Vol. 82, No. 10, October 2009
Clarifying the State Bar Budget and Budget Process
President Doug Kammer’s “President’s Message” in the September Wisconsin Lawyer contains factual errors, suggests that the members of last year’s Finance Committee and Board of Governors are either part of an information cover-up or incompetent, and insults the dedicated, excellent professional staff of the State Bar of Wisconsin. I write to set the record straight.
President Kammer complains in his column about the budgeting process that led to the State Bar studying changes to its marketing strategy for its entrepreneurial units. He misstates the separate but related roles of the Finance Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee, and he is incorrect when he states that the Finance Committee did not know the cost of the marketing study when it established the budget.
This past year, the Strategic Planning Committee was presented with and evaluated the State Bar’s internal operational plan to review its brand identity and marketing strategies to members. As with each plan presented, this one was reviewed and evaluated for consistency with the mission, vision, and strategic priorities and goals of the State Bar.
The Finance Committee met on March 20, 2009, to begin its initial review of the 2009-2010 budget. President Kammer asserts that the Finance Committee does not know the amount budgeted for any single specific program or initiative “unless it asks.” He asserts that no one asked, and that the information was not provided. The Finance Committee meeting materials for the March 20 meeting contained a full schedule of the Strategic Plan scores and the amount for each item included in the draft budget. The budget numbers attached to both the Lawyers Dispute Resolution program ($925) and the internal marketing campaign budget ($92,915) were set out in full on the very same schedule. President Kammer maligns both the staff and the volunteer members of committees who reviewed and understood the materials presented.
Branding and marketing are topics not generally much appreciated or understood by lawyers. You may or may not agree with President Kammer about the need for this plan or with his criticism of the working design. However, before you make that decision, you need to consider the entrepreneurial nature of this organization. In fiscal 2008-2009, the revenues from sales and registrations of State Bar products and programs totaled $5.1 million. The cost of the review of our marketing campaign work is, in other words, 1.8 percent of last year’s actual income from sales. Our revenues from such sales exceeded our revenues from dues ($4.2 million). Review, study, and analysis of the Bar’s efforts to reach both member and nonmember sources of revenue are essential to the ongoing financial health of the State Bar. Dues have remained constant for the last six years. A part of the reason for that extraordinary stability in these economic times is the fact that our marketing efforts have been so successful.
Even so, you may still agree with President Kammer that the design and logo are not appropriate and will not improve the identification of the State Bar with its customer base. President Kammer fails to mention that the Bar is wisely studying and surveying its members. Input and comments from members will be studied before a final decision is made.
The assertion by President Kammer that the “State Bar’s finances are a great secret” is false. President Kammer complains that he doesn’t have access to payroll numbers but fails to tell you about the extensive information he does have about payroll and benefits. More importantly, President Kammer does not take any action to change that outcome.
The budget is debated by the Board of Governors in open session. Any member can attend. The press attends. The budget is not passed “unwittingly” by the Board of Governors.
The reality is that the finances of the State Bar are in great shape. In a year of unparalleled low returns on investments and massive consumer spending reductions, the State Bar of Wisconsin stayed solvent and retained secure levels of reserve funds. Congratulations to our staff and our volunteers for their aggressive efforts in curtailing unnecessary spending in our last fiscal year and for their foresight and leadership in research and development.
I have great faith that in spite of President Kammer’s lack of leadership and his dissemination of false and misleading statements, the financial success of the State Bar of Wisconsin will continue in the future.
Thomas J. Basting Sr.,
State Bar past president, Madison
Regarding Insurance, One Size Does Not Fit All
In his “New Beginnings” column in August, State Bar President Kammer made a sweeping statement: “One can buy life insurance, disability insurance and almost any other kind of insurance cheaper on the market than through the Bar.” I cannot speak on behalf of all the endorsed insurance programs, but as the administrator for the State Bar of Wisconsin life and disability insurance, I must respond to this statement.
First, the State Bar group term life insurance program was designed in 1995 to offer inexpensive but high-quality group term life insurance, and it does. At age 40 and older, the rates do increase. This is why the Insurance for Members Committee, in 1999, approved the addition of level-term life insurance as an option. The more than 5,000 State Bar members who have purchased life insurance through Bultman Financial Services (BFS) will attest to the fact that we strive to offer competitive life insurance to all State Bar members, especially those who may not be in perfect health or who have a family history of cancer or heart disease. At BFS we continue to monitor the life insurance industry to offer competitive products. One size does not fit all.
