Oklahoma Bar Journal

From the Executive Director | Investing in Our Future: The ‘Tao’ of Tom Hanks

By Janet Johnson

Photograph used for a story in The Daily Oklahoman newspaper. “Hundreds of lawyers from all over the state were on hand for the official opening of the Oklahoma Bar Association's new $300,000 Bar Center on Lincoln Boulevard south of the state Capitol building.” Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

While at my parents’ for Mother’s Day weekend, we were relaxing in the living room and watching TV. We stopped on one of our favorite movies, The Money Pit, a 1986 Tom Hanks film about a couple who buys a “fixer-upper” bargain home and quickly realizes they have bitten off more than they can chew. There are days when I can feel Anna and Walter’s pain. The Oklahoma Bar Center opened its doors on Sept. 21, 1962, at the time new, gleaming, modern construction “proclaimed to be a symbol of the legal profession’s dedication to the public good."[1] Nearly 62 years and at least two major renovations later, the building our association calls home still stands as an elegant and welcoming beacon to those who serve and lead in our profession.

But as with any historic building, beautiful though it may be, the wear and tear of age is not its ally. Current challenges include a roof that leaks with every drop of rain, significant plumbing challenges within the building and 25 feet of collapsed cast iron pipe connecting to the main sewer line, among many other maintenance issues common to older buildings. Couple those ongoing problems with a necessary remodel to the front entrance to maintain ADA accessibility. The cost of “Band-Aid” repairs just to avoid the chaos that ensues when these systems fail is staggering.

In addition to all the infrastructurally needed repairs, we are also facing outdated technology. Upgrading our association hardware, software, audio/visual and telecommunications systems is another critical item on our to-do list. We want to ensure our members have safe, clean, attractive places to meet, with fully functional technology equipment conducive to operating in the 21st-century workplace.

The knowledge that these twin challenges are on the horizon, in addition to an inflationary environment that means our current dues revenue no longer supports our routine operational expenses in a sustainable way, is the driving force behind the proposed dues increase our Board of Governors recommends.

The decision to recommend this increase was not made lightly. In fact, it was heavily discussed in 2023 and in the early 2024 Board of Governors meetings. Projections and inflation were considered. Additionally, we considered similarly sized integrated bars in our analysis. Among those considerations were the hidden costs of delaying repairs. For every dollar saved in deferring maintenance, there comes a $4 increase in future costs, according to some estimates. These costs come in the form of emergency repairs, reduced efficiency, collateral damage (a leaky roof can quickly turn into a flooded building) and health and safety risks to employees and visitors.[2] These are risks we can no longer afford to take lightly, and it would be irresponsible to “kick the can down the road” any further.

It has been two decades since the last dues increase. In 2004, after 15 years of no increase, a 57% increase occurred. Today, 20 years later, we are looking at a 45% increase. Many of us practicing today have never seen a dues increase; this will certainly be my own first experience. However, these are the times we live in, and hard decisions must be made.

I do not believe our beautiful bar center is a “money pit.” I believe it’s a symbol of our strong association, and it is worth investing in. Wouldn’t the most financially prudent approach be to “pay as we go” for these no-longer-optional repairs and upgrades, rather than dip into our strategic reserves? Wouldn’t our members prefer we take seriously our role as stewards of the association to remain on a solid financial footing, ensuring the health of our association for generations of young lawyers to come as we continue to fulfill our critical mission in advancing the administration of justice? I hope so. And I hope you will join me in supporting this increase when our House of Delegates makes its own decision next month during the Annual Meeting.

To contact Executive Director Johnson, email her at janetj@okbar.org.

[1] Bob Burke and Renee DeMoss, “The History and Impact of the Oklahoma Bar Foundation,” OBJ, Vol. 94, No. 5 (May 2023).

[2] James Piper, “Five Hidden Costs of Deferring Maintenance,” https://bit.ly/3QQ8ObX.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar JournalOBJ 95 No. 6 (June 2024)

Statements or opinions expressed in the Oklahoma Bar Journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Oklahoma Bar Association, its officers, Board of Governors, Board of Editors or staff.