California Bar Journal
spacer.gif (810 bytes)


spacer.gif (810 bytes)
The State Bar of California: Under new management
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
President, State Bar of California
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Andrew J. GuilfordIn previous president’s 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 management challenges. 

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.  

In setting 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 president’s 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.

First, presidents and boards of organizations like the State Bar should leave the day-to-day management of the organization to the organization’s 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 inspires.” 

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.

Carver’s 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.”

Another 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:

“Brevity 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 can’t be that simple!’).  Boards need to seek the compelling elegance of simplicity.”

I get it.  I am out.