Regarding Bar Dues: What Can We Afford?
I read in the Presidentís Perspective (May 9 issue of Bar News) the dues for the bar association will be raised $25.00 in addition to the anticipated $5.00 because of a budget deficit. I wanted to respond to that column. I suspect I will not get as much space in the Bar News as Attorney Dahar since she has a column and I am limited to the space limits of a letter; however, I feel a need to send this letter anyway and hope that the staff does not cut any of it to save space.
As a sole proprietor, I understand the economic crunch being experienced and the need to make sure the bottom line stays in the black. However, I do not accept the argument that programs and/or staff cannot be cut from the bar association. If the bar association was the government, there would be cries of outrage for raising taxes instead of cutting programs. Because the bar association can call an increase dues instead of taxes does not mean it is acceptable. I would like to make a few suggestions of where programs and/or staff can be cut. I start by saying that, while the programs mentioned may have good aspects to them, the question is not what do we want but rather what can we afford?
The bar association has already cut the Mock Trial Program. The reason given was that it cost too much. For the exact same reason the bar association can cut We the People. This is a program about government, not the Courts or legal system. Since the bar association can cut one such program to balance the budget, it makes sense the bar association can save money and staff time by eliminating We the People as well. In addition, Law Day can also be taken from the budget. The bar association does not need to waste staff time or production of materials for this program. If attorneys want to participate in a Law Day, surely each and every attorney has the ability to contact a school, prepare remarks and conduct a session with school students without the bar association expending any funds. Again, this is a school program that deserves no more support than the Mock Trial Program and, when the money is not there, must be cut.
I note the bar association has its semi-annual meetings at large hotels with many events and dinners and realize what a savings can be had by downsizing those meetings. The bar association purchased a new bar building. The decision to purchase that building should have included whether the bar association could hold annual meetings at that facility. Whatever business the bar association needs to accomplish can be done at the bar association center without spending money on food or hotel conference rooms. If it is not large enough, the members need to know why it was purchased if it could not accommodate meetings and save money on hotel costs. Meetings must be scaled down so the center can be used.
I note that money is spent on the Pro Bono Program. Attorneys provide free or discounted service to individuals who cannot afford legal services on a regular basis without resorting to the bar association for referrals or needing a certificate saying they do this service. I know many will think it horrible to stop this program; however, I again remind you that this service is alive and well in the legal community and the bar association has to realize cuts must be made. I believe the program obtains money from interest off the IOLTA accounts and charitable contributions. If that is not enough to sustain it, that is proof support for the program does not exist. This program is a luxury and must be eliminated.
I suggest the same realizations about the Pro Bono Program can be applied to the DOVE Program. Again, attorneys do this type of work without credit or referrals. The bar association is not a conduit for any and all charitable causes that may desire legal assistance. There are many domestic violence organizations throughout the state that can obtain grants and contact attorneys for assistance. The bar association does not need to coordinate such a program when there are organizations available to do the coordination and obtain funding. The bar association must realize it no longer has sufficient funds to support all programs especially when other organizations exist to provide the service.
One other matter has been on my mind that many will consider probably obscene if not disrespectful. I do not mean to be either. I note that when a member of the bar passes on, money is given in his or her name to the [Bar Foundation]. It does not matter if that attorney supported the purposes of the foundation or if the attorney would have preferred the money to go to a different charitable organization. I know this is done out of respect; however, this is a source of funds being spent that neither helps the members nor the public, which was the basis the President gave in her column supporting a dues increase over cutting the budget. If members of the bar want to contribute money to a charity in memory of the attorney, the bar association can have a short notice in the Bar News as to where the money can be sent. I see no reason why the professional organization should be making the contribution when money is in short supply.
Further, and I suspect this will be a sore subject, judges get a break in the dues they pay. I do not know why. Judgesí salaries are probably higher than the average attorney salary in the state. It makes sense to require judges to pay the same rate of dues as any attorney.
Finally, I am not aware of what the salaries or benefits of the staff at the bar association are; however, I know that companies, government and small business are re-evaluating healthcare and are not giving raises. I am assuming the bar association is considering ways to keep health costs down and will not be giving raises to staff.
I firmly believe that, while some may not like the suggestions in this letter, these are areas in which money can be saved or raised without increasing membership dues. Because this is a mandatory bar, members cannot control expenditures by withholding membership. That should not mean the bar association can spend money without regard for its members. The budget can be cut. While it may not be pleasant to cut the programs listed in this letter or ask judges to pay an equal amount in dues or tell staff that there will be no raises and there will be a re-evaluation on health care benefits, the reality of the economic downturn is the bar association has to do what each and every attorney is doing, which is cutting back.
Diana G. Bolander
Editorís note: For insights into the decision-making process for the budget of the Bar Association in this and other years, please read "Budget Choices for Bar Volunteers" by NH Bar Association Executive Director Jeannine McCoy.
Rather than responding point-by-point to correct all of the factual errors in the letter, we wish to clarify that the public service programs cited in most cases are self-supporting through grants and fundraising.
In the coming months, a budget discussion session will be scheduled. Bar members are encouraged to attend for more information on the budget details and process.