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  • State Bar Board Approves Dues Structure Change for Emeritus Members and New Lawyers

    Joe Forward

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    From left, Dan Rinzel, Todd Seelman, and Chuck Stahmer, State Bar Governors representing the Nonresident Lawyers Division, wait for the meeting to begin.

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    State Bar Communications Committee Chair Nilesh Patel recommends a petition to amend SCR 10.12 that would allow official notices requiring publication in Wisconsin Lawyer magazine to be published electronically.

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    Senior Lawyers Division representative Tom Ragatz voices approval of a proposal changing the dues structure for emeritus members. 

    Visit the State Bar of Wisconsin on Facebook for more photos of this event, or click here.

    Dec. 7, 2012 – At its meeting today in Madison, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors approved a new State Bar dues structure for emeritus status members and new lawyers starting in fiscal year (FY) 2014, pending approval by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    The Board also approved a Keller dues reduction amount of $5.75 for FY 2014 (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014) and amendments to the Keller dues arbitration process.

    In addition, the board heard a plan that would allow the State Bar to publish official notices – such as Wisconsin Supreme Court orders – in electronic publications, and received sneak peeks of the State Bar’s redesigned website and Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, coming in February.

    Emeritus Dues Structure Changes

    Currently, lawyers ages 70 and older who elect emeritus status do not pay State Bar dues. Under the approved proposal, lawyers ages 70-75 will pay full dues, currently $224, if billing the equivalent of 800 hours or more annually. This group would be considered “Active Emeritus.”

    Lawyers ages 70-75 billing less than 800 hours annually (Senior Emeritus) will pay half dues, currently $112. The dues structure change does not impact lawyers older than 75.

    Also, lawyers who already hold emeritus status by the start of FY 2014 (July 1, 2013) will not be impacted and won’t be required to pay State Bar dues regardless of the number of hours billed.

    The State Bar’s Governance Committee first recommended an emeritus dues structure change in April 2012, noting that the number of emeritus-eligible members will rise dramatically in the next 10 years, and many Wisconsin lawyers are practicing well into their 70s.

    State Bar President Kevin Klein appointed an Emeritus Dues Structure Committee, including representatives from the State Bar’s Senior Lawyers Division, to consider a proposed structure change. The board discussed the proposal at its September board meeting and approved it today. Dues structure changes require approval by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    District 9 Gov. Steve Levine requested that any dues structure change be offered as a referendum for vote by all State Bar members, with a pro-con article to appear in the Wisconsin Lawyer magazine prior to any referendum vote. Levine’s request was ultimately opposed.

    “We were elected to make policy decisions for the State Bar,” said District 5 Gov. Charles Hanson. “I think the idea of putting things out on a referendum abdicates our responsibility. If our constituents don’t like our decisions, they can replace us. But I don’t think we should incur the expense and burden of a referendum.”

    Tom Ragatz, the Senior Lawyers Division representative to the board, voiced support for the change “in light of both the State Bar’s need for more revenue and considerations of fairness.”

    Court Assessments for Emeritus Members

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court may also consider whether the Wisconsin Supreme Court assessment structure, which is tied to State Bar membership status, should change under the board’s approved emeritus dues structure proposal.

    Currently, emeritus status members (ages 70 and over) pay only a Client Protection Fund fee, currently $20. Under the board’s approved proposal, lawyers older than 75 who elect emeritus status with the State Bar would not pay any court assessments.

    Lawyers ages 70-75 who bill 800 hours or more would pay the full court assessments; currently $166 for the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and the Board of Bar Examiners (BBR), $20 for the Client Protection Fund, and $50 for the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (WisTAF).

    Lawyers ages 70-75 who bill less than the equivalent of 800 billable hours would only pay the Client Protection Fund fee (currently $20), and the WisTAF assessment (currently $50). This group would not pay the OLR/BBE assessments.

