State Bar dues may spike more than 15 percent next year, but assessments imposed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court will drop, albeit slightly.
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State justices on Monday approved the operating budgets for the Office of Lawyer Regulation and the Board of Bar Examiners, both of which receive a portion of lawyer contributions each year.
When dues statements are mailed during the first week of May, attorneys will find that the OLR assessment of $155 remains unchanged for 2012-13, but the court opted to reduce the BBE assessment from $13 to $11.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson recommended during discussion Monday that the assessment be reduced in light of the economic pressures facing the legal profession.
But two justices voted in opposition of the BBE budget, including Justice N. Patrick Crooks, who questioned the court’s approach.
“I think we should give some heed to what the BBE looked at and what they had approved,” he said in an interview. “I had some trouble with at the last minute, suggesting it be reduced by two more dollars.”
Justice David Prosser also opposed the BBE budget, but declined to comment.
While BBE director Jacquelynn Rothstein said the 2012-13 reduction is something it can absorb without consequence, it was the second year in a row that the court lowered the assessment.
Last year, the BBE assessment went from $18 to $13.
“Obviously, the court can make whatever recommendations it chooses,” Rothstein said in an interview. “We are always prepared one way or another.”
She said the reduction will come out of the Continuing Legal Education portion of the BBE budget, which is the basis for the assessment.
And while the reduction is a well-intentioned, Crooks said it won’t substantially lighten the financial burden on attorneys in the state.
“I have to believe there isn’t an attorney in the state who will not be dancing over that two-dollar reduction,” he said.
“But I’m sure they have bigger issues with other things.”
Bar leaders are in the midst of a discussion to increase bar dues for the first time since 2005, from $224 to $259 starting in Fiscal Year 2014, to sustain the financial stability of the organization.
Assessments account for more than half of the cost to be a member of the mandatory State Bar of Wisconsin, including BBE, a fluctuating cost to cover payouts from the client protection fund and $50 annually for civil legal service providers.
The largest assessment goes towards OLR to sustain its disciplinary monitoring system. That assessment last was increased in 2010 from $148 to $155.
Attorneys shouldn’t expect a decrease in OLR assessments anytime soon, said organization director Keith Sellen, given that the office is challenged to meet its current caseload.
In addition, he said the state could use up to $180,000 of OLR’s 2012-13 program fund revenue for general state purposes.
“If we have to lapse funds, we will have enough in reserve to keep pace with the caseload for next year,” Sellen said.
“Then we’ll have to take a look at where we are at next spring.”