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    Wisconsin Lawyer

    Inside the Bar: Changing Economics Creates Opportunity

    Staff reductions create opportunities for staff and member leaders to work differently, discover greater efficiencies, and focus priorities.

    George C. Brown

    George C. Brown

    In the opening scene of the 1936 classic movie “My Man Godfrey,” the protagonist, Godfrey, played by William Powell, is a resident of a New York City dump along with dozens of other out-of-work men during the Great Depression. He is talking with Mike, another resident, about the lack of work. “Mike,” he says wryly, “I wouldn’t worry. Prosperity is just around the corner.” “Yeah,” Mike responds in like manner, “it’s been there a long time. I wish I knew which corner.” By the end of the movie, Godfrey has rethought how he does things and taken advantage of the opportunity to create a thriving business.

    In some ways, the State Bar is going through a similar transformation. Sixty percent of State Bar revenues are from sources other than dues. The largest portion of that comes from the sale of PINNACLE® seminars and books, with advertising and investment income also making up a significant part of that revenue base. The State Bar, like virtually every other association, has been facing the same lengthy economic recession as you have in your practice or office. State Bar staff and member leaders have worked hard to keep dues at the same level since 2004 and base level prices for seminars the same as they were in 2003 by controlling costs and working to grow member services and programs that matter to you.

    Three of the last four years, the State Bar has had to dip into reserves to fund programs; one year because of the same disastrous investment returns everyone experienced and twice because nondues revenue projections were not met. Those revenue projections were what I would call optimistically conservative. After all, prosperity was just around the corner; we just weren’t sure which corner, so we remained optimistically conservative. This year’s first and early second quarter results indicated that again, because of lower-than-projected seminar and book revenue and downturns in investments and advertising revenue, we might not make the budget projections, even though we probably will be ahead of last year’s actual revenues. In January, in order to reduce costs this year and especially in years ahead, nine staff positions were eliminated. The work performed by these staff was divided up among existing staff, meaning that people are carrying heavier workloads. More importantly, it means that we will have to change how we work.

    And that’s the opportunity. While your Bar staff is always looking for ways to work more efficiently, these staff position reductions increase the urgency to find even greater efficiencies. It also provides the State Bar staff and member leaders the opportunity to discover ways of working differently, of creating more focused priorities, of looking hard at the member programs and services that are offered to make sure they are ones you need and use, delivered in a manner that works best for you. After all, your practice is our purpose.

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