Message from your President
Why does a State Bar adopt a strategic plan? Isn’t it just a lot of hard work to establish a document that looks good on the shelf? Isn’t it a waste of time and effort?
In many instances, the answer to these questions is yes. Many organizations go through the exercise but fail to follow through with the items identified as being significant for the organization. The State Bar of South Dakota continues to do just the opposite and not only embrace the plan but act upon the vision of those who discuss and develop the concepts for our plan. Past President Dick Casey suggested a strategic plan and has chaired the committee that initially developed the plan. Since that time, bar leadership and the bar commissioners have worked hard to implement many of the suggestions that have been brought forth as a result of the strategic planning process. Future Bar Commissions will benefit from the hard work that goes into this planning as they develop programs and ideas for the Bar and its members.
Currently, there are three significant items which are being moved forward in no small part as a result of the identification of the issues during the strategic planning process. First, a committee of bar commissioners and circuit court judges has been appointed to address the high costs of civil litigation. Often, it is impossible to litigate a case where the costs to do so approaches or exceeds the amount in dispute. Is that really providing citizens of South Dakota with open access to our courts? We believe that a separate “fast track” for civil claims where there is limited discovery, fewer experts, etc. may help ease the financial burdens of persons wishing to have their matters decided before a jury. The State of Iowa is in the process of establishing such a system for claims which are less than $75,000.00 in value. Clint Sargent will be chairing this committee and we look forward to the report this committee is able to put together. Our thanks go out to Chief Justice Gilbertson for responding to the State Bar’s request for the formation of such a study group. While the devil is always in the details, we are confident that this group of bar commissioners and circuit court judges will be able to propose and develop a system that will allow for a fast track civil claim.
Second, the State Bar has traditionally adopted a budget in July when one third of the board of bar commissioners is newly elected. In the future, the budget process will be moved up so that the budget is put together by the bar commission in the spring and presented to the new bar commissioners as a developed and recommended budget. It is believed that the new timing will allow bar commissioners to be even more informed and prepared for the adoption of a budget for the State Bar. While the change may seem subtle, it will be beneficial not only to the bar commissioner but to State Bar staff in terms of planning and strategizing for budget needs. This will be a particularly valuable tool as we prepare for a significant transition in our staff and leadership over the next four years. Improved governance and management are important for any organization.
Finally, the CLE Committee is being asked to return its focus to the development of program ideas and less on the administrative details of presenting the programs. This will allow the CLE Committee to engage chairs of the substantive committees to work on the content of programs. This should make the programs even more beneficial to our members as the substantive committees will be consulted to interject ideas for specific content and speakers. It is hoped that this will ease the burden that has been unduly placed upon this vitally important committee in the past. The ultimate goal remains to provide you, our members, with the best programs possible. Involving committee chairs and their ideas will expand the creativity and quality of our CLE programming. We look forward to the refocusing of this committee under the chairmanship of Jason Sutton.
As you can see, the strategic planning process has been and will continue to work for the State Bar of South Dakota. We thank the Strategic Planning Committee for its great work as the bar commissioners have committed to advancing many of the major issues identified during their planning process.
This will come as no surprise, but the delivery of legal services to those most in need in South Dakota must improve. While additional funding will not cure all problems, it certainly helps. Unlike most states, South Dakota legal service entities rely almost exclusively on federal funding and fundraising for their sources of funding. With the scaling back of federal funding for East River Legal Services and Dakota Plains Legal Services, more and more people are failing to get the vital legal services they need.
South Dakota’s system of three organizations, ERLS, DPLS and State Bar’s A2J pro bono and modest means program, are the topic of a legal services task force formed a year ago by Chief Justice Gilbertson. Later this month, this task force will meet to review a needs assessment survey and address how the delivery of legal services so desperately needed by many can be improved in South Dakota. As a profession, we must insure ourselves that every dollar spent on legal services is maximized. This is not meant as a criticism of any of the organizations, but only as a challenge to see if we can accomplish more with our limited resources. Further, we must seek other means to assist in the funding of legal services. President Elect Schulte, Tom Barnett and I will travel to Bismarck, North Dakota prior to the task force meeting to meet with the director of the single legal services program in North Dakota. It is hoped that North Dakota, with its similar demographics, may have some suggestions on how we might be able to improve the delivery of such services in South Dakota.
The funding problems for legal services will not be easily resolved. However, we need to be open minded and creative to new and innovative ways to provide legal services to those of minimal or modest means. We hope that the task force is able to make some recommendations that will be acceptable to the three providers but more importantly, will result in providing legal assistance to more people who currently have unmet needs.
I had the privilege to welcome 74 new law students to the legal profession at their orientation on August 12. It was exciting to be able to visit with the students as they embark on their legal careers. It is also important to recognize the law school for their continued ranking as a law school which provides the best value to its students. The August edition of preLaw magazine ranked USD School of Law as the fifth best law school for value taking into account costs, bar passage and employment. Congratulations to Dean Geu, the faculty and staff for this accomplishment. We are fortunate to have such a great working relationship with our law school as we continue to work with them on the best way to deliver legal education and to prepare students for practice of law.
Enjoy your Labor Day weekend with your family and we look forward to a busy and productive September for the State Bar.