|Oregon State Bar Bulletin AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2010|
In the interview for my “inaugural” president’s article this past January, I outlined the board’s priorities for the year, including changing the way we make our legal publications available to members. If you haven’t already heard: Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, all active Oregon State Bar members will have full access to the BarBooks online library without a subscription fee. And we’re not raising your bar fees to do it. This is the culmination of years of discussion and research by the Board of Governors, as well as other bar groups and individual members. I am taking this opportunity to let you know more about the BarBooks decision as well as some other big ideas we have in development.
Coming Soon: BarBooks for All
At its planning retreat in 2003, the board (with an entirely different composition than the current one) decided to create an electronic version of our legal publications library. The library contains 48 titles, ranging from 100-page booklets to five-volume treatises, from A (Administering Oregon Estates) to W (Workers’ Compensation). The books are distinguished from those of national publishers because they are Oregon-specific, written by Oregon practitioners. The goal at the time was to make an already popular and valued product more useful and readily available to Oregon practitioners.
From the beginning the benefits of online access were clear, but the question of how to pay for it was the source of considerable debate. The board considered various models, surveyed the membership and took its idea to the bar’s House of Delegates. The house considered the issue every year from 2004 to 2006, including a recommendation to create a task force for further review. Ultimately the task force recommended, and the board adopted, a subscription model with a tiered pricing structure based on firm size. It was a compromise that allowed the bar to move forward but left many bar members dissatisfied.
I was sworn in as a new board member in 2006, the final year of preparation before the BarBooks library was launched. Since that time we have heard repeated complaints about the cost and pricing structure of BarBooks. With years of collective member feedback on the issue, the board decided to act. Our decision was informed not only by history but also the current economic climate and its impact on law practice in Oregon. In particular, we have been focused on how to help the large number of new lawyers setting up in solo practice, as well as an increase in experienced lawyers now entering solo practice. These members, who stand to benefit the most from access to BarBooks, are in many cases the least able to afford it. By opening access to all practitioners as a member benefit we help not only lawyers but the clients they serve, improving the practice of law to the benefit of the bar and the public.
Our decision made, the next task was figuring out how to fund BarBooks without collecting subscriptions. We decided early on that asking for a member fee increase was not an option. Instead, we set out to see what we could carve out of our existing budget. We began examining everything that the bar does to ensure we are focused on services that best meet the needs of our members and that we provide those services in a way that makes the most efficient use of bar resources. We have already identified nearly $200,000 in annual cost savings through staffing adjustments and reductions in direct costs, such as paper, printing and postage. Because many of the ideas may take time to come to fruition, we also asked the Professional Liability Fund Board of Directors to assist us in achieving our goal. After much consideration and debate, they were convinced that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to embrace a loss prevention measure with the potential to lower the number and severity of future legal malpractice claims. We thank the PLF board for their support in making a $600,000 grant to the bar to help fund the BarBooks project during a three-year transition period. With those dollars and with judicious use of a portion of the bar’s reserves, we will be able to make our goal a reality, come Jan. 1.
Sustainability Continues to Guide Us
Some of the savings we have identified further an additional goal: sustainability. In 2009 the board adopted the following bylaw:
The bar supports the goal of sustainability, generally defined as meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Because bar operations and the practice of law impact the environment and society generally, the bar will be cognizant of sustainability in its internal operating practices as well as in its service to members.
At the time we redoubled our efforts to reduce waste, starting at the board level. We reduced board travel and transitioned to electronic distribution of our lengthy meeting agendas. Now we plan to go further, first with areas where sustainable practices also save money or offer other benefits. As an example, in 2010 we will send all fee notices by e-mail.
We also plan to replace the printed membership directory with a desk-book publication containing the “blue pages” from the current directory, which will be mailed to all members packaged with a regular edition of the bar Bulletin. We are still considering possible print options for those of you who rely on the paper “white pages” listings for locating bar members. We hope, however, that most of you have already recognized and come to appreciate the advantages of the online directory, which is updated every business day. If you haven’t switched to the online directory yet, please check it out at www.osbar.org, and let us know what we can do to improve it.
We continue to explore ways to give members flexibility in how they receive communications from the OSB. Members can log in to our site at www.osbar.org to customize communication preferences, such as what you would like to have delivered via mail versus e-mail. While some items will remain primarily print products (e.g., the Bulletin), we are moving more items toward a default e-mail policy, which saves money, supports our sustainability goals and is increasingly cited as the more convenient choice for members. If you have not logged on to customize your own preferences, note that it’s about a five-minute process that gives you considerable control over how we communicate with you.
Program Changes Under
As the board assesses each program, we are guided by a cost/benefit approach to our analysis. One example has been a look at our Leadership College, which brings in a select group of highly talented lawyers each year for intensive work in leadership, mentoring and futures planning. The program is highly regarded by senior leadership and “faculty” members, and by the participants in the trainings. It does, however, directly impact just a small fraction of our membership. We continue to look at the costs and benefits of the program to assure that those resources are being put to their best possible use.
Another area of interest is the way in which we fund our Lawyer Referral Service, which is the most active and visible service we provide to the public. Although the service collects registration fees from lawyer panelists, it has been largely supported by general membership fees since its inception in the 1970s. There are numerous models that exist around the country for how to offer this public service in the most efficient and effective manner possible. We are exploring whether our current approach remains the most effective use of member fees, or if another approach might better serve the bar, the referral panelists and the public. That assessment is in early stages and is some distance away from arriving at any solid conclusion.
Similarly in early stages but garnering enthusiastic support from many corners is a change to how new bar members transition from law student to practitioner. With the active cooperation and support of Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, we have appointed a task force to develop and propose a first-year mentoring program based on models currently operating in Utah and Georgia. These programs require new bar members to complete a set of professional and practical skills objectives in their first year under the guidance of an experienced mentor. These programs go beyond substantive law training to include ethics, professionalism and the practical aspects of law practice. While our system tends toward the “slow and cautious” approach to big change, the enthusiasm for moving quickly on this one is strong.
This column touches on just a few of the issues being explored by the board. We will continue our detailed review of all bar programs and services into 2011. It is a large and labor-intensive process, but certainly a worthy endeavor for any large organization to undertake periodically to assure the most prudent use of resources.
Your feedback, as always, is appreciated. We have received many suggestions and comments, both positive and negative, and welcome them all. We don’t expect every decision to be popular, and we know that change can be difficult. Your board members are a hard-working and committed group of volunteers. It is my honor and privilege to work with them to best serve you, our members and the public we all serve.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kathleen A. Evans, the 2010 Oregon State Bar president, is a Salem attorney, focusing her practice on estate planning and administration and business planning. Feedback to this article and the topics mentioned are welcome by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2010 Kathleen A. Evans