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  • October
    01
    2012

    State Bar Board Focuses on Helping New Lawyers, Dues Structure May Change

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    The 2012-13 State Bar of Wisconsin Board of Governors in Wausau.

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    District 2 Gov. Art Harrington, Milwaukee, delivers passionate words about the importance of helping new lawyers in the current economy. Harrington is co-chair of the board’s Challenges Facing New Lawyers Task Force.

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    District 2 Gov. Jill Kastner, is a former president of the Young Lawyers Division.

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    George Brown (left), executive director of the State Bar of Wisconsin, discusses some details with Kelli Thompson, Madison, chair of the State Bar’s Board of Governors. The board met in Wausau Sept. 28-29 for the first of five meetings in fiscal year 2012-13 (July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013).

    Visit the State Bar's Facebook page for more board photos, or click here.

    Oct. 1, 2012 – The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors – the policy-making body of the organization with 52 members representing 16 districts – convened in Wausau Sept. 28-29 for the first of five meetings scheduled for the 2012-13 fiscal year (July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013).

    With new chairperson Kelli Thompson presiding, the Board of Governors (board) set the stage for this year’s policy agenda, which may include possible bar dues structure changes for new lawyers and lawyers in emeritus status.

    The board also heard updates from Art Harrington and Sherry Coley, co-chairs of a task force addressing the challenges facing new lawyers, which held listening sessions at both U.W. and Marquette law schools last week. Past-president Jim Brennan appointed the task force to look at the issue following release of the State Bar’s Challenges Facing the Legal Profession report.

    At the listening sessions, law students and new lawyers at both law schools spoke about student loan debt, poor job prospects, training and mentoring, the costs of continuing legal education, and the difficulty of networking in an increasingly Internet-based world.

    “We are just beginning to scratch the surface of the issues new lawyers are experiencing in this economy,” said Coley, past president of the Young Lawyers Division.

    Coley says the task force will compile anecdotal, survey, and other research information and make formal recommendations to the board this term.

    Harrington passionately emphasized the importance of helping young lawyers. “This issue, in my 37 years of practice, is one of the biggest challenges we have faced,” he said. “We need real ways to make a difference.” Harrington asked board members to make a personal commitment to meeting with at least one unemployed lawyer to discuss networking.

    Dues Structure Changes for New Lawyers

    In 2011, Brennan appointed a Dues Evaluation Committee to review the State Bar’s existing dues structure to recommend whether the dues structure should be changed.

    Currently, full dues-paying members pay $224, new and inactive members pay $112, and emeritus members (age 70 and over) do not pay State Bar dues.

    The committee last year held seven public hearings across the state and solicited comments to obtain member input about the State Bar’s dues structure and policy.

    Based on input, the committee discussed numerous types of dues policies, including one based on the dues reserve fund balance, or a policy based on inflation, income, or other economic factors. The committee was unable to reach a majority consensus on structural changes, but agreed that a change to dues structure was appropriate, currently, for new lawyers.

    “What we did hear overwhelmingly from our members is concern for the new lawyers who are struggling in the current economy,” said committee member Susan Collins.

    Currently, new lawyers pay half dues in their first three years. The committee recommended a change to allow new lawyers to pay half dues the first five years, with another review in five years. The State Bar estimates the change would decrease dues revenue by $144,144 per year.

    The board is expected to vote on the proposal at its next board meeting in December. Any change in dues structure must be approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    Dues Structure Changes for Emeritus Lawyers

    At the direction of State Bar President Kevin Klein, the Emeritus Dues Structure Committee, consisting of representatives from the State Bar’s Governance Committee and the Senior Lawyers Division, considered the possibility of implementing a new dues structure for emeritus members (members age 70 and over), who currently are not required to pay State Bar dues.

    Presently, approximately 1,500 emeritus status members do not pay State Bar dues or Wisconsin Supreme Court assessments, aside from the client protection fund fee of $20.

    In contrast, full dues-paying members pay $224, and Wisconsin Supreme Court assessments totaling $236. Committee Chair Jim Boll said the number of emeritus members will increase dramatically in the next few years. Not all lawyers ages 70 and over elect emeritus status.

    “Our projection is that by 2016, we will have approximately 4,000 members who will qualify for emeritus status,” said Boll, who mentioned that more lawyers are practicing well into their 70s.

    The committee recommended the following proposal:

    • Lawyers age 75 and over will pay no State Bar dues or court costs. They will only pay the $20 client protection fee. This group will be classified as “Emeritus.”

    • Lawyers age 70-74 will be subdivided into two categories:

      1. “Masters Attorneys Full,” defined as those in the age group of 70 through 74 who bill more than 800 hours annually. They will pay full State Bar dues ($224) and supreme court assessments.
      2. “Masters Attorneys,” defined as those in the age group of 70 through 74 who bill less than 800 hours annually. They will pay half State Bar dues ($112), half of the supreme court assessments, the $20 client protection fund fee, and the $50 WisTAF charge.

    An attorney in the “Masters” group will self-select the appropriate dues category. All attorneys classified under the current emeritus status at the time of implementation will not be affected by the change and will continue to pay no State Bar dues.

    The board is expected to vote on the proposal at its next board meeting in December. Any change in dues structure must be approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

    Section and Division Bylaw Changes

    The State Bar board approved changes to the Criminal Law Section’s bylaws allowing the section’s board to replace directors for unexcused absences from board meetings, which take place at least four times per fiscal year. Under the change, two unexcused absences shall be considered a motion to resign from the section’s board. The State Bar board also approved a bylaw change that allows electronic submissions for section board elections.

    The State Bar board approved changes to the Family Law Section’s bylaws requiring that nominees for the section’s board officer positions be section board members, not just section members. Bylaw amendments also clarify the nominating process for board and officer posts.

    The State Bar board approved changes to the Senior Lawyers Division’s bylaws clarifying that division membership commences upon payment of initial dues. Approved amendments also require the division directors, not membership, to elect its six board members.

    Other Business

    The board approved attorney Chris Rogers to complete the term of District 9 Gov. Kelli Thompson, who was elected to serve as board chairperson for the 2012-13 term.

    President Klein appointed five members to the Nomination Committee for the State Bar’s 2013 election cycle: Jim Boll (chair), Theodore Molinari, Jill Kastner, Frederick Kaftan, and Susan Collins.

    Persuant to ABA procedure, Nate Cade will serve as interim Wisconsin State Delegate (elected by resident members of the State Bar of Wisconsin who are also members of the ABA) to the ABA House of Delegates. Cade fills the post for former Wisconsin State Delegate John Skilton, who resigned to begin a three-year term as a member of the ABA Board of Governors. The board also approved Patricia Struck to fill Cade’s vacant seat as State Bar delegate.

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