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State Bar of California
It Should Balance Fee Increases With Other Actions to Raise Revenue and Decrease Costs

Report Number: 2018-030

April 30, 2019

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

As Chapter 659, Statutes of 2018 requires, the California State Auditor presents this audit report regarding the State Bar of California (State Bar).

This report concludes that State Bar should balance its need for fee increases with other actions to raise revenue and decrease costs. We evaluated State Bar’s proposed fee increases and determined that the amounts were higher than necessary for 2020. State Bar’s proposal would increase active attorneys’ mandatory fees from $383 in 2019 to $813 in 2020. However, we found costs that could be reduced or delayed and recommend total annual fees in 2020 of $525 for each active licensee instead. For example, State Bar included in its calculations a plan to hire 58 new staff members to reduce its backlog of cases involving attorney misconduct. However, certain changes State Bar implemented from 2017 through early 2019 to improve its discipline process may decrease the number of employees it needs. Thus, we recommend an initial increase of only 19 new staff members in 2020. We also recommend reductions to the fee amounts proposed by State Bar to fund specific programs and projects, such as capital improvements and information technology projects, because some projects and improvements are unnecessary at this time or too early in the planning phase to justify immediate funding.

Furthermore, to potentially offset future fee increases, we found that State Bar could increase the revenue it receives from leasing space in the building it owns in San Francisco. State Bar should also continue to implement performance measures that have the potential to increase efficiency and decrease costs. Finally, we recommend that the Legislature adopt a multiyear fee-approval cycle that will allow State Bar to better engage in its own fiscal planning and still maintain the Legislature’s necessary oversight. Specifically, we suggest a three-year fee-approval cycle that includes fee reviews and a fee cap. As part of a fee review, State Bar would need to demonstrate that it is performing its key functions effectively and justify any proposed fee increases.

Respectfully submitted,

California State Auditor

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