The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors held its special meeting today via videoconference amidst the coronavirus public health emergency.
April 17, 2020 – The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors today approved the organization’s budget for fiscal year 2021 (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) at its special meeting, held via videoconference amidst the coronavirus public health emergency.
The proposed budget of $11.87 million previously included a $4 membership dues increase, but in light of the current pandemic, State Bar leadership moved to eliminate the $4 increase and use $80,000 from a reserve fund instead.
The board approved the motion. As a result, membership dues for full-dues paying members will remain at $260 for FY 2021.
State Bar Board Appoints Access to Justice Commission Members
The State Bar’s Board of Governors, at its board meeting today (April 17), appointed Melissa Pingel to replace James A. Gramling Jr., who is stepping down, on the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. Pingel will serve the remainder of the term, until March 2021, and serve as chair of the State Bar’s Legal Assistance Committee.
In addition, the board reappointed State Bar Past President Diane Diel to the 17-member Access to Justice Commission. Diel’s previous term expired in March.
The State Bar’s Board of Governors appoints four members to the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission, created by the Wisconsin Supreme Court at the request of the State Bar of Wisconsin to aid the courts in improving the administration of justice.
The Access to Justice Commission develops and encourages means of expanding access to the civil justice system for unrepresented low-income residents.
Membership dues are separate from Supreme Court assessments and fees, which appear on membership dues statements that will be sent to members in May.
“We are living in unprecedented times,” State Bar President Kastner noted in correspondence to the board. “As a direct result of the pandemic and the corresponding court and executive orders, Wisconsin lawyers are facing financial hardships.
“Some have lost their jobs, others have seen a decrease in their business and collections, and still others have had to reduce hours in order to remote school their children and/or care for loved one,” said Kastner.
At its February meeting, State Bar Chief Financial Officer Paul Marshall said the proposed 1.5 percent dues increase was recommended to fill the $80,000 deficit gap that was identified after several rounds of cost-cutting measures.
Dist. 14 Gov. Sherry Coley (Green Bay), chair of the State Bar’s Finance Committee, said the new proposal – using reserves instead – “was a fair and practical approach,” but may add financial pressures on the organization in the future.
Dist. 2 Gov. Margaret Hickey (Milwaukee) agreed with using reserves instead of a dues increase during this unprecedented time. But she suggested, as she has previously, that the board consider a policy of tying future increases to cost-of-living adjustments.
Membership dues account for about 46 percent of the State Bar’s revenue. The other major revenue stream includes sales and registration revenues from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®, including books, seminars, and conferences.
State Bar Team Quickly Transitions, Refocuses Efforts
As the pandemic set in and the safe-at-home order came down, the State Bar team quickly transitioned to remote work and continues to provide programming and services.
“The State Bar staff quickly responded and continue to respond to member needs in this uncertain environment,” said Kastner, noting the Finance Committee will continue to be involved in discussions, as circumstances change, on how best to support members.
As news of the coronavirus unfolded, the focus of the State Bar’s work shifted to concentrate on the immediate challenges triggered by the pandemic, including:
Safeguarding the welfare of members and staff;
Supporting the courts and the legal community in ensuring the continued administration of justice;
Connecting members to resources and information that will help them through the challenges caused by abrupt disruptions; and
Maintaining State Bar operations with as little disruption as possible.
Through a variety of resources, the State Bar is working to keep its members current and help with personal and professional difficulties, including:
State Bar Executive Director Larry Martin said the impact of this pandemic will be felt by the members and their communities for some time, and the State Bar is here to help.
“We will continue to offer timely and relevant resources to our members, and will constantly assess what this organization can do to help members get through this difficult time,” he said. “The State Bar is a dedicated partner for members to lean on.”
Upon request, interested members may obtain a copy of the minutes of each meeting of the Board of Governors. For more information, contact State Bar Executive Coordinator Jan Marks by org jmarks wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6106.