May 2011 - Building a Better Bar-Increased Diversity at Lower Cost
by John Hueston
The legal economy is always slow to follow general economic trends. This year is no exception. Improvement in the national economy has yet to meaningfully inspire the Orange County legal market. Still mired in the worst legal market in generations, many attorneys are tempted to drop bar memberships and related activities even though they are often gateways to new work opportunities. As an initial step, the OCBA has responded by slashing dues for government and non-profit attorneys and by moving forward with plans to acquire a larger and less expensive facility which will result in price breaks for the rest of the OCBA membership.
Government and nonprofit lawyers are experiencing pay freezes and the elimination of positions, particularly those employed by agencies that have relied on state and local government budgets. Last year, severe budget cuts forced the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office to eliminate full OCBA membership subsidies they had historically provided for their attorneys. Predictably, membership of attorneys from two of our “largest law firms” plunged to less than ten percent of 2010 levels.
Separately, many of our other constituents depend on the OCBA to provide quality continuing legal education at reasonable cost. The cost of individual CLE programs, in turn, largely reflect fees charged by hotels and other institutions to rent large rooms for planned events.
The OCBA has made substantial progress in its 2011 goal of increasing access to the bar. First, the OCBA in March voted to reduce annual membership fees from $195 to a maximum of $95 for government and nonprofit attorneys. We acted to reduce fees after the District Attorney and the Public Defender both committed to meet our reductions in dues with an increased effort to encourage membership and to find creative ways to provide financial support for their attorneys.
But our effort to increase access to the bar does not end with our reduction of fees for most government and nonprofit attorneys. District Attorney Tony Raukaukas and Public Defender Deborah Kwast have already committed to actively recruit new OCBA members at their respective offices. In return, the OCBA will send small groups of board members to each office to engage with government attorneys and discuss recruitment of government attorneys to serve on OCBA committees and programs specially tailored to their needs.
Our second major initiative to bring the benefits of the OCBA at lower cost involves leasing or buying a new facility that will host section, CLE, and other meeting events at a fraction of current costs. Our current offices lack both a large meeting space and facilities to accommodate catering services. However, the commercial real estate market now offers the OCBA an opportunity to buy or lease much larger facilities at or below its current monthly lease rates.
The OCBA Facilities Task Force (Todd Friedland, John Hurlbut, Dimetria Jackson, Stuart Jasper, Kyle Kawakami, Richard Millar, Teresa McQueen, Kiran Sharma, and myself) has been meeting for several months to define new building needs, to test the market for availability of inventory to meet our defined space and budget requirements, and to choose a creative broker to locate a suitable property. To date, the Task Force has outlined space and facilities needs to accommodate section meetings, CLE programs and various programming events normally held at hotels or other venues with significant rental costs. The new OCBA building will have at least one large meeting room that may be reserved by OCBA committees and sections at no cost. The new building will also offer at least one smaller conference room, accommodate caterers and provide overflow event parking at little or no cost. The Task Force has negotiated an engagement with Jones Lang LaSalle, a firm that has already provided us with several potential properties that meet our guidelines. We have challenged the Jones Lang LaSalle firm to locate additional potential properties over the next several months with a central Orange County location.
These two initiatives represent our first steps to address economic issues facing our members. Please continue to contact me with your creative ideas for change.
John Hueston is 2011 President of the Orange County Bar Association and a partner with Irell & Manella LLP specializing in white collar criminal defense and business trials. He can be reached at email@example.com.