California Supreme Court sets interim dues for state bar, creates $4.5 million shortfall

By Dawn Geske | Dec 7, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO - Interim dues have been set by the Supreme Court of California for the California State Bar in light of legislation that has not been approved a bar bill for 2017.

The interim due schedule allows for the California State Bar to collect dues from members of $297, slightly lower that the $315 that was outlined in the bar bill that didn’t pass the legislature. The lower amount presents a shortfall for the California State Bar of $4.5 million which is approximately 5 percent of its general budget.

“We’re looking at using existing reserves to cover that shortfall and we do have the reserves available to cover that,” Rebecca Farmer, director of strategic communications and stakeholder engagement told the Northern California Record.

While the California State Bar will be able to cover the loss of revenue, it does have plans to tighten its belt when it comes to finances for the agency. “It will require us to look at our focus and priorities and what we’re spending money on,” Farmer said. “We want a really minimal impact on staff, so we’re looking at where we can streamline funding elsewhere.”

The money from the interim dues supports the California State Bar’s attorney discipline activities, an important function of the bar. The bar’s admission, client security fund, lawyer assistance program and sections are funded separately from the interim dues.

“We have 550 staff and well over half of those staff are in the attorney discipline system,” Farmer said. “It’s a core part of what the bar does to make sure people who need an attorney to help them navigate whatever in their life is happening. Often when you come to an attorney, it’s to deal with the hard stuff so it’s critical to make sure attorneys are high quality, they’re ethical and that they’re abiding by a bound set of ethics rules.”

The California State Bar anticipates having legislation in place that will dictate full member dues for 2018 and give the bar a clear path for the following year. The California State Bar operates as state regulatory agency as well as a trade group association.

“The legislation in California, as well as the Supreme Court, have oversight of the state bar,” Farmer said. “There were a number of important conversations about how and when the bar should make certain reforms so that was a big focus of how this agency should best be fulfilling its public protection mission.”

The California State Bar protects the rights of 39 million Californians. With the new presidential administration coming in, it doesn’t know how or if this will impact its legislation or functions as a state regulator. It does anticipate an uptick in fraud from immigration consultant and is prepared to deal with that issue should it arise.

“When there’s a change in political leadership, there’s always going to be effects but it remains to be seen what those will be, Farmer said.”

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