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Posts Tagged ‘bloated bar bureaucracy’

Like the bed-destroying dog that expects praise or the guy that lights the house on fire and later claims credit for putting it out, yesterday the State Bar of Arizona blast emailed supposed “good news about member fees.” The Bar’s final $15 dues increase slated for implementation January 1, 2019 “has been put on hold.”

Already one of the highest cost to practice states in the U.S. at either No. 3 or 4 on the high-priced hit parade, the Bar’s email message from its new president seemed to expect members to praise or credit it for this latest dues suspension.

Let’s instead give the new president a dozen chutzpah cupcakes to pass around at next month’s board meeting.

This is the second postponement authorized by the state supreme court. The last $15 was originally scheduled for roll out January 1 of this year.

But to be clear, the increase hasn’t been terminated. It’s only “on hold” — again.

That nuance, however, needn’t get in the way of the Bar audaciously reframing the latest postponement. It’s the result of the Bar having “done a great job managing its budget and resources,” says the new president.

In actuality, it’s business as usual at the Bar. Every year the budget swells thanks to unbridled bureaucratic growth; generous executive pay raises; mission creep; new hires; and the new Public Service Center’s consumer-lawyer internet matching service. Talk about spin.

By way of history, in December 2013 the Bar first proposed a $100 total dues increase, $25 per year phased in over four years. The board tried to slip through this hefty, unwarranted dues hike 12 days before Christmas when they likely believed members weren’t paying attention.

But members did catch wind of the Bar’s unwelcome early yuletide gift. Following member uproar, the board backed off a vote on the proposal and rescheduled it for February 2014. The board also scaled back the $100 increase in favor of a $60 increase, $15 per year over four years. The board’s amended proposal, however, also tried to shamelessly embed an automatic CPI escalator. Leave it to lawyers to step on the tail of due process. Fortunately, the cost-of-living escalator was denied by the court although the $60 increase alas won approval.

Then as now, the Bar claimed to be cutting expenses and operating with efficiency. The president at the time even declared the Bar had “streamlined to the point that we spend less today per member than we did in 2005 when the last dues increase occurred.”

These days, at least per its latest Form 990 IRS-mandated public return, the Bar remains as bloated as ever. There are 133 employees¹ on the payroll not including an undisclosed number of independent contractors and consultants.

And while it brags about “the great resources the Bar offers its members,” in point of fact most members don’t care, want or bother with these self-styled “great resources.”

Indeed, what the Bar fears most is a time when it is finally forced to give their compulsory members a choice whether or not to voluntarily fund these “great resources.” When that happens, no amount of spin or cherry-picking chutzpah will repurpose that reality.

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¹After this post was published, I received an email from the Arizona Bar’s Chief Communications Officer with the following: “Just for the record, the State Bar currently has 102 employees. The 133 number on the form 990 basically refers to anyone who received a W2. Because of employee turnover the numbers will always be greater than the number of employees.”

Credits: “O Mingus,” by Jenn at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike; “Dog Cupcakes,” by Jenny Kaczorowski at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bc/Grombecki_Bart%C5%82omiej_Sztosik.jpg/193px-Grombecki_Bart%C5%82omiej_Sztosik.jpg

Sure I thought it was grand the California State Auditor again stepped on the State Bar of California last week. My praise, though, is restrained. The California Bar has sustained plenty of hits and fault-finding the past 30 years.1 And still it has resisted genuine reforms. Apart from that, the Cal Bar getting stomped on is such old hat that even the beaver and muskrat’s come off.

Indeed, just last June the state auditor alleged the Cal Bar may have put the public at risk by going soft on discipline by rushing settlements to reduce a festering 5,000+ lawyer disciplinary case backlog. The auditor also berated the Bar for going $50 million over-budget on a building renovation. In sum, the report declared the Cal Bar “has not consistently protected the public through its attorney discipline process and lacks accountability.”

On the heels of that, last July I criticized the Arizona Supreme Court’s on State Bar Mission and Governance for inexplicably consulting the California Bar about its governance reforms — as though the Cal Bar’s done such a good job of that. “That’s like asking Kim Kardashian about modesty or Donald Trump about hairdos,” I quipped.

Today, I still wonder, ‘What’s next?’ Consult Trump on Hispanic outreach?

State audit rips Cal Bar.

Calif State Auditor May 12 2016 Cover Letter Re. State Bar of California Audit Report

The 62-page audit report concerning the Cal Bar’s financial operations and management practices was released last Thursday. It decried the Bar’s lack of transparency, the excessive salaries paid its executives and its massive budget shortfall to repay victims of attorney misconduct. When I saw the headlines about non-transparency and inflated executive compensation, for a moment I thought the story was about the State Bar of Arizona.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/df/Opie_Read_in_the_Ozarks%2C_including_many_of_the_rich%2C_rare%2C_quaint%2C_eccentric%2C_ignorant_and_superstitious_sayings_of_the_natives_of_Missouri_and_Arkansaw_%281905%29_%2814766331541%29.jpg/240px-thumbnail.jpgBut no, it was the California Bar. Also see “Audit rips California’s state bar for shady finances and bloated salaries.”

