often, we lawyers have a tendency to focus our attention on case law
and the courts, to the exclusion of all else. This is a big mistake,
because there is another agency which can and does have a frequent and
profound impact on our professional lives: The legislature.
Each year, the California legislature considers
literally thousands of proposed changes in our statutory law. In 2001,
for example, 3,358 regular and special session bills were introduced
into the legislature - in addition to a few hundred assorted
proposed constitutional amendments and resolutions. Of these measures,
966 were signed into law and 170 were vetoed by the governor.
Granted, many of the changes that were enacted
are technical and non-substantive, and many more have nothing to do
with our individual areas of practice. Yet many of these changes do
affect us, either specifically as practitioners, generally as lawyers,
or even more generally as citizens of this state. (See box below.)
Because these laws - and proposed laws - do
have the potential to affect us profoundly in both our professional
and private lives, it is incumbent upon us to pay attention to what
the legislature and governor are doing and to provide input where
appropriate. Discovering after the fact that a major change in law has
been enacted and muttering, "How did that become law?" just
doesn't cut it.
Fortunately, there are no obvious horror stories
to recount about bad bills affecting lawyers that were signed into law
From the standpoint of the State Bar, 2001 was an
excellent year, producing a two-year fee bill, the enactment of a new
diversion and assistance program for attorneys with substance abuse
problems, and a tough new law against the unauthorized practice of
law, among several others.
Yet there are plenty of examples of bills that
might have become law to make the point - bills whose failure could
be regarded as either a barely avoided disaster or a wonderful
opportunity missed, depending upon one's perspective.
A case in point is SB 11 by Sen. Martha Escutia,
which would have outlawed secret settlement agreements in certain
personal injury cases, and which stalled on the Assembly floor on the
final night of the legislative session. Like it or hate it, SB 11
clearly would have had a profound impact on the practice of many
lawyers had it been enacted. It is one of many bills of which we, as
lawyers, should be aware.
Because the State Bar's primary mission, as
articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court, is the regulation of the legal
profession and the improvement of legal services for the people of
California, the bar limits its own legislative activities to bills
directly impacting one or both of those areas.
However, the bar does offer opportunities for
lawyers with professional expertise and an interest in legislation to
play an important role in the development of California statutory law,
as my colleague and fellow board member Nancy Zamora will share with