Vol. 84, No. 10, October 2011
As a young man, whenever I would talk with my late father-in-law about a new great idea, he would look at me, smile ever so slightly that experienced corporate-executive smile, and say simply, “All it takes is money.”
More recently, when working on the State Bar’s strategic plan, a committee member succinctly stated, “No money, no mission.”
That is why we present to you each year the audited financial information for the State Bar’s most recent fiscal year (see pages 48 and 49 in this issue), so that you know the Bar’s financial picture. After all, an organization’s finances determine how well the organization can fulfill its mission and goals.
As you will see, the State Bar remains in a strong financial position despite a loss from operations. Ten years ago, the State Bar was in a weaker financial position, and such a loss then probably would have meant program cuts. But because the Finance and Executive committees, with the Board of Governors’ agreement, created a funded reserve with an articulated reserve policy, the State Bar can continue to offer the same level of programming this year as last year despite the operational loss.
Many things have changed over those same 10 years. Numerous new programs and services have been created to increase the value of your State Bar membership by making it easier and more cost effective to provide service to your clients and to increase your opportunities to fulfill your professional responsibility to give back to the public. Chief among these member services are Fastcase and Caselaw Express; substantive articles about recent cases and issues before the profession, presented daily on WisBar and bimonthly on WisBar InsideTrack; a full-time practice management advisor, full-time assistance for impaired lawyers and judges, and full-time ethics counsel; and free, first-dollar malpractice insurance for lawyers serving in recognized pro bono programs. All these services are funded by dues, whose level has not changed since 2004.
But dues make up less than 40 percent of the State Bar’s revenues. More than 60 percent of revenues come from products and services for which the Bar charges a fee. Most of this revenue comes from PINNACLE, through the provision of CLE seminars and books and other practice-related tools. When selling products and services, which also includes advertising in this magazine and a variety of other activities, the Bar competes in the open marketplace. As such, it is subject to the vicissitudes of the marketplace, and we all know how up and down that has been in recent years … mostly down. The result, for this year, was last year’s loss from operations.
Can the State Bar continue to have these losses and sustain the level of programming you have come to expect? Indeed not. In fact, we have seen a huge increase in the need for practice management, ethics counsel, and assistance for impaired lawyers. Members also want more knowledge and information in online legal articles and through this magazine. At the same time, the provision of knowledge and information via seminars is undergoing a dramatic change in format, such as through the Web, as well as growing expectations for high-quality content and interactive presentation. How this will all play out is the challenge facing the Board of Governors, various State Bar committees, and the State Bar’s staff. Next year’s fiscal report will show how we have done. After all, all it takes is money.