About those so-called inflated salaries, the auditor recommended that “to ensure that the compensation it provides its executives is reasonable, the State Bar should include in the comprehensive salary and benefits study it plans to complete by October 2016 the data for salaries and benefits for comparable positions in the state government’s executive branch.” 

According to Table 8 of the auditor’s report, the Bar’s Executive Director earns $267,500 per year while the Governor of California makes $182,784 annually. At 146% of what the governor makes, the value of presiding over the world’s 8th largest economy clearly pales in comparison to running the nation’s largest bar association. Meanwhile, at 18,250 active members, the State Bar of Arizona is one-tenth the size of the Cal Bar’s 186, 346 active members. And at $65M, the Cal Bar’s budget is more than 4 times the size of Arizona’s. All the same, the Arizona Bar’s Executive Director also makes more than the California Governor.

Sunshine | by nateOne

Several months ago, a local Arizona Bar apologist took exception to my comparing the Arizona Bar Executive Director’s annual compensation with that of Arizona’s Governor. He told me comparing the executive director’s salary with Arizona government employees was “meaningless.” Arizona state employees are “underpaid,” he scolded. And in any case, the governor gets a lot of non-salary perks. If you look at the table below obtained via Ballotpedia, he’s right. The Arizona Governor is indeed underpaid along with everyone else in state government — not just the executive branch.

State executive officials
Office and current official Salary
Governor of Arizona Doug Ducey $95,000
Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan $70,000
Attorney General of Arizona Mark Brnovich $90,000
Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit $70,000

A Bed | by CarbonNYC [in SF!]Just the same, the Cal auditor’s advice remains sound, to ensure reasonableness, “the data for salaries and benefits for comparable positions in the state government’s executive branch” ought to be included in any state bar salary review.

Per the federally mandated IRS Form 990 disclosures on the State Bar of Arizona’s website, the most recently available 2014 IRS Form 990 reveals the Arizona Bar’s Executive Director makes 2 times the Arizona governor’s salary. The data, though, is two years old. As a matter of fact, buried in the May 2016 issue of the bar’s monthly magazine, was a brief mention that in February the Board unanimously approved the Executive Compensation Committee’s recommendation to give the Executive Director another raise.

What it all means for transparency.

The real implications from the Cal audit report are what they mean for transparency. The legal establishment isn’t known for transparency — their disingenuous exhortations notwithstanding. That’s why I believe transparency suffers where public records access and disclosure mandates aren’t overseen by independent non-legal establishment third parties.

In Texas, for example, the Texas State Bar discloses a lot. Admittedly, that’s not necessarily because it wants to — but because it has to. The Texas Bar is subject to State Sunset Law review of its mission, continued viability, fiscal management and performance by the Texas Sunset Commission. This review by legislators and public members is required by the Texas Sunset Act.

Open Kimono Management | by standardpixelYears ago, Arizona had a Sunset Law that likewise applied to the State Bar of Arizona. But that ended in 1985 when the State Bar Act sunsetted over a dispute between the Bar and the Arizona Legislature and before the State Bar could or would open its management and financial kimono. So when the Texas Bar opens its books, it does so not as much by choice but as by statute.

The California Bar must likewise open its financial operations and management practices not by dint of munificence for open government but as required by the State Bar Act under Business and Professions Code §6145.

The lesson in Arizona, then, is that to ensure free and open governance and preserve the public’s unfettered access to financial and management information, the State Bar of Arizona needs to be treated like every other state regulator. This means being subject to Arizona Public Records Law, A.R.S. §§ 39-101 to -161 not Arizona Supreme Court Rule 123.

Gustaf Dalén 1926.jpgAlthough Arizona Courts meet the plain meaning of a “public body” supported by state monies, the high court has deemed that Arizona courts are not subject to Arizona’s public records laws. Instead, the Court says it alone under its own Rule 123 constitutionally dictates the breadth of what governs the maintenance and disclosure of its records.2

Not that the Arizona Supreme Court is alone in that thinking. In 2009, the Washington State Supreme Court expanded on that view in City of Federal Way v. Koenig. And in 2013, the Nevada Supreme Court followed in the same general direction in Civil Rights for Seniors, v. Administrative Office of the Courts.

Under Arizona public records law, most documents in a public officer’s possession are public records — except for documents that relate solely to personal matters with no relation to official duties. Rule 123(e), on the other hand, restricts access to certain administrative records including employee records, judicial case assignments, and what it alone determines is attorney and judicial work product. Ariz. R. Sup.Ct. 123(e)(1)(11)

The State Bar Mission and Governance task force has proposed the Arizona Bar not fall under Arizona Public Records Law. Rather it recommends the Bar “conduct meetings and maintain records pursuant to public access policies adopted by the Supreme Court.” How much transparency will that entail? What judicial records does the Bar create that have relation to Rule 123?

