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After Criticism, California Bar Tightens Its Belt in 2016 Budget

California bar membership fees were due yesterday, as most in-state lawyers are likely aware. Depending on which boxes you check, that money makes its way to philanthropic, historical, and public interest funds, and of course, to the State Bar's budget.

For the year ahead, though, the California State Bar Association will have a little less budget to work with. No, don't get too excited -- they aren't cutting your fees. But they are planning on trimming the fat by about $10 million.

Getting Ready for a Leaner Few Years

The State Bar Board of Trustees approved the 2016-2018 budget on Monday, including a 6.2 percent reduction in spending. Under the current budget, spending will drop from $155.8 million in 2015 to $146.1 million in 2016. That's a loss of 9.7 million bucks.

Where are that savings coming from? According to the bar, the new budget calls for cuts to perks like travel, catering, and "temporary help." The bar will also get rid of 21 vacant positions. According to the bar, the new budget shows "that the State Bar is committed to transparency, accountability excellence and financial responsibility."

It's Not All About Saving

Others might disagree about the State Bar's fiscal transparency and responsibility. An investigation into the bar by the California State Auditor last summer found that the bar had failed to use its funds responsibly. Though the audit largely focused on shortcomings in the bar's attorney discipline system, it also highlighted the "questionable financial decisions" behind the renovation of the bar's Los Angeles offices. According to the report:

Rather than using its financial resources to improve its attorney discipline system, the State Bar dedicated a significant portion of its funds to purchase and renovate a building in Los Angeles in 2012. Although the Legislature approved $10.3 million for this building, the State Bar ultimately spent approximately $76.6 million on it.

Some of that $66.3 million overrun was covered by using funds originally budgeted for more pressing needs, like IT upgrades.

Will the bar repeat the same mistake this year? The 2016 budget authorizes the bar to borrow up to $10 million to revamp its very ugly San Francisco headquarters.

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