California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 2000
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - February 2000
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News Briefs
Appeal court denies bar's petition to reverse Brosterhous
Fee bill introduced
Bar fee arb program gears up
David Bryson, Loren Miller recipient, dies at 58
Board to name one to Judicial Council
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You Need to Know
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Opinion
From the President - For our system to work, we need to be involved
Let's let public lawyers take a seat at the table
The illusion of a cosmetic fix
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
The Supreme Court and the ADA
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Appointments
Access commission seeks members for 2 positions
Apply to serve on a bar committee
Bar seeks applicants for ABA delegates
Judge evaluation positions open
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - 'Rampant' conflicts in a new economy
Attorney suspected of soliciting murder of bar prosecutor
Attorney Discipline
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Legal Tech - If the hype is right, ASPs are H-O-T
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Public Comment

OPINION

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Let's let public lawyers take a seat at the table
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By WILLIAM G. PAUL
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An important voice is too often absent from the work of the organized bar — the voice of government lawyers — and the organized bar is weaker  because of their absence. 

Government and public sector lawyers represent approximately one-sixth of the legal profession, but only a small percentage participates in organized bar activities. This is an important issue for all organized bars and for lawyers serving in federal, state, county and municipal governments.

William G. PaulMany government leaders have failed to encourage the professional development of government lawyers through bar work. In addition, some public law offices put so many restrictions on their lawyers, through inconsistent and unnecessarily restrictive interpretations of statutes and regulations by agency managers, that there is a chilling effect on bar participation.

We see examples of government lawyers who must record and deduct from their vacation leave every minute spent on bar activities, lawyers unable to use their office fax machine for bar service, and lawyers unable to serve on any bar committee.

At the ABA’s annual meeting in August, the House of Delegates passed a resolution that could have a profound impact on this problem. The resolution encourages governmental entities to eliminate barriers impeding public lawyer participation in bar activities. It encourages government entities to permit government lawyers reasonable time for bar-sponsored continuing education and other activities promoting professional development and improvements in the justice system. And it encourages them to allow public lawyers the reasonable use of office, library and facilities for such activities.

The organized bar sets standards for the profession, provides vehicles for the improvement of the law, and is a forum for educational programs to improve skills required to function in the profession. Bars promote access to justice for all, promote full and equal participation in the profession by women and minorities and advance the rule of law in the world. These lofty goals will not be achieved if the public sector is left out.

If bar associations are denied the benefit of public lawyer participation, then an important voice is missing. Wouldn’t the work product of a committee established to study the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct suffer greatly without the input of public sector lawyers in such areas as pro bono representation, revolving door standards and the so-called “pay-to-play” issues?

The organized bar must do all it can to lift the barriers preventing government lawyers from participating and holding positions of leadership in legal professional associations.

The full participation of public lawyers is vital not only to the organized bar, but also to the individual public lawyer. Through participation in the bar, public lawyers are able to enhance their legal education and professional development. They have the opportunity to participate in pro bono activities and become better rounded, more competent lawyers. They are able to work with their private sector colleagues to address and resolve issues in a forum that is uniquely suited for such cooperative problem solving.

If public lawyers are encouraged to take their seat at the association table, all lawyers will benefit. The ABA House of Delegates’ resolution was passed in the hope that this goal will be achieved.

William G. Paul is president of the American Bar Asssociation.