Second, with regard to disability insurance, our offerings are second to none. We offer choices. Our group long-term disability insurance (LTDI) is great for solo practitioners and members of small firms, and the rates are very reasonable. However, you must get into this plan when you are healthy. The State Bar also has endorsed a number of individual LTDI plans that allow for discounts and underwriting concessions when the group LTDI plan is not an option.
The greatest endorsement of our plans is the more than 6,000 State Bar members who have returned to BFS to update their life and disability insurance plans over the past 15 years. The best advice we can give to all members is to allow us to review their insurance coverage and costs at least every five years to be sure they have the appropriate coverage to match their current needs at the most competitive price.
BFS has been an active supporter of the State Bar for 15 years, and we are very proud of our relationship with the State Bar and its members.
Court Interpreter Certification Program Assists Parties
The July Wisconsin Lawyer contained an article entitled “Bridging Cultures: Tips for Managing a Multicultural Practice,” which included a section on “Working with Interpreters.”
As a member of the judiciary and chair of the Director of State Courts’ Committee to Improve Interpretation and Translation in the Wisconsin Courts, I was disturbed at the lack of mention of the court-interpreter certification program that has been in place for more than five years. The supreme court has made certification of court interpreters a priority throughout the court system. Because of this concerted effort, we currently have 59 certified Spanish interpreters and several other interpreters certified in other languages, including Russian, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Hmong, and Lao, who are available for assignments in Wisconsin. All these individuals are listed on a roster of interpreters that can be found on the courts’ public Web site at http://wicourts.gov/services/interpreter/search.htm.
The authors in this article stated “there is no easy way to locate quality interpreters” and “the best way to find a good interpreter is through referral.” I disagree. The roster is the best resource to locate certified interpreters for legal and quasi-legal settings. Interpreters listed on the Director of State Courts’ roster have at the very least completed some level of training and testing, which is a requirement for inclusion on the roster. As a best practice, attorneys should always use certified interpreters for languages when certified interpreters are available.
I am also troubled by the writers’ suggestion that it is “efficient” to ask for an adjournment on the basis of a client’s lack of understanding. While I’d suggest efficient lawyering should ultimately strive to avoid adjournment, Wisconsin statutes allow any party to object to the use of a qualified interpreter for good cause (Wis. Stat. § 885.38(6)). Moreover, under Wis. Stat. section 885.38, it is a judge’s responsibility to determine whether a person has limited English proficiency and whether an interpreter is needed before a substantive hearing (see Strook v. Kedinger, 2009 WI App 31). Once an interpreter is appointed by the court, Wis. Stat. section 906.04 requires the judge to establish an interpreter’s qualifications and administer an oath before the interpreter assumes his or her duties as an officer of the court.
Equally concerning is the authors’ blurring of the role of an interpreter used during legal proceedings and the role of an interpreter used during attorney-client interviews. It is important to distinguish these two functions. The last paragraph states “the best interpreters serve as cultural attachés for the lawyer and client.” While this responsibility may be accurate in settings outside of court, interpreters who are appointed by the court for any proceeding must be neutral and unbiased. Court interpreters work for the court, not the attorney or the non-English-speaking litigant. Any deviation would be in direct conflict with the interpreter’s ethical duties, in particular with SCR 60.03, which requires impartiality and avoidance of any conflict of interest.
Hon. Ralph M. Ramirez, Waukesha County Circuit Court, Branch III
Correction to September Letter
The letter entitled “Copyrighted Codes Not Easily Available” by Michael C. Chmurski in the September issue contained an editing error. Mr. Chmurski wrote, “Since copyrighted code is becoming prevalent for enforcement actions (not just design criteria), my concern now increases; often an [
a court] order will issue that references only a state or local code section adopting the copyrighted code. The order, however, does not even reference the pertinent copyrighted code section!”
Mr. Chmurski wishes to make clear that these orders typically are issued by an agency employee, not a court. The editors regret the error.