. Bar executives hope to partner with private sector benefits providers to provide services members say they want. Funds generated by the programs will help underwrite key member services and possibly reduce future fee requests to the legislature.

Invitations to the survey will be sent by mail to a random sampling of the State Bar membership. Any other members may participate by taking the survey online at talkingpolls.com/go/bar. The additional interviews will be used to supplement the findings of the randomly selected respondents.

“We have gotten direction from the board of governors to expand the range of benefits available to our members and have been approached by several large private sector interests that want to partner with the State Bar and local bars to provide value-added member services,” said Starr Babcock, head of the bar’s Division of Member Services. “We believe we can offer better benefits and services than lawyers can get in the open market.”

The survey, conducted by Hertz Research of Petaluma, will target three areas: familiarity with existing member services; interest in new programs and value-added products; and support for allowing out-of-state active and all inactive members to vote for and serve on the board of governors. Other questions will deal with areas such as demographics and law practice.

“Our goal is to find out what services members want in order to make their membership more valuable to them as individuals and in their practice of law,” Hertz explained.

He expects to report to the board in February.

The bar plans to explore a full range of benefits that can be tailored to particular demographic groups within the 200,000-plus membership. Examples of benefits include: 

  • health savings accounts;
  • dental and vision programs;
  • discounts on car rentals, travel, home loans, office supplies and furniture, and cell phones.
  • discounted services for solo or small firm lawyers such as payroll and accounting, secretarial or paralegal assistance, marketing, internet and computer consulting and technical support.

Depending on the survey results, Babcock said the bar plans to develop a virtual exhibit hall for State Bar members where they can purchase goods. For example, new admittees could buy professional liability insurance, office supplies, computers, business office protection and temporary services to help establish a new practice.

The State Bar already is partnering with Marsh Affinity, the broker/ administrator for the State Bar professional liability and life insurance programs. Revenue from these programs partially funds the member services center and the Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP). In addition, every active lawyer pays $10 annually to fund the LAP, and inactive lawyers pay $5, totaling about $1.7 million next year. While that money must be earmarked for the program, which helps lawyers with addiction and mental health problems, the law allows pursuit of alternative revenue sources to replace that amount of money. The LAP funds then can be used for other purposes, helping to keep dues from rising. (California bar dues have gone from being the highest in the country to 12th.)

Homeowners and automobile insurance, as well as a new group life insurance program, will be offered after Jan. 1. The new admittees who passed the July bar exam, upon filing their oath cards, also will receive $50,000 of free life insurance from the Marsh program for six months with renewal based on minimal underwriting.

Babcock also said a study group is examining a requirement to require lawyers to disclose to clients if they carry professional liability insurance. Should such a rule be adopted, attorneys will not be required to carry malpractice insurance but will have to disclose if they do. Under those circumstances, there may be a new demand for professional liability coverage, which the State Bar offers.

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