Why a 2025 Fee Increase is Needed

The State Bar of California is seeking a large fee increase in 2025, and we want you to know why.

Why the State Bar Matters

The State Bar has a broad mandate to license, regulate, and discipline attorneys, advance the ethical and competent practice of law, and increase access to and inclusion in the profession. A financially sound State Bar is important for the public and the profession alike.

A Robust Regulator Strengthens the Profession, outlines the State Bar's public protection mission

The State Bar Needs a 2025 Licensing Fee Increase

Here are the elements of the $125 fee increase request and what they would fund.

Elements of the State Bar's 2025 fee increase needs, totaling $125 per active licensee

Why Do We Need Such a Large Fee Increase?

  1. 1. Licensing fees have not kept up with the pace of inflation.

If the current $404 base licensing fee had kept up with inflation, it would be over $700

Note: Fees/dues reflect those applicable for active attorneys. The following categories of fees were used to determine mandatory licensing fees/dues for each state: dues, licensing/registration fee, discipline fee, professional responsibility fee, occupational tax, and mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) fee. California’s amount of $404 reflects a $379 attorney license fee and a $25 discipline fee. The $379 attorney license fee is calculated as follows: the $395 fee mandated by California Business and Professions Code section 6140, minus portions of the fee that are not slated for the State Bar’s Unrestricted General Fund or are limited term in nature (a $4 limited-term capital assessment fee, a $5 limited-term information technology assessment fee, a $5 lobbying fee, and a $2 opt-out fee).

2. Lack of a process for regular fee adjustments means that, when we do get fee increases, they are quickly outdated. For example, the cost of a staff cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) funded by the 2020 fee increase has nearly tripled since then.
Illustrates how $13 per licensee allocated for cost of living adjustments in 2020 has since grown to $34.75

3. What does all of this mean for the State Bar? Expenses far exceed revenue.
General Fund generates $86.4 million; key elements of the discipline system cost $99.3 million.

4. We can no longer draw down reserves to cover our General Fund shortfall, which will total $20 million in 2025.
The State Bar's General Fund reserves are projected to end at $14 million, or 11.8 percent,  below the reserve policy threshold of 17 percent. Absent a fee increase, reserves will be completely drained in 2025.

How Does the State Bar Stack Up Against Other Attorney and Medical Licensing Agencies? 

1. California has the highest cost of living of any state and is the only state bar with a dedicated disciplinary court. Even with the fee increase, our fees would be lower than several other states.  

The State Bar's mandatory licensing are lower than 17 other states
Graphic was updated on March 22, 2024. Source: 2022 State and Local Bar Benchmarks Survey: Membership

2. Not only are State Bar of California fees lower than those of 17 other states, they are lower than those assessed to California doctors, who realized a large fee increase in 2024.
CA attorney licensing fees are 30 percent less than those paid by CA doctors.

3. The State Bar’s workload is higher than that of other attorney licensing agencies.
California receives 80 complaints annually per 1,000 attorneys, higher than other states
Graphic was updated on March 20, 2024.

4. And higher than that of the Medical Board of California.
The State Bar receives more complaints per 1,000 professionals than the Medical Board of California, and conducts more than four times the number of investigations per 1,000 licensees.

5. And the State Bar processes these complaints more cost-effectively than its peers.
The State Bar's fees per complaint received are nearly a third lower than the national average.

Graphic was updated on March 20, 2024. Sources: ABA 2021 Survey on Lawyer Discipline (SOLD) Systems and 2022 State and Local Bar Benchmarks Survey: Membership

​Large States: This includes 15 states with highest number of licensed active attorneys, including California.​ Calculation: Total fees/dues collected (active licensees x licensing fee/dues) divided by the number of complaints. California: ($404 fee x 194,747 active attorneys)/15,659 complaints = $5,024​.

The State Bar's fees per complaint received are 44 percent lower than the Medical Board

A New Way of Assessing Fees

The proposed fee increase of $125 would be more difficult for some to absorb than others. The State Bar is proposing a new practice-sector-based fee assessment model that would shift costs toward those individuals or entities most able to pay. Other (retirees), solo, and nonprofit attorneys would realize increases between zero and 4 percent over the current base fee of $404.  

A proposal to scale fees by practice sector would mean lower increases for those typically least able to afford increases, and higher increases for those in large law firms and large corporations

If There's No Fee Increase, What Would Happen?

As noted above, the fee increase request has two components: $95 to maintain public protection and $30 to improve public protection. Absent any investment in improving the State Bar's outcomes, we will continue to fall short of the public’s expectations and be unable to fully implement legislative priorities.

The consequences of failing to fund the portion needed to maintain public protection would be dire, as shown below.

If there is no fee increase in 2025 the State Bar would exhaust reserve funds to cover operating costs

What is Currently Being Proposed by the California Legislature?

The current version of the fee bill for 2025, Assembly Bill 3279, includes an increase of just over half of the State Bar’s stated need.  

The current fee bill includes an increase of $65 compared to the State Bar's need of $125.

The bill funds only part of what is needed for Maintaining Public Protection as shown below. Of particular concern in the bill is a cost-cutting target: doubling the State Bar’s staff vacancy rate to 15 percent by April 2026. The State Bar needs more staff, not less, to meet the expectations of the public and attorneys. Even if the State Bar achieves the targeted vacancy rate, the bill underfunds the State Bar’s structural deficit by $3 million annually. If the State Bar is unable to achieve the targeted 15 percent vacancy rate, the ongoing structural deficit would total over $11 million annually.

Current bill funds $54 of $95 of the need for maintaining public protection

The bill funds two of four programs for Improving Public Protection as shown below. No additional staff would be funded to speed up discipline case processing, so complaint backlogs would continue and grow.

Current fee bill funds diversion program and Client Trust Account Protection Program, for $11 out of $30 requested

The bill currently includes no provision for fee scaling by practice sector, nor does it provide for annual adjustments for inflation.

The State Bar of California’s mission is to protect the public and includes the primary functions of licensing, regulation and discipline of attorneys; the advancement of the ethical and competent practice of law; and support of efforts for greater access to, and inclusion in, the legal system.

Feedback? Questions? Please contact communications@calbar.ca.gov.