The Cost of Practicing Law in Missouri

As all of you know, Missouri is a mandatory bar state: You have to pay to play. If you do not belong to The Missouri Bar, or if you have not been admitted pro hac vice, you cannot practice law in the state of Missouri.

For the year 2014, the annual enrollment fee to practice law will be increased by $75 to address the increasing costs of operating The Missouri Bar. In addition, in early November, the Supreme Court of Missouri announced that it is assessing a new “Low Income Legal Services Fee” in the amount of $30 for each member of The Missouri Bar. As a result, the overall increase in the cost of practicing law in the state of Missouri (for lawyers who have practiced more than three years) will be $105.

Many of you have asked a number of questions concerning the Supreme Court’s new $30 “Low Income Legal Services Fee” that was announced recently. Hopefully the following background of how this fee was implemented will answer most of your questions. If not, please contact me or The Missouri Bar’s Executive Director, Sebrina Barrett, with any additional questions you may have.

The Court’s new fee is completely separate from the “Bar Fee” portion of the Annual Enrollment Fee all attorneys pay. (See the Supreme Court’s order concerning the fee here: http://www.courts.mo.gov/sup/index.nsf/d45a7635d4bfdb8f8625662000632638/e6f6479177adbc3386257c1d005644fb?OpenDocument).

The Annual Enrollment Fee is actually comprised of three separate fees. The first fee supports the operational costs of The Missouri Bar (known as the “Bar Fee”), the second fee supports the operational costs of the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (known as the “Advisory Committee Fee”), and the third fee is the new “Low Income Legal Services Fee” of $30 (Categories 1, 2 and 3) imposed by the Supreme Court in their order of last week. This new fee is in addition to the $20 of the Bar Fee (for Category 1 and 2 attorneys) which is earmarked solely for Legal Services and not for the operational costs of The Missouri Bar.

Beginning in 2014, for every dollar a member pays in enrollment fees, 63 cents will go toward the operation of The Missouri Bar, 25 cents will support the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, and 12 cents will go to Legal Services. Of the 12 cents of each dollar that goes to Legal Services, 40 percent (that is, the $20 that all members have been assessed since 2003 as part of their Bar Fee) is passed through The Missouri Bar and paid to Legal Services, and 60 percent (the new “Low Income Legal Services Fee”) will be collected by the Supreme Court and paid to the statutory basic civil legal services fund and then will be distributed to Legal Services.

As many of you are aware, rather than seeking annual adjustments in the Bar Fee, The Missouri Bar strives to stretch our revenues as long as possible. For example, the new Bar Fee for 2014 is just the third increase in 25 years. Dues were last increased in 2008.

The process The Missouri Bar must follow when setting the Bar Fee is outlined in Supreme Court Rule 6.01(j) and includes a process of publicizing to members the Board of Governor’s recommended fee, an ability for members to speak at a Board of Governor’s meeting concerning the proposed fee, a second vote of the Board of Governor’s setting the fee and the Supreme Court’s approval of the fee in whole or part.

There is a separate process for the “Advisory Committee Fee” which supports the OCDC.

The new order (see the web address above) states that the Court shall fix the new Low Income Legal Services Fee by court order.

Deciding when to increase the Bar Fee and by how much requires a lengthy analysis and is a process that the professional staff and the Board of Governors take very seriously. We began working on a Bar Fee increase 18 months ago. Unfortunately, The Missouri Bar is not a profit-generating business. The non-dues income we generate, which is mostly from CLE, barely covers the cost of providing those services. The numerous other services we provide our members are paid for by the annual fees of our members and, again, we try to only ask for a dues increase once every several years.

In early June we advised the Supreme Court that we had almost completed our financial analysis, and that we were going to recommend a $75 Bar Fee increase for approval by the Board of Governors at our July meeting.

In early July, shortly before the full Board of Governors considered the $75 increase, the Supreme Court asked us to consider adding an additional $30 to the recommended $75 “Bar Fee,” for a total increase of $105. The additional $30 was to be earmarked specifically for Legal Services. The Court’s request was discussed at length at the Board of Governors’ July meeting, but eventually the Board decided not to add the additional $30 fee to its “Bar Fee” request. Indeed, after much discussion a motion to add the additional $30 fee was not made at the July meeting.

As some of you will recall, The Missouri Bar has always strongly supported legal aid, assessing the $20 fee and allocating those funds to Legal Services since 2003. That initial $20 fee was approved by the Board of Governors and agreed to by the Supreme Court as part of a deal that was reached with the Missouri legislature. We agreed to implement the $20 fee in exchange for the legislature agreeing to pass legislation increasing court costs, which would also help Legal Services.

In 2012, the Bar’s support of Legal Services amounted to $804,816 and was generated from two sources – the $20 fee from Category 1 and 2 attorneys and pro hac vice fees. Our total budget is approximately $10 million, meaning the amount dispersed to Legal Services is nearly 10 percent of our budget. While this is a substantial amount, unfortunately, as we all know there will never be enough money to serve all of the legal needs of the poor. And there is no doubt the economic downturn increased the demand for legal aid services, but it also decreased the income many of you have available to support it.

Even though the Board of Governors decided not to add the additional $30 to its requested fee increase, the members were aware of the poverty statistics that the Supreme Court cites in its order assessing the new low income fee of $30. We decided to appoint a special committee of lawyers from across the state that would assess the legal needs of the poor in all parts of the state and make recommendations as to how to increase the number of low-income Missourians who could be provided legal aid. Certainly, the option of increasing the fees lawyers pay to support legal services was something the committee might have recommended.

We informed the Court of our plan and were in the process of putting the committee together when the Court decided that additional funds were needed now to address the legal needs of Missouri’s poor.

Again, if you have further questions, please contact me. I am always glad to visit with you on this or any issue.