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The State Bar of Texas is about to take stock of the programs and services it provides and where they should be housed. The Bar’s board of directors has authorized the staff to contract with a property management consultant to assess how the six-story, 42,696-square-foot Texas Law Center in Austin is being used and whether its space could be put to better use. “We’re at capacity,” says Tony Alvarado, the Bar’s executive director. Bar spokeswoman Kimberly Schmitt says that two meeting rooms on the law center’s second floor are being used for staff offices. Completed in 1976, the law center has a prime location adjacent to the Capitol Complex. While a majority of the Bar’s 294 employees work in the law center, Schmitt says that three programs — the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation and the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel — are housed in other buildings. Schmitt says the chief disciplinary counsel also has regional offices in Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio and field offices in Corpus Christi, El Paso, Harlingen, Midland and Tyler. Renting space for its programs in Austin and around the state costs the Bar more than $850,000 a year, Alvarado says. Alvarado says the Bar’s staff has done as much as it can to determine what should be done about space needs. “Now, we’re calling on outside help and expertise to advise us what makes more sense,” he says. But before the Bar goes to the expense of reconfiguring its building, all the possibilities should be examined, Alvarado says. “I think we need to put everything on the table and see what is the highest and best use of the Texas Law Center.” Bar board chairman Vidal Martinez, a partner in the Houston office of Winstead Sechrest & Minick, says the agency should examine whether to move some of its programs to other buildings. “There is some thought that we don’t need to have the working operations of the Bar sitting there a block away from the Capitol on probably one of the most expensive pieces of property in the state,” Martinez says. “We do not need a bunch of space to push paper.” Martinez says it might be better to lease some space in the law center to other trade associations interested in being close to the Capitol. That would help raise revenue for the Bar, he says. “The Bar is now in the third year of hitting its fund balance to cover operating deficits,” Martinez says. “The fund balance is over $6 million; it was almost $9 million a few years ago. We can’t keep hitting that fund balance.” Martinez says some real estate developers have indicated a willingness to build a conference center somewhere else in Austin — “out by the airport, maybe” — that the Bar could use for conferences and continuing education programs. A conference center near the airport would be more convenient for lawyers who have to travel to Austin for conferences or CLE sessions and would eliminate the cost for meeting rooms at hotels, he says. “That’s an idea,” Martinez says. “It’s only in the preliminary thought stages.” Alvarado says three entities — the Texas Center for the Judiciary, Texas Bar Foundation and Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism — lease space in the law center. The challenge is to determine what Bar programs should be housed in the facility, Alvarado says, adding, “I don’t think we can make the leap that the use of the law center will be changed.” Alvarado says that whatever decision the Bar leadership makes regarding the use of the center will be based on how the agency can do a better job of serving the public and the membership. “This is not about bricks and mortar.” Although an agreement has not been reached with a consulting firm, Alvarado says he’s hopeful that the assessment can be done at no cost to the Bar. ATTENDANCE DOWN Attendance at the Bar’s annual meeting last month was the lowest it has been in a decade, according to figures provided by Schmitt. Schmitt says that 2,063 people registered for the 2001 convention, which was in Austin. Of that number, 1,294 registered as attorneys, she says. However, Schmitt says 349 registrants failed to list whether they were attorneys or nonattorneys. Judges, legal assistants, law students and lawyers’ spouses also register for the convention. The turnout at this year’s event fell below registration figures for the 1992 annual meeting in Corpus Christi. Total registration that year was 2,089, including 1,212 attorney registrants, Schmitt says. The 2001 registration figures also were well below those for last year’s annual meeting in San Antonio. Schmitt says the total registration for the San Antonio meeting was 3,149, including 2,528 attorneys. This year’s annual meeting drew almost 1,000 fewer registrants than the 1994 convention — the last time the Bar met in Austin. Schmitt says that 3,034 people registered in 1994, and 2,048 of them were attorneys. One possible reason for the low turnout this year was the timing of the convention. The meeting concluded on June 16, the day before Father’s Day. Alvarado says he won’t know whether the Bar will make or lose money on this year’s meeting until it closes the books on the event. But, he adds, “I feel cautiously optimistic.” The planning committee for the Austin meeting did “a fantastic job” at holding down the costs, Alvarado says. The 2002 annual meeting will be held in Dallas.

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