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Pride in the legal profession

James E. Herman 2002-03 President State Bar of California
Herman
By JAMES E. HERMAN
President, State Bar of California

I like lawyers. This is probably a good thing given my upcoming year as president of the State Bar of California. I admire how lawyers think and problem solve. I am proud of the work we do for our clients. I am proud of our commitment to core professional values: ethical practice, access to justice, elimination of bias in the profession. I am proud of our selfless contributions to our communities.

I come from a small legal community and a small firm, so setting goals for this year has been straightforward. Educate the public about the good we do as lawyers and about the public protection function of the State Bar of California. Instill pride among our members in the third branch of government, in the profession and in the State Bar of Califor-nia.

By the end of this year, I hope every member of the State Bar will carry our membership card with the same pride as the day we were sworn in to practice. This year, for the first time, our membership cards will carry the State Bar's mission statement: "To preserve and improve our justice system in order to assure a free and just society under law." These words set high professional standards for the State Bar and for our members.

James Herman and Chief Justice Ronald George shake hands
(Click to Enlarge)

We as members fulfill our mission as an arm of the Supreme Court administering admissions and discipline. We should be proud of this important work. Nearly 80 percent of your dues dollars go to support our regulatory function in making this a better profession for our clients and for us.

We also work with the Supreme Court and the Judicial Council on mutual goals of access to justice and elimination of bias in the profession. Chief Justice Ronald George has said, "If the motto ‘and justice for all' becomes ‘and justice for those who can afford it,' we threaten the very underpinnings of our social contract." Our lawyer members generously support these goals through voluntary contributions and pro bono services.

So how do we instill pride in our profession?

First, educate the public. When I speak to non- lawyer audiences, I am amazed at the large store of good will amongst the public for the work we do for them. I also challenge these same audiences to name one volunteer charitable board within their community that does not have at least one lawyer member. To date, no one has met that challenge. We are unique as a profession in the amount of time and professional service we give to our communities.

We also need to educate the public about the role lawyers serve in society. Lawyers should not be criticized merely for fulfilling an ethical duty to zealously represent unpopular causes. I often wonder how Atticus Finch would have fared in today's talk show environment.

Finally, we need to educate the public about the consumer protections provided by our State Bar admissions and discipline system and our client security fund. We are unique in the world because our discipline system employs a fully professional State Bar Court and chief trial counsel's office. We also reimburse up to $50,000 of the losses of clients who have been ripped off by their lawyers. Non- lawyers practicing law within this state do not give consumers this protection.

The public members of the Board of Governors are committed to taking our message to the community. We have also established a special subcommittee to pursue community education and outreach. But we also need your help. Write letters, go to the schools, support your voluntary bar, be an example. At a recent Volunteers in Parole dinner, I asked the juvenile parolees how many wanted to be lawyers. Hands shot up, hands that would not have been raised but for the example of lawyer mentors.

Second, promote member services to make our practices easier and more enriching. For example, we are focusing next year on member benefits including an updated interactive web site with members-only services and district message boards. We are looking at non-dues revenue sources including improved insurance benefits. The Foundation of the State Bar also recently contracted with West Group to provide services of special value to solos and small firms. And again, we need your help. What member services would you like to see from your State Bar?

Third, reach out to you, the membership. We have spent the last three years restructuring and rebuilding the bar and establishing credibility with the courts, the legislature and our auditors. We are going on the road this year. We want to reach out to both the organized and the unorganized bar. We will come to you. We are coming not just to talk but also to listen.

We also invite you to come to us. Ask yourselves how you can become involved with our committees, commissions and task forces. Before you claim the bar is irrelevant to your life, find out what we have to offer you and what you have to offer us. Drop me a line at jherman@rppmh.com.

This is a year of pride and I am proud of you. I am proud of a membership that takes care of its own bad apples at no cost to the public, serves on every voluntary board in every community in the state, provides countless hours of pro bono work every year and contributes to improving the profession. I am proud of being one of 186,000 partners in the greatest and largest unified bar in the world, the State Bar of California.

I would share one final thought. Would you want your child to be a lawyer? Child advocate Marian Wright Edelman has written, "The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people's children." Let us work together to give our children that future. Let us work together to "preserve and improve our justice system in order to assure a free and just society under law."

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