    Proposed Changes to Dues Structure for Emeritus Members

     

    Status

    State Bar Dues

    Supreme Court Assessments

    Current: Lawyers age 70 and older who elect emeritus status

    Emeritus

    None

    Client Protection Fund fee, currently $20

    Proposed: Lawyers over age 75 who elect emeritus status*

    Emeritus

    None

    None

    Proposed: Lawyers age 70-75 who perform the equivalent of 800 or more billable hours*

    Active Emeritus

    Full State Bar dues, currently $224

    OLR/BBE assessment, currently $166; WisTAF assessment, currently $50; Client Protection Fund fee, currently $20

    Proposed: Lawyers age 70-75 who perform the equivalent of less than 800 billable hours*

    Senior Emeritus

    Half State Bar dues, currently $112

    WisTAF assessment, currently $50; Client Protection Fund fee, currently $20

    *Subject to approval by the Wisconsin Supreme Court

    Dues Structure Change for New Lawyers

    The board also approved a proposal to extend the “active new” status of State Bar members from three years to five years, which must be approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    Currently, “active new” lawyers pay half State Bar dues (currently $112) through the first three years of membership, and half the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s OLR/BBE assessments (currently $83). The approved proposal extends the “active new” category through the first five years.

    Several board members expressed concern that not all “active new” lawyers will face the financial hardships that prompted the change.

    District 2 Gov. Margaret Hickey floated the idea of an “opt-out” for new lawyers who need relief, but not an automatic reduction in dues beyond three years.

    District 2 Gov. Raymond Dall’Osto wondered whether an opt-out provision for public service or government lawyers, such as public defenders or district attorneys, should also be included.

    Before the vote, others responded to these concerns.

    “We already have an opt-out,” said District 2 Gov. Theodore Molinari, noting that State Bar members with financial hardships can file for a dues waiver. 

    “What concerns me is that for months we have talked about this dues structure change, and approving a reduced dues structure for new lawyers who are facing financial hardships,” said Young Lawyers Division representative Sherry Coley. “If we’re going to now change this to an ‘opt-out,’ then I need to inform my entire membership of the potential for full dues.”

    The extension adopted by the board includes a provision for board review in five years to determine if the “active new” status should revert back to its current three-year period.

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    Sherry Coley, the Young Lawyers Division representative, weighs in on the dues discussion relating to new lawyers.

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    State Bar Governors George Steil (left) and Ray Dall’Osto chat before the meeting begins.

    Keller Dues Reduction Amount Set for FY 2014

    The board approved the Keller dues reduction amount of $5.75 for fiscal year 2014. Under Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 (1990), the State Bar may not use compulsory dues of any member who objects to activities which are not reasonably intended for the purpose of regulating the legal profession or improving the quality of legal services.

    As it does each year, the State Bar determined organizational activities subject to the Keller dues reduction. An amount of $114,286 was determined as non-chargeable to mandatory dues.

    That number was divided by the anticipated 20,294 full dues-paying members for fiscal year 2014, resulting in a calculated reduction per member of $5.63 (rounded up to $5.75).

    Board Adopts Amendment to Arbitration Procedure

    The board adopted modifications to the State Bar’s bylaws governing the process by which a member can object to use of mandatory dues under Keller.

    State Bar members can demand arbitration of the Keller dues reduction amount within 30 days of receiving a dues statement. All timely demands for arbitration are consolidated for a hearing before an appointed arbitrator. The board adopted modifications to this process.

    One modification adds a footnote to Article I, Section 5(b) of the State Bar bylaws, which indicates that “the arbitrator’s decision would not receive preclusive effect in any subsequent section 1983 action,” citing Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, 472 U.S. 292, n. 21 (1986).

    In July 2011, past State Bar presidents Steve Levine, Doug Kammer, Jim Boll, and District 9 Gov. Jim Thiel submitted a petition (11-05) to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, objecting to a proposed bylaw amendment to Article I, Section 5(b), which was approved by the board in 2011. The amendment provided for de novo review of arbitration decisions.

    The petitioners argued that providing for de novo judicial review of an arbitrator’s award was inconsistent with Wisconsin’s arbitration laws, and recommended alternative language.

    After a public hearing, a majority (5-2) of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, by final order in July 2012, rejected the board’s proposed bylaw amendment but also declined to adopt alternate language suggested by the petitioners.

    The majority suggested that the proposed bylaw amendment “could be cured with a comment or notation clarifying that the language is intended to reflect controlling case law.” The current amendment, adopted by the board, attempts to reconcile the supreme court’s concerns.

    Other Business

    The board approved a site for the 2014 annual meeting and surrounding events, which will take place June 25-27, 2014, at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Lake Geneva.

    By consent agenda, the board approved a request from the Government Lawyers Division (GLD) to amend the GLD's bylaws relating to elections, and approved a request to merge the State Bar's Agricultural/Agribusiness Law Section and the Law Office Management Section with the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Section.

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