Midyear Meeting

ABA dues hike averaging 13 percent is approved

After eight years without a dues increase, the ABA will hike the cost of individual membership by about 13 percent, on average, for most members.

The ABA House of Delegates approved the increase by voice vote Monday. There were only a few no votes. Those admitted to the bar less than a year will pay nothing under the new schedule, but most other lawyers will pay annual dues ranging from $140 to $449.

The price of individual membership is lower for government and legal-services lawyers, solos and judges. In that group, lawyers who are admitted to the bar for at least a year will pay annual dues ranging from $115 to $255. Dues for those experiencing financial hardship will remain the same at $50.

The changes take effect in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to Resolution 177C, which outlined the dues increase proposal. For the next three years after that, dues will rise to reflect the increase in the cost of living, unless the ABA Board of Governors intervenes to reduce or eliminate the COLA.

The 13 percent hike is less than inflation over the last eight years, according to a report accompanying the resolution. The increase “ranks well below the average increase of past dues increases,” the report says, “and comes after an interval twice the average time between dues increases” enacted between 1990 and 2007.

The Board of Governors, which recommended the increase, “very seriously considered the concern that any increase in dues may reduce paid membership,” the report says. “On the other hand, the Board also considered and weighed the equally serious concern that failing to raise dues may also hurt membership.” Without a dues increase, important ABA programs and services would be cut, the report says, carrying the possibility that members would quit because their membership would have less value to them.

The recommendation to raise dues comes after a “redoubled effort” to study and stabilize association finances, the report says. Association operating costs have been cut, producing savings of more than $17 million in the past four years. Association reserves have been recalculated and reallocated to produce an expected $9.7 million in each of the next three years to support operating expenses. And an aggressive approach to non-dues revenue is projected to yield at least $5.6 million in net new revenue over the next three years.

ABA Treasurer Lucian Pera supported the dues increase, saying it is the final piece of a four-pronged plan. The initial prongs called for cutting expenses, using reserves and increasing nondues revenue. Those first three parts of the plan have been implemented, he said.

Absent a dues increase, the ABA was expected to face a $28 million shortfall over the next three years. “This is not a traditional dues increase,” Pera said, because it will not close the entire budgetary group. Instead, it will decrease the projected shortfall to about $4 million. The rest of the shortage will have to be made up elsewhere, he said.

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