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Got questions? Call the Member Service Center

When the State Bar began to rebuild after a virtual shutdown of operations in 1998, its board of governors took a hard look at how the organization relates to its members. As a result, it designated services for members as the bar’s number two goal — behind public protection.

Last month, an official Member Service Center opened a toll-free number, 1-888-800-3400, for active and inactive lawyers seeking information about member benefits, services and regulatory compliance. Two full-time staffers man the phones during business hours and promise either a quick answer or referral to an individual or a rule that can help.

“The work in this area has been long in coming,” said bar President John Van de Kamp, who established member benefits as one of his four key goals when he was elected last year. “The board of governors, over the past few years, has been pushing hard to try to make the bar more helpful to its members, and this represents the first step in making that come true.”

The effort is part of a consolidation of separate bar service operations that focuses on member benefits and services with ease of access to information.

Since the line opened, staffer Linda Knitter said she’s answered a wide range of questions, including whether a dues check had been cashed and how to change an address if one does not have internet access. “Basically if we know the answer, we will provide the answer,” Knitter said. “If we don’t know the answer, we will research the answer and call the member back. If the member requires special expertise from another department, then we will immediately switch the member to that department.”

The service draws the line at substantive legal questions; no legal assistance or advice is offered. However, even the lawyer who wanted to know how to quash a subpoena from the bar got a referral to the Rules of Procedure on the bar’s Web site.

In addition to the call center, the bar will shortly offer three new insurance products to members, including judges: life and AD&D, homeowners and automobile coverage. In April, the board of governors approved a new broker, Marsh Affinity Group, to develop competitively priced life insurance and AD&D programs for lawyers and their families that are expected to be better than those offered in the general marketplace. The board also gave the go-ahead to negotiate an agreement with Liberty Mutual as a provider of personal lines of insurance, home and auto. “The policies are meant to be competitive, and the bar is using its buying power to make sure that happens,” Van de Kamp said.

“This is just the beginning of consideration given to other ways the bar can be of greater assistance to members in terms of both economic and professional assistance.”

Sample fee agreements

Three new sample written fee agreement forms are available online at no charge. Prompted by major changes in the law involving such matters as fee sharing between counsel, attorney fee liens and arbitration agreements, the forms were revised by the State Bar Committee on Mandatory Fee Arbitration.

Committee chair Arne Werchick cautioned that the forms are general in nature and should not be adopted “off the shelf,” but rather be utilized for the specific case contemplated. Some matters referenced in the agreements — lien provisions in particular — may now require that the agreement be signed only after the client has had an opportunity to consider the terms and possibly consult another lawyer.

Werchick said old forms provided by the State Bar should no longer be used because they are outdated.

The new forms cover litigation on an hourly basis, non-litigation on an hourly basis and contingency fee agreements.

Committee members will present and explain the new forms at the Annual Meeting, Friday, Sept. 9, at 8:30 a.m. Participants can earn one hour of MCLE credit in legal ethics.

Bar foundation offers student loan consolidation

Members of the State Bar and their families with eligible educational loans can now consolidate those loans with the Student Loan Consolidation Program from eGrad, a corporate sponsor of the Foundation of the State Bar of California. Through the program, members may be able to lock in at a fixed interest rate as low as 1.625 percent and reduce monthly loan payments by as much as 58 percent.

Participants also can secure these benefits:

  • Simplify loan payments by making one monthly payment;
  • Choose from a variety of flexible repayment options;
  • No application fees, credit checks or prepayment penalties.

A dedicated customer information line — 1-800-958-6085 — has been established for State Bar members and their families. Information also is online at foundationstatebarcal.org/studentloans.

Three fee arb trainings set

Recent developments in fee arbitration will be discussed at three training programs, in Pleasant Hill, Monterey and Santa Rosa, sponsored by the State Bar’s Committee on Mandatory Fee Arbitration. The free trainings offer 2.75 hours of MCLE credit, including one hour of legal ethics and 1.75 hours of general credit, and are open to Contra Costa, Monterey and Sonoma county fee arbitrators and lay people and lawyers interested in joining the program.

Among the topics for discussion are how to write an enforceable award, conflicts of interest, disclosure requirements and how to control the proceeding.

The Pleasant Hill training will be held Aug. 18 at the John F. Kennedy School of Law, 110 Ellinwood Way, Room S304. To reserve a space, contact Emily Day at the Contra Costa County Bar Association, 925-370-2541, or e-mail eday@cccba.org.

The Monterey training will be held Aug. 24 at Monterey College of Law, 100 Col. Durham Blvd. To reserve a space, contact Elaine Richelieu at the Monterey County Bar Association, 831-663-6955, or e-mail erichelieu@aol.com.

The Santa Rosa training is scheduled for Sept. 15 at the Sonoma County Bar Association, 37 Old Courthouse Square. To reserve a space, contact Patti Tate at 707-542-1190, ext. 19.

All three programs will be held from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m.

For additional information, call Jill Sperber, 415-538-2023.

State Bar Foundation seeks board members

The Foundation of the State Bar of California is seeking applicants for several positions on its board of directors for terms beginning Jan. 1. Eligible applicants include attorneys, judges and members of the public who have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to the foundation’s charitable mission, who have previous board, public or community service or who are knowledgeable about charitable fundraising.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the State Bar and dedicated to promoting and building public trust in the justice system.

Board members serve two-year terms, attend about five meetings a year and are expected to serve on three committees. All board members also are expected to participate in fundraising and to make a significant financial contribution to the foundation annually.

Applications, including a resume and a statement of interest and qualifications, should be submitted by Sept. 2 to Leslie Hatamiya, Executive Director, Foundation of the State Bar, 180 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105; (fax) 415-856-0788; e-mail lhatamiya@foundationstatebarcal.org.

Opt out of list sales

Attorneys who wish to remove their names from lists the State Bar provides to qualified outside entities may do so by logging on to Member Login at calbar.ca.gov. After registering with My State Bar Profile, go to “Account Information” and select “Update my mailing preferences (opt out).”

Members also may e-mail their opt out request to memrec@calbar.ca.gov. Include your bar number.

The bar has a policy under which members’ names are provided at cost to a restricted list of outside entities that meet certain criteria. The names are provided for a one-time use to, among others, MCLE providers, the Foundation of the State Bar, local bars and bar-approved insurance providers.

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