Treasurer’s Report to Membership on 2011 Bar Dues
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW
By Peter Maassen, Treasurer, Board of Governors
In happier times, the life of the treasurer of the Alaska Bar Association was a long lounge at poolside, interrupted by occasional faxes from our team of stockbrokers with assurances that the coffers were still full and the Mojitos could keep coming.
These are not those times.
Bar dues are going up significantly, and it appears to be the treasurer’s job to put down his Mojito and explain why. The most proximate cause is that for three years – 2008, 2009, and 2010 – your dues were subsidized by funds that had accumulated in the Bar Association’s savings account, i.e., its unappropriated capital. Your dues in 2007 were $550. Remember? But instead of inching upward like everything else in this economy, they plummeted in 2008 to $410, then went up to $460 in 2009 and to $500 in 2010. Dues in those years brought in less than was needed to cover expenses, but enough to balance the books – as long as they were supplemented out of the dwindling unappropriated capital.
Why did we do this (and by "we" I mean the wiser heads who sat on your Board of Governors in recent years past)? Emptying the unappropriated capital account and reverting to "pay-as-you-go" accounting were seen as ways to fend off the grasping hands of certain legislators who believed that unexpended surpluses in any quasi-governmental coffer rightfully belonged to all the people of Alaska, and that they could be better spent today on bridges, roads, and aqueducts than saved for tomorrow’s contingencies. The Board of Governors decided that it was better that the lawyers who had paid the money in over the course of many years should receive its benefit. Which you now have: over the past three years bar members have received the benefit of the unappropriated capital in the form of reduced dues. (See graph.) And now that the unappropriated capital is gone, your dues are going to jump again to what they need to be in order to sustain a "pay-as-you-go" Bar Association from here on out: from $500 this year to $620 in 2011.
To help put things in perspective, $620 is where your 2011 dues would be had they gone up at the stately pace of $17.50 per year since 2008.
Still, the 2010-11 jump is the largest one-time increase since 1993, when dues went from $310 to $450 (where they then stayed for eleven years). Your Board did not approve this increase lightly. Our budget meetings were long and difficult. We slashed grants and travel and eliminated well-deserved salary increases for staff. The Bar Association’s budget retains no fat, or at least nothing that a Board majority could agree was fat.
What do your dues pay for? The Alaska Bar Association has the distinction of combining an expansive mission with lousy economies of scale. Unlike most other unified and mandatory bars, the Bar Association oversees admissions and discipline (which in many states are overseen instead by the courts) as well as CLE programs, mandatory fee arbitration, a well-used lawyer referral service, and the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. These core functions, with necessary staff, serve a huge geographical area on dues from 3,000 active members. A state with ten times as many lawyers could provide the same services and split the cost 30,000 ways. You pay the price for uniqueness. You also pay for the privilege of self-policing (would you rather have the State Occupational Licensing Board in charge of admitting, disciplining, and educating lawyers? Me neither.) If you have Steve Van Goor on speed-dial (as you probably should), you likely realize the value of your investment.
The Board of Governors made a hard call this year. You may disagree with our reasoning, but we hope you understand it.
2011 Bar Dues Amounts:
- Active: $620
- Active- split payment: $330/$315
- Inactive: $205
- Active Seniors: $315