Active California lawyers would pay $535 in annual licensing fees next year under reworked legislation expected to be voted on by the state Senate during the final week of May.
The fee amount, included in amendments to the annual fee bill, SB 176, hews closely to recommendations made in an April report by state Auditor Elaine Howle, who found that the state bar’s original proposed bill of more than $800 was too high.
The revised bill language, if approved by the full Legislature, would charge inactive members $149 in 2020. Currently, active members of the bar pay $383 in annual fees.
“We are satisfied that the fee bill reflects a much-needed increase for the State Bar, after two decades of a static licensing fee,” Leah Wilson, the state bar’s executive director, said in a prepared statement. “We hope that the Legislature proceeds with this increase while also acknowledging the rest of the state Auditor’s recommendations—that a new, more stable and predictable fee-setting approach, one which allows for supported increases over reasonable time increments, is needed.”
The $535 bill for lawyers includes a $460 fee authorized by SB 176. That charge comprises a $379 base fee, an extra $40 for an account that aids victims of attorney misconduct, $22 for technology projects, $16 for bar capital improvements and $3 to beef up reserves. Add on existing statutorily mandated charges for the bar’s discipline work, the victims fund and a program that helps lawyers and law students with mental health and substance abuse issues, and the total comes to $535.
SB 176 would also provide a 25% fee discount to licensees with gross annual incomes of less than $60,478. The current discount threshold is $40,000.
Separate legislation that would have made mandatory a $40 fee for legal aid programs that’s currently optional for bar members was shelved by its author, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, earlier this week.
The bar had originally sought significantly more money in the 2020 bill for construction projects and to increase its reserves, but the auditor found those requests unwarranted.
The amended bill is expected to pass easily in the Senate, where it’s author, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, chairs the Judiciary Committee.
Its fate, at least in its current form, is less certain in the Assembly. Members in that house in recent years have been more critical of the bar’s operations, the lack of diversity among California bar members and historically low pass rates on bar exams.