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Bar News - April 18, 2008

Previewing the Budget: Addressing Needs of a Diverse Bar


Members of the Board of Governors and the Finance Committee met in a joint, daylong working session on March 27 to discuss the Bar Association operating budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year starting June 1.
The NHBA Board of Governors, in collaboration with the NHBA Finance Committee, is in the process of preparing an Association budget for the fiscal year that begins June 1, 2008.

As you no doubt have experienced in your own practice and household, these are challenging economic times. The Bar Association is not immune from the difficulties of trying to reconcile rising expenses with revenue streams that are limited in their growth. At the same time, we are coping with the dilemma facing service organizations and businesses: meeting demands for greater responsiveness and services in an ever-changing environment that penalizes those who do not adapt or innovate.

For your Bar Association, that means keeping costs to members as low as possible while providing services and programs to serve a diverse group of members, as well as some services to the public and the justice system.

Less than half the Associationís budget (approximately 40 percent) comes from the mandatory dues that you pay. Our entire Pro Bono Referral Program is funded by grants and fundraising (such as the Pro Bono Golf Tournament and a portion of the Campaign for Legal Services proceeds). Our NHBA CLE program and advertising in Association publications account for significant non-dues revenue, although both services are operated with expenses that reflect a priority on member services, not profit.

This year, with expenses rising, the Board of Governors and the Finance Committee face difficult choices. The Board is striving to maintain a balance of services and activities that meets our responsibilities and obligations in the most effective and efficient manner possible. The Boardís deliberations and ultimately the decisions to be made reflect our attempt to address the needs of the greatest number of Bar members.

Support for section programming remains an area for collaboration. Several years ago, the Bar undertook to provide greater staff support to the Sections, with the goal of encouraging participation and interaction within these voluntary sub-groups of the Bar. That effort has succeeded, but not without cost. The Board continues to work with Section leaders on finding ways to accommodate section programming aspirations within a cost structure that does not unduly burden Association members who do not participate in section activity, or who are less interested in earning CLE credit through section meetings.

Some other ideas under consideration include:

  • Reducing the frequency of the Bar News with the eventual goal of making it a monthly publication. New Hampshire is the smallest (and among very few) bar associations in the country that publishes a newspaper twice a month. The goal with these changes is not to reduce communication, but to redirect some of the Communications Departmentís efforts into more timely forms of electronic communication.

  • Publishing an online Bar Journal on the Associationís website, rather than in the traditional print form.
  • Seeking alternative grant funding for the "Leapholes" Law Related Education project or discontinuing the pilot project.

  • Continuing to provide support to schools in learning about the legal system through the Mock Trial program through the provision of materials and volunteer coordination for schools conducting their own Mock Trial competitions. There is no funding for live competition coordination.

  • Establishing a pricing policy for Continuing Legal Education Programs to maintain the "highest quality programs at significantly below market rates" philosophy.

  • Limiting the research and administrative support provided to volunteers for special projects.

  • Increasing the minimal panel fee charged to participants in the Lawyer Referral Service.

  • Holding several meetings of the NHBA Board of Governors outside Concord to stimulate increased dialogue with the membership.

  • Conducting a "10-year Update" to the survey of the Status of Women in the Profession. The Board affirmed that it is important to continue to support this initiative, given the growing number of women in our Bar.

The good news is that through responsible budgeting and frugal operations, the organization has maintained reserves to draw upon in this difficult time. The rest of the story is that those reserves will need to be restored at some point. In the coming months the Finance Committee and Board of Governors will be doing some strategic planning for programming and budgeting that will keep the New Hampshire Bar Association a valuable professional association into the future.

We pledge to listen and keep listeningÖand to use the wisdom of the organizationís elected and volunteer leaders to make the best decisions for the collective membership. We will keep you posted.

Eleanor Dahar is the current NHBA President.
Ellen Arnold is NHBA President-Elect and Chair of the NHBA Finance Committee.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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