- 2010 - April - 19th -

Board adopts Bar budget, no fee increase

A budget that does not raise Bar members’ annual membership fees — for the 10th year in a row — and also ends the printed version of the Bar Journal directory issue has unanimously passed the Bar Board of Governors.

The board, at its March 26 meeting, approved the 2010-11 Bar budget, which is predicted to break even or produce a surplus. The board will consider member comments on the budget at its May 28 meeting, then submit the fiscal plan to the Supreme Court.

“We have a balanced budget this year, and we have the potential for a surplus,” said Dan DeCubellis, the 2010-11 Budget Committee chair.

Among the assumptions on which the budget is based are that there will be no printed directory next year and that Clients’ Security Fund operations will be funded from CSF surpluses. The fund is supported by $25 from each Bar member’s annual fees.

The budget keeps annual membership fees at $265 for active members and $175 for inactive members.

“The upcoming budget is effective, efficient, and economical,” said current Budget Committee Chair Jake Schickel. He also noted that of the 33 similar mandatory bars around the country, The Florida Bar has the lowest annual membership fees.

According to figures presented to the board, the Bar expects to have revenues of just over $38.2 million next year, with expenses of almost $37.9 million. If those expectations are correct, the budget will be $340,381 in the black.

The projection compares with a 2009-10 budget that was originally expected to be slightly in the red, although Bar leaders have recently said that improving investment returns will have the current budget showing a gain. Expenditures for the 2009-10 budget are projected at $38.6 million.

The proposed budget does not yet include savings from a plan approved in concept by the board at its January meeting to reduce the size of the Bar’s Legal Publications Department. DeCubellis said those changes will be reflected in a budget amendment to come before the board at a future meeting.

The budget calls for an end to the annual Bar Journal directory, sent to all Bar members in September. According to Bar figures, the printed directory had a net loss of $224,513 in 2008-09 and is expected to lose $291,242 in the current budget. Bar

Bar President Jesse Diner noted he has heard from only one Bar member objecting to an end to the printed directory — which has been reported in two previous Florida Bar News stories.

Almost all information carried in the printed directory is now available on the Bar’s Web site, including a listing of all Bar members. The site’s Find a Lawyer service is recording about 80,000 hits a day.

One of the problems noted with the directory is that because of the lag time necessary to produce and print it, much of the information is out of date when members receive it. Additionally, the Bar receives thousands of changes to members’ addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses annually. Those changes can be made instantly by members themselves on the Bar’s Web site, as opposed to having only once-a-year updates with the directory.

As in past budgets, the largest source of Bar revenues will be annual membership fees. Member fees are expected to bring in nearly $23 million next year, compared to $22.6 million in the current budget.

The Bar expects to bring in another $6.1 million in the sales of goods and services, such as CLE courses and legal handbooks, down slightly from a projected $6.5 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year. Advertising sold for the Bar Journal and News is also projected to be down, from $2.2 million this year to about $1.7 million. That figure reflects, at least in part, the loss of revenues from the cessation of the printed directory. That reduction, however, is more than offset by eliminating the expenses of producing the directory.

On the expense side, the largest item continues to be the Bar’s costs for the regulation of the practice of law, which includes lawyer regulation, the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program, ethics, lawyer advertising, professionalism, and membership records.

Those programs are budgeted at $16.5 million for next year, about the same as this year. Lawyer regulation makes up the majority of those expenditures, and is budgeted at almost $10.6 million for next year. That’s about $100,000 less than for 2009-10.

A complete breakdown of the proposed budget can be found here.

On a related issue, Schickel presented the board with a comparison of state bar membership fees and dues compiled by the ABA.

He noted that of the 33 states with mandatory bars like Florida, Florida rated 31st in annual membership fees. However, four of those states also have voluntary bars that perform functions, such as CLE and legal publications that also are done by The Florida Bar. When the membership costs of those organizations are added to the mandatory bar costs, then The Florida Bar ranks 33rd out of 33 in terms of costs to members, Schickel said.

Other states charge from just a little over the Bar’s $265 annual membership fee ($270 in Kentucky, $275 in Oklahoma, $286 in Georgia) to more than $400 ($570 in Arizona, $495 combined in North Carolina, $475 combined in Virginia, $490 in Nevada, $460 in Alaska, $482 in Oregon), he said.

— Courtesy Florida Bar News

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