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More singles than home runs

By John Van de Kamp
President, State Bar of California

John Van de Kamp
John Van de Kamp 2004-05 President

Time’s up! What started in the fog of Monterey ends in San Diego on Sept. 11 after Jim Heiting is sworn in for his term as State Bar president and takes my place writing this monthly column.

The year as your president (actually 11 months) has gone by quickly. I know better now why elected officers want to run just one more time “to finish the work they started.” Of course, that’s an illusion, because the work never stops. New challenges arise. There’s rarely a finite end to anything.

That’s why it’s been important to build on the good foundation left by post-bar-shutdown Presidents Guilford, Madden, Nobumoto, Herman and Capozzi and their boards. The foundation Andy, Palmer, Karen, Jim and Tony left have made it possible this year to move a multi-year bar dues bill to the governor’s desk that permits the bar to plan ahead over the next two years with some financial assurance. While some in the legislature had trouble with certain aspects of the fee bill, there were no complaints about the bar’s behavior — a far cry from 1998. We’ve passed probation. Some would say the bar’s been rehabilitated.

When I was sworn in in October, I noted three areas where the bar needed to improve: greater access to justice, greater inclusiveness in our membership and improved member benefits.

I would like to report home runs in all these areas. Singles are more like it.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE Funding for legal service programs through the State Bar-administered IOLTA program grew by close to $3.6 million this fiscal year. Gubernatorial and legislative support for legal services programs, which comes by way of appropriation to the Supreme Court and then to the bar for administration, will be increased to $12.5 million this year and $15 million next year, both beyond the $10 million appropriated in each of the past five years. But we have light years to go before we meet the unmet needs.

GREATER INCLUSIVENESS Efforts to promote greater diversity abound. In the spring, the bar’s Center for Access and Fairness displayed on the bar Web site the variety of programs offered by local bar associations, most of them school-oriented, many of them targeted at schools with heavy minority populations. In exercising my bully pulpit role urging local bars to sponsor such programs, I have been heartened by the response I’ve received. As I said in Monterey, “The bar’s demographics will not change overnight, but if we don’t start now the issue will confront the bar 10 years from now.” The good news is that we have started. We can’t stop. The bar’s member survey expected to go to the field in December 2005 will tell us if we’ve made any progress since 2001. It’s my expectation that we will see substantial progress in the Asian/Pacific Islands category, but a long way to go elsewhere.

WOMEN AND GLASS CEILINGS Not shattered yet, but some progress. A Nov. 5, 2004, study on diversity by the National Association of Law Placement shows that the percentage of women partners has in-creased 3 percent in San Fran-cisco and 2.62 percent in Los Angeles. More and more firms appear committed to becoming more inclusive of women. Still a ways to go.

MEMBER BENEFITS In 2005, we saw the opening of the bar’s long-awaited one-stop toll-free Member Services Call Center (1-888/800-3400) aimed at providing information about member benefits, services and regulatory compliance.

The board of governors has approved a new insurance broker to develop competitively priced life programs for lawyers and their families and gave the go-ahead for negotiations with Liberty Mutual to provide personal lines of home and auto insurance for members. Release of those programs is pending final contract negotiations, as the lawyers from all sides weigh in on final details. Watch the Journal for news of progress. Next year the bar’s contract with Arch, our professional liability insurer, will expire and negotiations are underway to improve the appeal and the coverage of this insurance. The board’s standing committee on group insurance is close to exploring health savings accounts and employment liability insurance programs.

2005 saw early progress toward improving member benefits, but there’s a lot more the State Bar can do.

Speaking of professional liability insurance, in June I appointed a 15-person task force headed by former bar President Jim Towery to report to the board as to whether or not there should be a requirement in California that attorneys disclose whether they maintain professional liability insurance, and, if so, the scope of such requirement. The task force is expected to report toward the end of the year.

AND ON OTHER FRONTS 2005 saw:

A more diverse bar board elected for ’05-’06, including more women (three out of five seats were won by women — Holly Fujie, Carmen Ramirez and Danni Murphy) and representation from big firms, small firms, public offices and house counsel, plus public members.

  • A new State Bar Foundation director and fresh blood on its board. Leslie Hatamiya took over in November as executive director. Term limits were established for foundation board members, with renewed interest in the foundation and its work, and with particular emphasis on law school scholarships and grants for law-related education, pro bono efforts and legal aid programs. Most importantly, the foundation is working more closely with the bar. Please support the foundation the next time your dues statement comes around.
  • Growth in the sections: From 54,022 section members in 1999 to 64,783 in 2005.
  • Greater outreach in the Lawyer Assistance Program. The growth rate in the program has been around 30 percent per year. Some 600 attorneys have been served in the past three years. 
  • The establishment of a State Bar-affiliated law students association by virtue of a board of governors vote of support and early support from the foundation. California law students will soon be served by a “virtual” program, giving them access to a soon-to-be-launched e-journal, our sections, the foundation and local bar programs.
  • New executive staff hires: Scott Drexel, chief trial counsel; Peggy Van Horn, chief financial officer; and Gary Clarke, IT director.
  • And in San Diego this month, the bar’s 78th Annual Meeting will be held in conjunction with the Judicial Council and the California Judges Association, the first time in recent years we’ve met together.

In short, there has been some progress in 2005. That momentum is attributable to Executive Director Judy Johnson and her close associates Starr Babcock and Bob Hawley, the fine people who comprise her executive staff, and the board of governors who set direction and provide strong oversight. Outgoing board members Joel Miliband, Steve Ipsen, Rod McLeod, David Marcus, John Snetsinger and Jan Green, and all the board members have put in countless pro bono hours over the last three years to shape the course of the bar. My thanks to them. 

So on to next year. Many of the challenges remain and then some. The rule of law seems threatened by political ideologues. The independence of the judiciary will once again be tested. Lawyers must step up and be heard on these issues. If we don’t, much can be lost.

In my favorite closing line from Albert Camus: “Let me tell you a secret, my friend. Do not wait for the judgment day. It takes place every day.”

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