State Bar Board Update • June 2024

Board approves budget, 10% dues increase to support bar’s financial security

Above from left: Chair-elect Paul K. Stafford; League City attorney Melody Poole receives a resolution for exceptional service to the legal profession from State Bar of Texas President Cindy Tisdale. Photos by Patricia Busa McConnico

Written by Lowell Brown

The State Bar of Texas board of directors held its quarterly meeting April 19 in Galveston. Highlights of the meeting appear below. Watch video of the meeting and read the agenda and meeting materials at texasbar.com/board.

Proposed budget and dues increase

The board voted to submit the bar’s proposed 2024-2025 fiscal year budget to the Supreme Court of Texas for consideration. Directors also approved a 10% increase in membership dues to be effective for the 2025-2026 bar year. If approved by the Supreme Court, it would be the first increase in bar dues rates since 1991.

Annual dues rates would be adjusted as follows, effective June 1, 2025:

1. Licensed less than 3 years: $68 to $74 ($6 increase)

2. Licensed 3-5 years: $148 to $162 ($14 increase)

3. Licensed more than 5 years: $235 to $258 ($23 increase)

4. Inactive: $50 to $55 ($5 increase)

5. Emeritus (age 70 or older): $0 (no change)

The State Bar’s budgeted operating expenditures are increasing faster than its budgeted operating revenues due to inflation, resulting in budgeted deficits that started in fiscal year 2023, officials explained. The State Bar is serving more lawyers each year, including an increasing number who are reaching emeritus status at age 70, meaning they no longer pay dues. The bar has reserves to cover short-term deficits but is seeking a dues increase to begin addressing its long-term financial needs.

“The fact that the State Bar has not had to ask members for a dues increase in 33 years is a clear indication of the overall culture of the organization,” State Bar President-elect Steve Benesh, who chairs the board’s Budget Committee, told directors. “The leadership truly cares about keeping costs low and providing outstanding services at the same time. But when financial trends are projecting significant deficits, it’s time to consider—finally—a dues increase.”

The State Bar Act allows the bar to increase dues rates by up to 10% every six years with approval from the board and the Supreme Court. For any dues increase greater than 10% or more frequent than six years, a vote of the membership is required.

The Budget Committee estimates that the bar will need an additional dues increase by fiscal year 2026-2027 to address its long-term needs. The board voted to ask the committee to develop a recommendation on “the amount, timing, and necessity” of a referendum for an additional dues increase.

AI task force update

The Taskforce for Responsible AI in the Law invited stakeholders from across the legal community to a summit February 26 in Austin, State Bar President Cindy Tisdale told the board. The summit included sessions on issues including the ethical use of AI, addressing AI through legal education, cybersecurity and privacy concerns, use of AI in the courtroom, and AI and access to justice.

Also, the task force has requested an opinion from the Professional Ethics Committee for the State of Texas to provide ethical guidance for Texas lawyers on the responsible use of AI in their practices, Tisdale said.

BetterHelp member benefit

Tisdale announced the bar’s latest member benefit: access to one month of free online mental health therapy through BetterHelp and a 15% discount on BetterHelp services after the initial month. The benefit will complement the work of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program and will support lawyer well-being by providing bar members additional resources to help maintain their fitness to practice law, Tisdale said. Go to texasbar.com/betterhelp to access the discount code and get matched with a licensed therapist.

New board chair-elect

Directors elected Paul K. Stafford chair of the board for the 2024-2025 bar year. Stafford, of Stafford Moore in Dallas, was elected in 2022 to serve as a director representing District 6, Place 5.

New at-large director

The board approved Tisdale’s appointment of Caren Lock, of Lewisville, as an at-large director. Lock, regional vice president and associate general counsel for TIAA, will serve a three-year term starting in June.

Recognitions

The board passed a resolution honoring League City attorney Melody Poole for exceptional service to the legal profession. Executive Director Trey Apffel presented the quarterly Staff Excellence Award to in-house legal counsel Amanda Engle.

Looking ahead

The next board meetings are scheduled for June 19-20 in Dallas. Comments can be emailed to boardofdirectors@texasbar.com. To find your district directors, go to texasbar.com/board and click on “Board Members.”

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