California Bar Journal
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Bar foundation funds law-related education, public service projects
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Created in 1990, the Foundation of the State Bar funds law-related education and public service projects, and provides scholarships to law students who demonstrate an interest in public service.

It was established in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 ruling in Keller v. State Bar, which prohibits the use of mandatory member dues to fund certain activities.

From the first corporate sponsor contribution — $6,000 donated by MBNA America, a Delaware-based credit card company — the foundation has steadily increased its revenues to a 1999 total of $681,679.

Over eight years, it collected $3.7 million and has awarded between 30 and 40 grants each year to worthy projects and given $550,000 in scholarships to 161 students.

The foundation’s revenue-seeking efforts focus on three areas, Pfeiffer explains: indirect gift-giving through products and services offered by corporate sponsors, an annual fund-raising drive through dues bills sent to each bar member, and a fellows program.

Until now, seven corporate sponsors have provided the bulk of the foundation’s revenue, contributing $600,000-plus annually.

Direct giving by bar members has experienced starts and stops, Pfeiffer said, but “over the last three or four years our sense of legitimacy has grown and attorneys have begun to express themselves in terms of support.”

In 1998, the foundation also created a Society of Fellows, with 75 members currently who commit to a $2,500 contribution, either as a lump sum or over 10 years. Those funds have been spent to develop peer courts for first-time youthful offenders who commit a misdemeanor.

The foundation’s scholarship program, developed with input from California’s law schools, now attracts applicants from every school and awards scholarships of $2,500, $5,000 and $7,500.

Efforts to help high school and college students are just beginning, with the offer of a summer internship at the foundation to a college student and the development of a Legal Heritage Institute at the high school level.

That program, expected to begin in the next school year, will invite every public high school to select two candidates to vie for an expenses-paid week in Sacramento, offering exposure to courts, the law and legal issues. Winners will also receive a partial college scholarship.

The heritage program is being developed in collaboration with the state Department of Education in order that it dovetail with the high school curriculum.

Pfeiffer acknowledges the difficulty of raising money for law-related education: “It’s not very sexy.”

But the projects the foundation supports are worthy, he said. For instance, the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association puts on an annual community law school, a variety of groups have published free consumer education pamphlets, and seminars and outreach efforts on a variety of legal issues, ranging from employment disabilities to conflict resolution, have been funded.

Responding to criticism that too many foundation grants have gone to State Bar projects, Pfeiffer says every project must be worthy in order to be funded.

“The State Bar had to be on the same playing field as everyone else,” he said. “The projects had to be worthy, had to meet the grant criteria and had the same chance as everybody else. We don’t tilt our grant-giving in favor of anyone.”

Since 1995, he said, the majority of grant applicants have been from outside the bar and more funds have been awarded to non-bar sponsored projects.

He offers both gratitude and praise for donors to the foundation, saying they represent what is best about the legal profession.

“Despite 10 years of listening to bad news about lawyers,” he said, “all I’ve ever seen is generosity. Lawyers give both time — hours and days — and money because they want to see some good done.”