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Board finalizes Bar budget.

With some slight changes that improve the bottom line, the Board of Governors has given final approval to the Bar's 2003-2004 budget. The fiscal plan will now be forwarded to the Supreme Court for review.

Incoming Budget Committee Chair Jesse Diner said since the budget was initially approved in early April, the Bar's Center for Professionalism had found $25,000 in savings and a recalculation of CLER revenues had produced an additional $102,250. He reported at the board's May 30 meeting in Key West.

That produced a slightly better bottom line in what had been called a break-even budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Overall, the Bar will begin the budget year with about $10.6 million on hand and it expects revenues totaling about $30 million.

For the second year in a row, there will be no increase in annual membership fees. They remain at $265 for active members and $175 for inactive members. A complete breakdown of the new budget was published in the April 30 News.

The budget provides funding for the Bar's Dignity in Law Program, although with a $300,000 appropriation instead of $750,000 appropriated in the 2002-03 budget year. Many of the program's operations, though, will be done by Bar staff in the coming year.

Board member Robert Rush renewed objections from the April meeting over reducing the Dignity in Law budget, saying the Bar has begun public relations efforts before and then failed to follow through.

"I think we're being short-sighted," he said. "We're not going to get twice the return by cutting the budget in half."

He likened the Bar's position to a grocery store with a top-notch produce section not countering stories that its fruits and vegetables are old and spoiled.

While critics bash the legal profession, Rush said the reality is "if you lie, cheat or steal, you're not a lawyer in Florida. We need to get that information out."

At the April meeting, other board members had argued the Bar could continue to provide an effective program at a lower cost by bringing operations in-house and that the Bar's tight finances precluded spending more.

The only other change made to the budget was to allow the certification program to spend $15,200 to continue the listings of certified lawyers in the Bar Journal directory issue. Board member Hank Coxe made the motion to restore those pages to the directory, noting that it would be certification funds and not Bar general revenues that paid for the listings.

Diner said the pages were tentatively dropped from the 2003 directory as part of xa phaseout that will eventually see an end to the printed directory as all of the information it contains is made available on the Bar's Web site. He noted the list of all certified lawyers is currently on the Web site.

But Coxe and other board members argued there was no reason not to continue the listing since the certification program would pay for the cost. "I think we gain nothing and lose a lot [by not having the list]," Coxe said. "There is a constituency of 4,000 board certified lawyers. They want it there until they go electronic [with the directory]."

Other budget changes include increasing CLE fees by $10 per course and raising the amount the Bar gets from lawyer referral service fees from 10 to 12 percent. That will help offset $400,000 the Bar lost as a result of the discontinuation of an endorsed credit card program that was part of the Member. Benefits Program. The Budget Committee also recommended dropping the Bar rules from the annual Journal directory issue to save money.

The budget anticipates the Bar will have $10.6 million on hand at the start of the budget year, and will have a total income of $30 million for the 2003-04 fiscal year, with matching expenditures. That's actually $600,000 less than projected revenues and expenditures for the 2002-03 budget year.

The largest income item continues to be member annual fees, expected to generate almost $19 million, up about $500,000 for the current year. Sales of products and services, though, are projected at $4.9 million, down about $600,000. Income from advertising revenues, including from Journal and News operations, is expected to remain steady at about $1.8 million.

On expenditures, the Bar's regulation of the practice of law, which includes the discipline system, ethics and advertising, professionalism, and membership records, will continue to be the largest expenditure. The 2003-04 budget calls for $12.6 million, up from $11.9 million in 2002-03.

The Unauthorized Practice of Law Department will get $1.4 million, up from $1.3 million, while the Bar's communications programs, which include public information as well as the Journal and News, will see a decrease from $4.4 to $3.5 million.

One notable figure was the expected return on investment. The 2002-03 budget projected $709,000 of income on investments, while through the end of January 31 the Bar had lost $421,854. The 2003-04 budget anticipates investment earnings of $250,000.

Investment Committee Chair David Bianchi reported at the May meeting that after several months of losing money, the Bar's investments have returned to the positive. Since the beginning of 2003, the Bar's investments have earned $1.03 million.
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Author:Blankenship, Gary
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Jun 15, 2003
Previous Article:Board opposes ABA plan to weaken client confidentiality.
Next Article:Bar fees are payable July 1.

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