|In previous presidents
columns, I have reviewed some broad policy questions confronting the legal profession and
the State Bar in this new millennium. Another
important issue confronting the State Bar is the simple management of the organization. Without good management, the ability of the State
Bar to implement policies for improving the quality of legal services for Californians is
crippled. The State Bar is no different than
all other organizations in its need for good management, but the State Bar faces unique
As a nonprofit,
quasi-governmental organization, the State Bar does indeed present a unique management
challenge. A company operating for profits
can look to its profits as a measure of its success, and adjust its management
accordingly. The State Bar, like all
nonprofit organizations, has no such measure. As
stated by John Carver on pages 6-7 of his book, Boards That Make A Difference, The
relevant variable that separates the governance of most public and nonprofit enterprises
from most profit organizations is the automatic market test of product worth. In the
absence of a market test, the board must perform that function.
The State Bar
and its board must therefore always be alert to identifying standards to measure its
performance, and then working to meet those standards.
standards, the State Bar must be aware of the concerns of a wide variety of stakeholders. Unlike a for-profit company that might consider
only its shareholders, the State Bar must consider all Californians as users and potential
users of legal services, the lawyers as our members, the courts and judges of California
who are ultimately responsible for our legal system, and the legislative and executive
branches. While responding to the concerns of
these differing segments of our society, the State Bar must keep in mind its principal
mission, which I consider to be improving the quality of legal services to the people of
the state of California. Ignoring one of
these principal segments, or excessively focusing on another, can indeed disrupt the good
work of the State Bar, as perhaps reflected in our recent dues crisis.
What about the
day-to-day operations of the State Bar? It is
daunting to me and perhaps disturbing to others that overnight a working trial attorney
can essentially become the chairman of the board of an $80 million company with hundreds
of employees. And then, after only a brief
year for the presidents arms to get around the company, there is a new president
climbing into the saddle and grabbing on for dear life.
This system of annually putting the State Bar under new management is a
challenge that faces most nonprofit organizations. A
few solutions help meet this challenge.
presidents and boards of organizations like the State Bar should leave the day-to-day
management of the organization to the organizations staff. Presidents and boards should focus on policy,
leaving implementation to staff. This is
perhaps the primary thrust of the Carver book, which states at page 26, Dreaming is not only permissible for leaders
it is obligatory. Dealing meticulously
with the trees rather than the forest can be satisfying, but it neither fuels vision nor
Of course, the
key to focusing a board on policy is to have a strong executive director who can
effectively perform the important overall management function. Our new executive director, Judy Johnson, was
selected in part for her strong management skills. Carver
states at page 101, No single relationship in the organization is as important as
that between the board and its CEO. Carver
continues at page 107, For most official purposes the board has only one employee,
the CEO. The CEO has all the rest. We are fortunate to be under the new management of
Judy Johnson, who follows other great CEOs of the State Bar.
ideal of a president and board establishing policy with a strong executive director and
staff implementing management was also recently endorsed by Justice Elwood Lui acting as
special master to the State Bar appointed by the Supreme Court. Justice Lui has recommended that we [f]ocus
the Board of Governors on policy issues affecting the State Bar and focus the State Bar
executives and administrators on the day-to-day management of the State Bar.
solution to the problem of the annual turnover of presidents is to establish the position
of president-elect to allow a president at least a year to anticipate and prepare to
assume the presidency. Almost all bar associations of nonprofit organizations have such a
position, and we are now exploring whether we can establish such a position. (See story
beginning on page 3.)
A very simple
yet not totally satisfying solution to the problem of quick presidential turnover is
simply to hold the presidential elections earlier in the year. This year, I moved the elections from late August
(when I was elected) to early June.
A final point
made by Carver at page 39 fits well here:
may be the unheralded secret of excellence. . . . Organizations seem to be impressed with
complexity, however, so brevity in policy-making confronts the need to look sophisticated
(It just cant be that simple!). Boards
need to seek the compelling elegance of simplicity.
I get it. I am out.