If you read my last column – and I am sure everyone did – you know that I just completed fourteen years of service on the State Bar’s Committee on Mandatory Fee Arbitration. I chaired it twice and for the last four years I was the State Bar Presiding Arbitrator. One of the committee’s primary roles is to supervise MFA programs offered by over 45 local bar associations throughout the state. In my leadership role with the committee, I saw firsthand how all the other bar associations operate, the services they offer and the quality of their performance in all their areas of operation.

After fourteen years, I have come to one ineluctable conclusion about our own bar association: No other bar association in the state does it better than the Ventura County Bar Association.

A bold boast? Of course. But one that certainly can be backed up. The VCBA offers more to its members    and to the community we serve than any other local bar association of our size. We offer more than many of the associations greater than our size. And, sure, some of the largest bar associations offer more services and benefits, but none offer the high quality we offer. We are able to do this because we have dedicated members who freely volunteer their time and talents in support of the VCBA. Statistically, we have the highest percentage of member attorneys with official addresses within the county of any local bar association in the state. We have active sections and affiliates that provide so much more than the minimum. I also believe that we put on more CLE per member attorney than any other local bar association. Our VLSP, Inc. is a jewel among all other local bar programs.  

As important in attaining this degree of excellence is the vision and leadership of our Executive Director, Steve Henderson. He is the second longest serving ED/CEO among the local bar associations in the State. Steve and his staff are by far the hardest working. And Steve keeps our focus not only on doing what we do well, but also on the other things our membership and the community at large may need us to do.

But, Houston, we have a problem. We cannot continue to export our volunteers’ efforts and Steve’s  outstanding vision for our organization to the community if we do not continue to provide it with the resources it needs to operate. By this, I mean money. In case you had not noticed, the VCBA has been operating financially in the negative for the past three years. And, as a client in the manufacturing business explained to me years ago, an important economic concept about running such an organization is: “When you lose money on each sale, you cannot make up the losses with volume.” The VCBA is no different. It also cannot make up its losses with increased volume, either.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but to keep all our important and valuable VCBA programs and services in place, financially we can no longer keep things “business as usual.” As I mentioned at the annual dinner in November, my goal for the year is to get the VCBA back on sound financial footing by the end of 2013. I need your help.

Steve has given us a good start by taking a number of steps to cut expenses. These include reduced hours of operation and reduced benefits for staff. Steve and staff have done their part. Also, thanks to Dien Le’s herculean efforts organizing and finding sponsors for the annual dinner in November, our shortfall this past year was the least in three years, actually almost resulting in a break even for 2012 – almost.

Our board, and our younger attorneys, mostly our Barristers, also have stepped up to the plate and examined a number of initiatives designed to increase both membership and revenue from other sources. The most promising of these ideas, now in development and expected to be operational soon, is a volunteer mediation program, headed up by Mike Strauss, the program will call upon our local mediators who receive referrals from the VCBA to volunteer some of their time devoted to these mediations, with the proceeds going to the VLSP, Inc.

Another one of our younger members, Christina Stokholm, along with Steve, has spearheaded an  application to the State Bar for a share of the IOLTA funds collected from attorneys with official addresses within the county. If successful, that could mean a giant step toward reaching the goal.

And, some of our past initiatives are being revitalized. These include Jon Light’s efforts to collect on pledges made during prior VLSP, Inc. campaigns (and we know who you are), Tony Strauss’ efforts to  organize a new VLSP, Inc. campaign, and Don Hurley’s ongoing efforts to seek additional grant money from previously untapped sources.

Finally, our financial situation, and how we can reach our goal of a positive fiscal operation for 2013, is  one of the main agenda items for our Bar Leaders Conference on Feb. 9. We are counting upon the leadership of all of our sections and affiliates to come with new ideas for additional initiatives to help reach our economic goals.

While we expect these efforts to bear fruit, they will not be the entire solution. Now is time for each of you to do your part as members as well. We need your further involvement, and we are not picky about how you give that to us. Please look carefully at our calendar and at the fliers for upcoming events in CITATIONS. When you see that part of the proceeds of an event are being donated to VLSP, Inc., as many events this year will advertise, sign up! When Jon or Tony, or someone on their respective committees gives you a call for a VLSP, Inc. pledge, please say yes. Heck, why wait for a call? You can write a check to the VLSP, Inc. at any time you want. Just send it on to Steve. And, it is tax-deductible, too, my friends.

Finally, if you know of any of your colleagues who are not yet 2013 VCBA members, hound them mercilessly until they do join. This is very important. In 2011, 100 more members would have changed the financial performance for the year from negative to positive. And also implore them to donate to VLSP, Inc. by using the check box on the application form. What could be easier? Sound fiscal status by the end of 2013? I know we can do it, with everyone’s enthusiastic support! Please join me in realizing our goal. Thank you.

Joel Mark is the managing partner at Nordman Cormany Hair & Compton in Oxnard, where he chairs the litigation group.

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