2020 proves the old adage: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Following is a brief summary of the SJCBA’s activities for 2020.
Budget & Finances
The SJCBA started with a budget that projected revenue over $726,000 and expenses over $652,000, for a net annual revenue of $74,000. COVID-19’s ascension forced staff to work from home starting in late March, and the Court substantially curtailed its activities. To respond the SJCBA created an interim emergency budge that assumed a 50% decline in CAC revenue and a 75% decline in LRS revenue through June (in hindsight, that timeline was too optimistic). To minimize the impact on the SJCBA, all staff were furloughed one day a week, resulting in a 20% salary savings. The goal was to try and avoid dipping into the SJCBA Reserve funds.
As June ended, there was some good news and some bad news. Revenue had rebounded, and was running about 30% below original projections, but COVID-19 was going to continue to dictate the SJCBA’s operations for the foreseeable future.
Another revised budget for the balance of the year was adopted that relied on recent experience to project revenue and expenses through the end of 2020. Fortunately, Revenue for 2020 exceeded the (revised) budget projections by almost 7%, while expenses were 96.5% of budget. Rather than dip into the Reserve, it was increased from $144,000 at the end of 2019 to $223,000 at the end of 2020. The goal of the Board of Governors is to maintain a reserve equal to six (6) months of operating expenses. The SJCBA is not there yet, but it is close.
The smaller decline in net revenue, combined with furlough Fridays and decline in other expenses meant the SJCBA finished the year with net income over $66,000 instead of running in the red.
Activities & Event
The pandemic forced the cancellation of Law Day 2020. It also caused the SJCBA to scrap plans to restart the annual SJCBA Member Picnic that was a goal of Board President Armando Villapudua. All Section, Committee, and Board of Governor meetings moved to Zoom, so did the Annual Meeting. Over 80 people Zoom-attended the Annual Meeting, and it only lasted 45 minutes!
At the beginning of 2020, no one imagined that the last in-person gathering would be the New Lawyer Reception at the Bank of Stockton. For 2021, the SJCBA assumes that no in-person gathering will be advisable until after June. An in-person Law Day 2021 is planned for September and the annual meeting in November can also be in-person.
To assure continued relevance, the Board of Governors launched a Member Engagement Committee. The goal is to have a representative from each active Section participate. For 2020, the Committee launched several initiatives:
- The Presiding Judge conducted a Zoom with SJCBA members to answer their questions about Court operations during COVID-19.
- Increased social media activity via Instagram and Facebook was launched. The challenge has been getting members to “follow,” “join,” or provide content (e.g., updates about their lives or practices that they would like fellow members to know).
- Customized masks were supplied to all members as a holiday gift and to acknowledge that the SJCBA values your continued membership.
Staffing shrunk as the pandemic wore on. Two parttime employees left and were not replaced. The Finance & Accounting Manager also left. In the middle of a pandemic, when people are working from home, it is a challenge to fill such an important position. Fortunately, the Director of the Dispute Resolution Program, whose hours had dwindled to eight-hours per week and whose projects were paused, stepped up and took over. His willingness to jump in and get up-to-speed quickly helped the SJCBA avert a problem it did not need at that fragile time.
Court-Connected Services (Small Claims and Mediation)
SJCBA was enrolling people in its Mediation Training Certificate program when the Stay-at-Home order came. The curriculum had been created; trainers identified; and time, date, and location selected. As soon as in-person gatherings are allowed, look for this training to be offered again; it is free to SJCBA members.
A training is going to be needed because all court-connected Mediation was suspended until is safe to return to the Court’s small, unventilated rooms reserved for mediations. Volunteers also withdrew from the program because they feared for their safety and that of their loved ones.
The in-person Small Claims Clinics have also been postponed. As time passes, the SJCBA is exploring conducting them via Zoom, using break-out rooms for one-on-one meetings. This isn’t a perfect solution, as it does not serve those without adequate technology access or knowledge.
The Court did request the SJCBA to conduct a mediation for a civil matter that was successful. The SJCBA hopes to expand its role assisting the Court in such matters once COVID-19 is less of a risk.
Technology It has been observed that an organization should “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Though I’d hesitate to call COVID-19’s disruption to our daily lives and incomes “good,” the SJCBA made the best of it by launching three new technology platforms.
- A new CalTrax program was launched for the Court Assigned Council (CAC) program intended to make it easier for CAC panelists to submit their billings and track their cases. It’s launch coincided with surprise departure of the Finance & Accounting Manager. Any launch of a new technology encounters challenges, and this one was no different. After a few weeks of everybody getting used to the system and working with the developer to work out the kinks, the system began operating as intended. The good news is that it is more user friendly, takes less time, and has shortened the amount of time it takes for billing submissions to be paid by the County to the CAC panelists.
- The SJCBar.org website redesign was launched in September. It is also intended to be easier to use for members and the public. There are still improvements to be made, but it is attractive and informative, with greater opportunities for the SJCBA and its members to interact.
- Internally, the SJCBA acquired a new contact management system. The old one was costly and inefficient, as it was not initially designed for associations like the SJCBA. While the new system is now being used, there are still “fixes” that need to be done. The goal is to allow members to access an online “Member Directory” that includes areas of practice.
Thank you for your membership. The SJCBA recognizes that these are challenging times. Taking care of ourselves and our loved ones takes up most of our energy. A lack of motivation is a common feeling during this time. Still, the SJCBA needs your continued participation as members of its Sections and service on its Committees and the Board of Governors. We promise not to overburden you. Stay safe and engaged; those things will help you and the SJCBA in 2021.