Governance & Membership

February 2020 President's Message

The State of the OBA

By Susan B. Shields

It has been a wonderful first month. Being sworn in as president in the beautifully renovated Supreme Court courtroom at the Capitol with family, friends and colleagues in attendance was the single greatest honor of my professional career.

OBA tradition is that one of the first official events of a new bar president is to be hosted by the Garfield County Bar Association in Enid. I want to thank them again for their hospitality and warm welcome. Because February is a month of “state of the…” addresses, here is some of the information I shared with the Garfield County bar about the current state of the OBA; and, since we are now in a new decade, I think it is also interesting to compare the OBA today with where it was 10 years ago.

As of the beginning of 2020, the total membership of the OBA is 18,239, as compared to 14,396 total members at the beginning of 2010 – more than a 20% increase. Oklahoma lawyers are more urban and less rural than ever before. Oklahoma and Tulsa counties continue to have the highest concentration of lawyers – about 66% of total members in 2020, up from about 51% in 2010. The graphs on page 51 show information about membership and the geographical breakdown of members in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties and the remainder of the state.

Another important statistic is the age of our members. In 2020 the majority of practicing Oklahoma attorneys are over age 50, and we have increasing numbers of inactive and over age 70 senior attorneys. The OBA will continue to provide services to our newest lawyers who are the lifeblood and future of the OBA, but going forward, the aging of our membership will require that the OBA maintain and even ramp up support and resources for attorneys nearing retirement who need to plan for the transition of their law practices.

What about the OBA’s financial health? There are not too many things in 2020 that are the same price they were in 2010. OBA dues in 2010 were $275 and are the same today. The more than 1,100 members who have been in practice three years or less pay one-half of the regular dues, or $137.50 per year. This year’s OBA budget predicts a healthy reserve of funds at the end of 2020. However, it appears the trend will be that the total number of active members may decline, or at least not increase, over the next 10 years, causing a need to re-examine the dues structure. The OBA has not had a dues increase since 2005, despite a total rise in consumer prices of about 35% from 2005 to 2020. I think we all get a lot of “bang for our buck” from our dues and the fact that our dues have not changed for the last 15 years is a result of outstanding stewardship of our funds by our bar staff and bar leaders over that period.

To sum up the state of the OBA, the financial health of the OBA is strong and Oklahoma lawyers continue to be in good hands with our OBA staff and many volunteer leaders. If you are not already taking advantage of the exceptional benefits that your dues pay for – including free Fastcase legal research, ethics counsel and law practice management advice and services, the LHL hotline and counseling resources, our general counsel’s office, a top-notch CLE Department and section and committee memberships and resources, to name a few – I encourage you to do so. You will be glad you did.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with your questions, comments and suggestions.

Lawyers sit a lot! Research says that taking a short walk, standing up when on the telephone or using a stand-up desk for 10 minutes or more each hour improves health.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 91 pg. 4 (February 2020)