The State of the Association

By James Dimos, Immediate Past President

Each year, the President of the ISBA reports to the House of Delegates on the past year and the general state of the Association. The following is a synopsis of my remarks to the House on Friday, Oct. 10.

It is my pleasure to report to you that the state of the Indiana State Bar Association is sound.

At the end of the Fiscal Year, the Association’s unrestricted net assets declined by $25,091. This is not a surprise as our Association uses what I will call the “youth soccer uniform” approach to finance. When I had the opportunity to serve as President of a local youth soccer club, we would suggest to parents that when they bought uniforms that they buy them thinking about a three year cycle. In year one, the uniform would be too big. In year two, it would fit just right. And, in year three, it would be too tight and ready to be replaced.

The primary source of revenue for the ISBA is dues. In fact, dues revenue makes up more than 65 percent of our revenues. Dues were last raised effective July 1, 2010. As a result, we have had four dues cycles since our last dues increase and since one is not before the House at this session, it will be at least five. However, expenses continue to increase. We are not immune to inflation. In addition, so that we could provide a better member experience, the Board authorized the hiring of two new staff members. With these additions, the Association still maintains one of the highest volunteer to staff ratios among voluntary bar associations in the United States.

In order to consider the impact of the increase in costs, the Board authorized a special committee on Revenue Enhancement that will look at all aspects of our current revenue stream as well as potential non-dues revenue options.

While this analysis occurs, we should take comfort that through sound financial management; our unrestricted reserve exceeds $1,700,000. Another piece to this financial puzzle is the question of whether those reserves are enough, too much, or about right. The Board asked both the Budget and Investment committees to consider and recommend to the BOG what is the appropriate level of reserves for the Association as we need to strike the appropriate balance between the sense of safety in a large reserve and being careful stewards of the resources you have entrusted to us.

As a dues driven organization that relies on lawyers volunteering to pay those dues, membership is a topic that the Association must continually address. It is comforting that 81 percent of lawyers who reside in Indiana are members of the ISBA and 61 percent of all lawyers who hold an Indiana law license are members. These are outstanding numbers and a testament to the hard work of our staff and the commitment of Indiana lawyers to their profession.

To maintain such levels of engagement, we need to provide value and opportunity to our members and be able to effectively communicate both to them.

The ISBA continues to offer 3 free hours of Ethics credit to all members. We offered 15 programs that qualified for free ethics, including 4 webinars.

We provided numerous educational and networking programs, including the Applied Professionalism Seminar, Law School for Legislators, Statewide Bench Bar Conference Butler Business Education for Lawyers Certificate Program, Health Law Symposium, Leadership Development Academy, Solo & Small Firm Conference, Women’s Bench Bar Retreat and, of course, this Annual Meeting.

We added new substantive law sections to provide lawyers with similar practices a community within our Association

As we see a decline in law school admissions, we need to be diligent in recruiting recent graduates to choose membership in the ISBA. We have developed strategies to better engage law students with the hope that they become student members and then regular members of the ISBA.

While a vast majority of lawyers in Indiana work in a solo or small firm practice setting, the large law firms in our state are also valuable supporters of our programs. We know that no matter what the size of the law firm, no law firm is immune from the changes in the profession and the economy. We developed strategies to engage lawyers in large law firms to make sure that no member feels that she is being taken for granted.

We know that there are many entities trying to reach out to lawyers and capture their attention. This requires us to be efficient and interesting in our communications. The ISBA has a significant presence on Facebook and Twitter. I had the opportunity to serve as the first “Presidential Blogger” and it provided another channel for the ISBA to talk to its members. The highlight of our communication efforts, however, was the rollout of our new website. Our staff spent countless hours in bringing the website to life. I believe you will find the site to be cleaner and more intuitive and I hope you take the opportunity to explore it.

We continue our efforts to speak for lawyers and the Court before the legislature and executive branch. Our members, with the able direction of Paje Felts, worked to pass legislation to improve the probate code, require ALJs to be lawyers, and fund veterans’ legal clinics. In addition, we remain diligent in advocating for merit selection and opposing a sales tax on legal services.

We have continued our efforts to make our Association a home for all lawyers in Indiana. Our Diversity Committee reviewed our efforts and provided thoughtful recommendations on how we can do better. At the Assembly Lunch, you will be introduced to our two new Governors who were included by this House to make sure that a wider range of voices are heard. Finally, the Board created our Standing Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. A home for lawyers who share an interest in such issues, we look forward to the Committee adding its voice to the chorus of our Association.

We have begun a comprehensive review of our governance structures. While the Association well run and governed, this year’s robust House agenda has shown the presence of some ambiguities and blind spots. Our Article and Bylaws committee will continue its review over the next year and we anticipate that this House will have an opportunity next year to consider a series of proposals to update our governance system.

Speaking of our Agenda today, it is exciting to see that we have a full agenda that will allow this House to discuss important issues for the profession and the Association. One resolution that is not on the agenda concerns the report of our Special Committee on HJR 3. Ably lead by Professor Joel Schumm, the Special Committee gave thoughtful consideration to the proposed constitutional amendment and presented its recommendation to oppose its enactment. However, events overtook their efforts and earlier this week, the United States Supreme Court denied cert in the Seventh Circuit cases, making same sex marriage legal in Indiana.

Recognizing the change in circumstance, the Special Committee felt it was appropriate to withdraw its resolution. On behalf of the Special Committee, I would like to share with you its explanation:

The effort to amend Indiana’s Bill of Rights to prohibit same-sex marriage appears to have come to a conclusion.  Although the federal litigation was focused on the legality of Indiana’s marriage statute, rather than the proposed constitutional amendment, the breadth of the rulings by Chief Judge Young of the U.S. District Court and Judge Posner, on behalf of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, make clear that an amendment such as proposed through HJR3 would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.  By denying the State’s petition for certiorari on October 6, the U.S. Supreme Court has ended litigation on this issue.

This year’s annual meeting is about the Rule of Law, and the Rule of Law makes the proposed resolution moot.  Governor Pence, Attorney General Zoeller, and legislative leaders have acknowledged that Indiana must follow the decisions of our federal courts on issues of federal constitutional law.  Their comments recognize that any legislative effort to amend Indiana’s Bill of Rights regarding marriage would be futile.

For these reasons, the Special Committee hereby withdraws its proposed resolution.

The Board appreciated the Special Committee’s work and had voted to support the resolution. The Board also understands the Committee’s decision to withdraw the resolution from the agenda. At the same time, the Board passed the following resolution:

The Board states that while the issue of same sex marriage at this time may be moot and therefore the Resolution has been withdrawn, this Board remains committed to speaking on behalf of those whose rights are at issue and to supporting the rule of law and the protection of those who are powerless.

I have appreciated the opportunity to serve as the Association’s President this year. It was truly a rewarding experience. The successes of the past year have been the result of the hard work and incredible talents of our fellow colleagues at the bench and bar as well as the work of our dedicated staff. Any shortcomings are mine alone and I am confident that under the leadership of Jeff Hawkins, Carol Adinamis and Mitch Heppenhimer, those shortcomings will be addressed and our new challenges will be tackled successfully. Over the year, many of you reached out with kind words of support and encouragement. Knowing that our members care about the Association and were there to help was the greatest experience of my term. Thank you for your trust and confidence.

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