March marked the middle of the WSBA’s fiscal year (October through September), and our budget narrative, I surmise, mirrors many of our own personal outlooks: We have made many adjustments to weather an extraordinarily challenging period and are coming to terms with some of our “new normal” modes of operation. For the WSBA, this means finding opportunities to be innovative and expand service levels and benefits for members, all while continuing to look for efficiencies.
As I mentioned in this column last month, the WSBA is just completing its annual reforecast process, which is what we do mid-fiscal year to compare budgeted revenues and expenditures in each cost center with actual revenues and expenditures; we adjust projections for the remainder of the fiscal year based on this. The Budget and Audit Committee has been reviewing the reforecast figures, and we will have presented a final version to the entire WSBA Board of Governors by the time this issue of Bar News goes to press. In the midst of this review and approval process, here is what I can share at the high level: We do not expect any significant deviations from the original budget.
If you have been following my monthly financial updates (I am sure you have—you probably have them memorized!), you know that through January, the WSBA had an actual overall net revenue (over expenses) of about $825,000 in the General Fund for the fiscal year. That was especially remarkable considering the original FY 21 budget anticipated spending about $200,000 in General Fund reserves. Looking at preliminary reforecast numbers, there is still good news: We expect to outperform our original budget; however, I want to explain why we project that our current actual net revenue will be much closer to revenue/expenseneutral by fiscal year’s end. (Again, I will have actual numbers once the reforecast is approved by the full Board.)
First, the WSBA fiscal-year cycle is always revenue-heavy in the first half (license season) and expense-heavy in the second half (when many service contracts and expenses come due). That is an expected pattern; we expect to see expenses outpace revenue in the final months of the fiscal year. What has not been expected, of course, are the myriad ways in which the pandemic has impacted operations. Throughout the fiscal year, we have made adjustments. The reforecast yielded savings, in fact, in the range of about $400,000. These savings, though, were offset by revenue drops driven mainly by fewer licensing late fees, which are included in the budget based on historical patterns.
While we have managed to keep the General Fund essentially revenue/cost-neutral, the CLE Fund is an area that has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 conditions. We have not been able to hold in-person seminars in conjunction with WSBA sections, we have offered more credits for free to members to help them navigate the pandemic (a worthy investment), and the Washington Supreme Court has postponed an MCLE reporting cycle, which causes a lag in members looking for credits. The CLE Fund is maintained separately from other parts of the General Fund, and it is usually a self-sustained revenue-generating operation. Luckily, we have built the CLE Fund reserves to compensate for this type of anomalous year.
Overall, I believe it is extraordinary that we have been able to fulfill one of my and the Board’s main goals—to keep lawyer license fees steady (in fact, reducing the overall annual expense by decreasing the Client Protection Fund assessment) from 2019 through at least 2022—all while outperforming budget estimates and weathering one of the most unpredictable, rapidly changing, and challenging times for the legal community—and, indeed, the world.
More than that, we are beginning to look carefully at emerging opportunities as a state bar; while we are still as committed as ever to careful fiscal shepherding of license fees, we are planning how to capitalize on some of our cost-saving measures to add value to the profession and to the public. For instance, WSBA President Kyle Sciuchetti, the Board of Governors, and I have committed to a more robust Member Wellness Program and services—something asked for by members in a recent COVID-19 impact survey and something we know is much needed from our own experiences within the legal community. We are reprioritizing funds in the reforecasted budget to begin that much-needed work this year.
While we have managed to keep the General Fund essentially revenue/cost-neutral, the CLE Fund is an area that has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 conditions.
I am proud of what we have accomplished—and what we are projected to accomplish—this fiscal year. We are looking at an almost revenue/expense-neutral year, all while navigating a pandemic and still finding ways to expand member services—as well as keeping lawyer license fees steady.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve as WSBA treasurer. In keeping with my goal of transparency to members, you can expect to see continued reports of more concrete budget numbers next month when the reforecast is finalized.
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Consecutive Years of ‘Clean’ Audit Reports Reflect Confidence in WSBA’s Financial Integrity
Certified public accounting firm Clark Nuber has issued an unmodified, “clean” audit opinion for the Washington State Bar Association’s 2020 fiscal year. This marks several decades of similar outstanding independent audit reports for the WSBA.
The audit report certifies that the Bar’s finances are well managed and accurate in all material respects. An unmodified opinion means there were no adjustments made, no material weaknesses found, and no management letter issued.
As WSBA treasurer, I believe this gives us a high degree of confidence in the Bar’s financial integrity. It shows that the data we report on our financial statements is true and accurate, which indicates we are being responsible stewards of membership dollars. It is important that we do this to ensure adequate internal controls for the organization, and that member license fee revenue is being spent accurately and prudently.
When presenting the audit findings to the WSBA Board of Governors, Certified Public Accountant Mitchell Hansen noted that the WSBA received no audit adjustments in its report when “the average number of adjustments we identify is three to four …” for nonprofit organizations. “To have none is a good indicator of the quality of the systems and people you have here,” he added.