BY DANIEL D. CLARK
WSBA Financial Update & Ongoing Projects
As we start the first months of calendar year 2023 and enter the second quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2023, I want to provide you with a quick financial update and also the FY 23 Strategic Goals and Priorities that the Board of Governors adopted at the January 2023 Board meeting. Both represent very exciting news for all of us as WSBA members!
The WSBA operates on a fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30. As many of you know, I previously served as the two-time WSBA treasurer during the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, and have been on the Board of Governors since July 2017. During that time, the Board has implemented, in collaboration with the executive director(s) of the organization, several cost-saving measures that I believe were and are fiscally prudent and advantageous to our organization and our members. Despite record inflation and rapid cost increases, the WSBA has been able to do remarkably well financially as an organization. The WSBA is in a much better financial position now than it was five years ago as illustrated by this chart:
Ultimately, one of the biggest changes that has affected financial performance during the last five years has been the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 forced the WSBA to embrace virtual meetings and generally change the way it operated due to mandatory lockdowns and social distancing. While I know a lot of people would argue that virtual meetings have cost the WSBA and the Board of Governors a lot in terms of establishing and improving relationships and have somewhat harmed the volunteer experience, there is no escaping the financial reality that when we look at the overall costs of operations through most of FY 20 and FY 21, we have seen a massive financial benefit to our Bar. These savings continued in FY 22. As we are into the second quarter of FY 23, it’s too soon to see what this year will be like in terms of financial performance. I suspect the more that we want to open up and return to in-person meetings, functions, and events, we will see significant increases in expenses in doing so. There will be a time that the WSBA will need to use the reserves that we have built up to keep up with increasing costs without raising the license fee. However, at least for now, one of the benefits of such prudent financial management is that we have not had to raise member license fees through 2024 even with record inflation.
Commitment to Maintaining Member License Fees
In 2012, the WSBA had a license fee referendum. The fee for active lawyers in 2012 was $450. The membership voted via the referendum process, which is authorized in our bylaws, to lower the license fees from $450 to $325. The result of that referendum was that the WSBA was forced to cut several programs and services that it provided as part of its mission. The license fee over the years has increased due to prior Boards and WSBA staff realizing that in order for the WSBA to carry out its mission statement in a robust fashion, there needed to be additional revenue generated from license fees. Currently the license fee through 2024 is $458. It is remarkable that the WSBA has been able to keep license fees at such a flat rate for the last decade.
Prior Board members that I served with as the District 4 governor and WSBA treasurer made the public commitment to not raise license fees through the end of 2026. This is a commitment that I have taken very seriously during my time of service on the Board. Given our financial forecast, it is my strong opinion that the current Board of Governors should continue this commitment to our membership and not increase WSBA license fees. The reality though is that the WSBA, like everyone else, is facing record ongoing inflation. With this inflation, continued robust salary and benefit increases for WSBA staff, increased new programs and services that governors and staff want to introduce, and potentially opening new satellite offices throughout the state, all of these things take significant financial resources. It will be up to the FY 23 Board and future Boards to determine if this commitment is one that they want to follow through on, or to change. Obviously, at some point the WSBA will have to increase its license fees due to increased expenses and expanded programs.
If you have thoughts about license fees or new or existing WSBA programs, I highly encourage you to contact your district governor and at-large governors, and myself and make your thoughts known. You may also contact email@example.com to provide written input to the Board.
FY 23 Board of Governors’ Priorities So Far
During my six years of service on the Board of Governors, the Board never adopted annual priorities until this year. As WSBA president, working collaboratively with Executive Director Terra Nevitt, we agreed it would be very helpful for both of us to have the Board of Governors adopt several priorities for the year that WSBA staff and the Board could start to work towards accomplishing. The Board met on Oct. 22, 2022, and identified several high-level goals for the rest of FY 23. Some of these goals may not ultimately be accomplished in FY 23, but the rationale and hope is that it will then provide the FY 24 Board of Governors with some ongoing goals which they may wish to continue and prioritize. It will also hopefully assist WSBA staff and the Board when planning for the FY 24 budget process.
The Board to date has adopted five goals, with a potential sixth goal of member wellness being discussed later
this year. The five strategic priority goals that the Board adopted were the
1. Increasing Member Engagement in the WSBA’s Volunteer Community: To create a more member-engaged Bar Association.
2. Program Review: To develop, implement, and institutionalize a process that will enable the Board to understand and identify what WSBA programs will be reviewed, how effective the programs are at achieving the goals and mission, and whether or not anything needs to change.
3. Rural Practice: To support the work of the Small Town and Rural (STAR) Committee in implementing solutions to increase rural practice participation in Washington state.
4. Strategic Plan for WSBA Space: To determine options for locating the WSBA offices upon expiration of the current lease, and to generate a decision about which of the options to pursue.
5. Increase the WSBA’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Improve the profession of law and the legal system in Washington. Increase the number of lawyers from diverse backgrounds joyfully participating and thriving in the WSBA. Decrease the demographic gap in access to legal services and access to justice. Increase Board funding for DEI training. Build systems for measuring the success of our DEI efforts.
I believe our current Board of Governors is doing a fantastic job representing each of your interests. There are many current and/or ongoing potential new projects that the Board may look to adopt later in FY 23 and/or into FY 24. As I have said during my year as WSBA president, I highly encourage each of you to strongly consider volunteering at the WSBA. It’s your bar association and in order for the WSBA to be able to carry out its mission, we need members to step up and volunteer. At a minimum, I highly encourage you to get out and be sure to vote in upcoming Board elections! This is our association’s form of representational democracy. As always, it remains a tremendous honor to serve as your FY 23 Bar president.