Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dues Increase?

I just got in the mail my brochure for the State Bar Annual Meeting in a large brown envelope. The postage for that envelope was $1.22. The problem is that I downloaded the same brochure as a PDF just last week, with no postage cost to either the Bar or myself. There goes the better part of the $2.00 bar due increase for next year.

One of the issues the Board of Governors will need to tackle is the budget, or more precisely, the expenses. I am not going to say that the staff at the State Bar headquarters is wasteful. In fact, quite contrary. Last year the staff at the Bar Headquarters worked voluntarily worked hard to cut costs and came in substantially under budget. But there are are other ways to cut the costs of operations that will require the cooperation and support from the membership as well.

One area the Bar can cut costs is in communications. The Bar has a state of the art website, membership database and e-mail system. With the use of technology, the bar could cut costs in printing and mailing the many communications it sends out such as brochures, magazines and notices. Tis can eliminate thousands of dollars in costs and as evidenced by the costs just to mail one brochure, could eliminate the need for further bar dues increases.

Please share your insight or for more information.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fastcase for the Law Library by Eric Ballinger

David Cannon, Jr. is working to get Fastcase terminals located in the Cherokee County Law Library. As you may know, the Lexis and Westlaw terminal that we have are quite expensive and are a considerable drain on the law library's budget. In the past David attempted to work with Casemaker, the Bar's prior legal research provider and was met with a poor response.

In January of this year, the Bar began its contract with Fastcase as the legal research provider to the membership. Fast case is an improvement over Casemaker and rivals their more expensive competitors in the service provided.

David made contact with the representative at Fastcase and got an immediate response. They offered to allow the Law Library to have Fastcase terminals for $800 per year for the first terminal and $400 for each additional terminal. That is a great savings, but it gets better. The more counties that sign up to use Fastcase the more they will reduce the cost of the initial terminal, even as low as $500.

David presented this information at the end of the last Board of Governor's meeting and it was met with a good response from Bar leaders across the state, especially in those counties with very few funds to provide the materials for a law library as mandated by law.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Meeting 2011 by Eric Ballinger

The Spring Meeting of the Board of Governors opened with the detailed explanation of the proposed two dollar increase for the 2011-2012. The simplified explanation for the dues increase is to prevent a larger increase in the near term future.

The facts are that the bar has operated with a surplus for the last four years, however the bar has also operated with a budget deficit for the past four years as well. The surplus comes from dues increases over the past years as well as increases in membership that resulted in a two million dollar surplus in 2007. However the Bar has been operating a deficit due to the recent economy. This is mainly due to a number of programs that were funded by the Georgia Bar Foundation from IOLTA funds as well as taking on a number of new programs. Some of these programs include the Military Legal Assistance Program, Law Related Education and Mock Trial. These expenses have increased the Bar's budget by eight hundred thousand dollars. The projections show that with no Bar dues increase, there would need to be a dues increase in five years of thirty dollars per member.

The projection of the finance committee is to increase dues by two dollars per member for the next five years would allow to spend down the surplus and gradually increase dues. While this board was not proposing the dues for the next five years, this proposal is a start on that "glide path" of Bar dues increase. This also takes into consideration that the Bar Center is now able to handle more tenants since it was paid off, to include the Prosecuting Attorneys Council and Public Defender's Standard and Training Council.

There was healthy debate. Some proposed to go ahead and make the incremental dues increase for the next five years. There was also debate, lead by David Cannon, Jr., that there should be no dues increase and the bar needs to look to eliminating some programs and reducing the budget. While the dues increase did pass by a majority, there will be more discussion on making budget cuts. If your would like to discuss this further, contact me, Eric Ballinger or David Cannon, Jr. to talk about the programs the bar has to offer and what ones you would not mind seeing cut.

In other business, there was a review of the 2011 Legislative session. This year is heralded the best year for the bar in the Legislature. The main highlight is the Legislature passing the new Evidence Code, but there were also other successes in changes to the Public Defender funding and insuring the our Courts are adequately funded for the next year. The Bar President and its legislative team maintains a regular presence at the Capitol each year to insure

President Tate also made presentations to the families of Judges Debra Bernes and John Ruffin for their service to the bench, bar and the community.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Agenda April 16, 2011 by Eric Ballinger

I am starting the Blog to inform the members of the bar of the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit as well as anybody else who is interested, as what is going on with the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia. From time to time I will post information on this blog about Board of Governors Meetings, committee meetings, Bar new and other items of interest to the members of the Bar and the general public. I encourage all of you to provide feed back by e-mail. The more information that we share, the better I can serve as one of your representatives to the Board of Governors.

The next meeting of the Board of Governors is Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the State bar headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Typically, the agenda for the Spring Meeting is to set the bar dues for the next year. This year, the finance Committee is recommending a dues increase of two dollars ($2.00) over last years dues, bringing the dues total for an active member to two hundred and thirty eight dollars ($238.00) not including the assessments such as the Clients Security Fund, Bar Center Fund or section dues.

There is scant information in the material sent out to the members on the basis for the increase in dues, however I can speculate that the much of the discussion will revolve around the economy and the need for the bar to remain solvent. Despite the fear of budget shortfalls amongst members of the bar, for the fast four years the State Bar has been operating with a budget surplus. In 2008-2009 the Board approved a one time twenty dollar rebate to the members in order to spend this surplus down, however in recent years the Bar has used some of these funds to pay for programs that have normally relied on IOLTA or Interest on Lawyers Trust Account funding. Much of this funding has been lost due to the decline of real estate closing funds passing through escrow accounts.

There is some concern that the Bar is going to be called upon to fund two additional prod gams this summer, and this could be a possible reasons why the finance committee has recommended the dues increase. One program is Military Legal Assistance Program that I have worked on for the past two years. This program offers assistance to Servicemen and women finding lawyers to represent them in their area. The other is the B.A.S.I.C.S. program that offers life skills training to inmates getting out of prison to help prevent recidivism. Both of thee programs are existing programs that have been previously funded ad hoc out of the surplus funds.

Presently, under the current Bar Rules there can be no dues increase over twenty five dollars ($25.00) in a year, however any new programs must come with a corresponding bar dues increase to pay for the new costs. These measures have all been put in place to prevent any massive increases.

There will be more information during the meeting.