And besides, as I recently posted, the Arizona Bar already thinks “our organization has worked to be exceptionally transparent.”

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1 For more Golden State Bar dysfunction, see “California State Bar in Turmoil After Shake-up Triggers Whistleblower Claim.”

2 In Arpaio v. Davis, the Court of Appeals explained:

“Arizona’s constitution provides that “[t]he Supreme Court shall have administrative supervision over all the courts of the State.” Ariz. Const., art. 6, § 3. This administrative power “is a function of its responsibility to administer an integrated judiciary.” Scheehle v. Justices of the Ariz. Supreme Court, 211 Ariz. 282, 289, ¶ 27, 120 P.3d 1092, 1100 (2005). The Supreme Court fulfills its administrative responsibilities by promulgating rules. Id. at ¶ 23, 120 P.3d at 1099. “Such rules are valid even if they are not completely cohesive with related legislation, so long as they are an appropriate exercise of the court’s constitutional authority.” Id. at ¶ 24, 120 P.3d at 1099. Accordingly, Rule 123—not the Arizona Public Records Law—controls requests for judicial records.”

Credits: Portrait of Bartłomiej Sztosik,Creator:Henryk Grombecki, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Opie Read in the Ozarks, by Opie Percival, Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Sunshine, by Nate Grigg at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; A Bed, by David Goehring at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Two women wearing funny glasses . . . ., by Yuko Honda at Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License; Open Kimono, by Eric Gélinas at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license; Gustaf Dalén, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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Such a Clown! | by *~Dawn~*

Talk about questionable timing. Within days of the coming vote by Arizona’s Senate on a Bill that protects attorney free speech by requiring mandatory State Bar of Arizona dues be used only for attorney regulation, comes a blast email from that Bar’s President soliciting participation in an online attorney compensation survey. “Our hope,” says the email, “is to learn more about the current economic climate so we can better understand and report on trends in the profession, and in turn, serve you better.”

Serve you better? Multiple unwarranted fee hikes later, one of the most imperious and expensive state bars in the country now asks? It’s a bit late to open that stable door after the horse has been sold for glue.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1c/1811_PoorAuthor_RichBookseller_byWashingtonAllston_MFABoston.jpeg/433px-1811_PoorAuthor_RichBookseller_byWashingtonAllston_MFABoston.jpegBut then that’s the Arizona Bar’s age-old leadership problem. It’s tone-deaf, insular, and bureaucratically backward. And at the risk of piling on, did I also say bloated, inefficient and nontransparent?

The State Bar of Arizona’s real predicament is that while purporting to serve its members — it also tells the public it polices them. Such too, is the member confusion when their regulator claims to want to better serve them. The Arizona Bar simply can’t reconcile the irreconcilable: the inherent conflict of interest of supposedly protecting and serving the public by regulating Arizona’s lawyers while — at the same time — serving as a trade association promoting the common interests of those lawyers.

Meantime, the Bar’s pending legislation worries have everything to do with self-interest. The loss of control over 100% of the mandatory fees paid by Arizona’s lawyers means an unwelcome paradigm shift.

HB 2221 would authorize the Bar to only collect voluntary membership dues for non-regulatory operations. This means that instead of relying on coercion for its funding, a voluntary Arizona Bar would have to attract members who are willing to pay for its services. To its dismay, the Bar would be forced to be competitive. It might need to truly trim overhead and lower its costs.

photoAs for its survey, it appears the Bar anticipates sparse participation. Otherwise, why deign to offer dubious incentives to take its online survey? Participants will be entered into a drawing for a chance to be one of three ‘winners’ of free registration to the Arizona Bar’s Annual “Butt-Numb-A-Thon” Convention“a value of $455 each.” Two additional winners will be selected to receive a $100 Visa gift card.

Besides fees paid to the vendor, the prize incentives mean the survey has an additional cost to members of $1565. The easiest money to spend is always somebody else’s.

It’s also unclear from the Bar’s email if this questionnaire replaces the triennial “Economics of Law Practice in Arizona” survey, which was last done in 2013. Three years ago, the median reported salary for an Arizona sole practitioner with an outside office was $100,000 while the home office solo median was $75,000. (By comparison, if you rely on the puny survey sampling in the Nevada Bar’s Young Lawyer Section Compensation Survey released this month, the median base salary of Nevada young lawyers was $90,000-100,000. The Nevada Young Lawyer survey was based on “160 voluntary respondents” or roughly 2% of the state’s total lawyer population).

In the past,the Arizona Bar has charged members $125 for its complete economics of law practice report. See It’s unknown if the complete results of this current survey will also be sold. For more about legal profession economics, see “How about a raise?”

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Photo Credits: “Such a Clown” by Dawn Ellner at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License; “The Poor Author and the Rich Bookseller” by Washington Allston, Wikimedia Commons, public domain;“Riveting meeting,” by Mark Hillary at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution.

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