Operations, Management & Budgetary Implications
BY FRANCIS A. ADEWALE
In the past, this column provided information on the Client Protection Fund (July 2023 Bar News), Sections Fund (June 2023 Bar News), and budget preparations (April 2023 Bar News). In this edition of the Treasurer’s Report, we will examine two WSBA funds: the General Fund (GF) and the Continuing Legal Education fund (CLE Fund). I will endeavor to explain the operations and management of these funds, as well as any impact on reserves, and give an overall fiscal outlook with specific focus on budgetary and license fee implications. Much of the information provided is culled from WSBA fiscal policies, which provide the overarching structure for our financial operations.
The General Fund supports the majority of the WSBA’s work, including regulatory functions and most services to members and the public. The GF is made up of two pieces: the reserves, and the unrestricted balance. GF reserves are funded by the annual operating income of the WSBA. Use of the GF reserves is approved by the Board of Governors, usually planned as part of the annual budget, and is reflected in any annual net loss incurred by the WSBA. As WSBA fiscal policy states, “It is fiscally prudent to maintain reserves to support operations in the event that an unanticipated loss occurs. Therefore, unless recommended by the Budget & Audit Committee and approved by the Board of Governors, the total value of the General Fund Reserves shall not fall below $2 million dollars.” The unrestricted GF balance is the cumulative balance of net assets from GF operations not otherwise restricted or designated to any other fund.
It is instructive to note that license fees are the primary source of revenue that support the 38 cost centers within the GF. Examples of cost centers include: Office of Disciplinary Counsel; Diversity, Member Services & Engagement; Member Wellness Program; Legal Lunchbox; Professional Responsibility Program; Supreme Court Boards (Access to Justice, Practice of Law, Limited License Legal Technicians, etc.); and organizational management (Human Resources, Finance, Technology, etc.). The draft FY 24 GF budget is based on attorney license fees of $458, which have been set at the same rate since 2020.
Each month, the WSBA Finance Team produces a summary of the year-to-date budgeted and actual revenue, expenses, and fund balance information for each fund (General, CLE, CPF, and Sections) by cost center. This report is usually available after the 10th working day of the following month, except at year-end when the closing process is two to three months.
All WSBA members can attend the monthly Budget and Audit Committee meetings where Finance Director Tiffany Lynch presents information on the most recent monthly financial statements. For instance, at our June Committee meeting, Director Lynch presented the May 2023 financials, which represented 66 percent of the year. The statements show that WSBA finances are at a healthy positive territory of close to $1,869,961 of net result year-to-date, which is added to the unrestricted GF balance and varies based on the financial activity each month. This optimistic outlook should be tempered by the fact that we still have some major expenses outstanding in the next three months, including: the 50-year member lunch, the bar exam, August and September Board of Governors meetings, APEX and President’s Awards reception, and the Access to Justice Conference. These expenses will considerably reduce the number above, but I am hopeful that we will end up in positive territory at the end of the fiscal year, in large part due to overall lower spending and the ability to capitalize on high interest rates on our investments.
It is important to bear in mind that the unrestricted GF balance is a key factor in determining how we set license fees, which support the vast majority of WSBA operations. Over the past five years, the WSBA has not needed to use any of its unrestricted GF reserves and, in fact, has been able to add to the reserves through a combination of reduced spending and higher revenues than budgeted. This trend is expected to continue in this fiscal year.
The goal of all WSBA CLE programs is to support the mission and strategic goals of the organization. The CLE Fund consists of net income from CLE activities, and it covers net loss and extraordinary costs of CLE programs, products, and/or capital acquisitions as needed. The CLE Reserve Fund is a Board-designated fund that serves as an operating reserve in the event CLE suffers an unanticipated financial loss. The CLE reserve is funded by the annual operating income of CLE programming. Reserves may be used to cover any net loss, extraordinary costs, or technology upgrades. WSBA fiscal policy clearly stipulates that the CLE Fund shall remain a part of WSBA assets and, as such, is subject to the supervision and control of the Board of Governors.
Again, it is important to bear in mind the connection between the CLE Fund and the Sections Fund. WSBA Sections are an important partner in the delivery of CLE programs and services. The fiscal policy allows for profit-sharing between CLE and Sections for WSBA CLE programs developed in partnership with Sections (including live and on-demand products). WSBA CLE also supports Section CLE programming through a “mini-CLE” model. Mini-CLEs are seen as exclusively member-benefit programs. They do not exceed 2.0 credit hours in length (120 minutes of seminar time) and registration fees must be $35 or less (usually free to section members). For mini-CLEs, WSBA staff provide limited assistance (e.g., program accreditation, reporting, and attendance tracking) at no charge to the Section.
We all know the CLE market is dynamic; the WSBA and Sections annually review CLE revenue sharing results as set forth in the fiscal policy to ensure that CLE programming and WSBA CLE Fund reserves are sustainable.
The draft 2024 CLE Fund budget consists of three cost centers: (1) CLE Products; (2) CLE Seminars; and (3) Deskbooks.
It is my hope that the above information on the GF and CLE Fund provides clarity to members with regard to WSBA finances and budget preparation. If you have any questions or concerns you can write to the Bar News editor or send me an email at email@example.com.