California Bar Journal
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More myths about the State Bar
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President, State Bar of California
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Palmer Madden, President, State Bar of CaliforniaIn January, I addressed the top three myths about the State Bar: The State Bar costs too much, does nothing for me and is dominated by lawyers from big firms. Here are three more misconceptions about the bar:

Myth No. 4: The State Bar wastes money by prosecuting minor offenses

This is probably the most common “urban legend” about the State Bar. How often have you heard from some attorney a tale of woe about a friend of hers who was threatened with disbarment because the friend did not promptly return a client’s calls?

Well, friends, it just is not true. Over a year ago, the board of governors accepted the recommendation of its chief trial counsel and passed a set of priorities that dictates that only serious offenses are subject to prosecution.

Recently, when the respondents’ bar charged that the State Bar was harassing attorneys for technical violations of the trust accounting rules, they could not come up with a single example of when this had occurred. Now, it may have happened in the past, and there may be an occasional screw-up, but, almost without exception, the bar focuses only on serious problems. Frankly, there are enough of those to keep the State Bar busy.

Myth No. 5: The bureaucracy wastes our money — just look at the marble palace.

Some years ago, critics of the State Bar, apparently not having enough to do one day, started charging that the bar was   wasting money when it embarked on buying a building in San Francisco. It is from this origin that springs the legend that the State Bar is housed in a marble palace. Wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all, there is no marble. The building is a pedestrian, government structure finished out to a standard well below most law firms. Second, this has been one of the best investments for our profession. We have only been in the building a couple of years but rents in the neighborhood have quadrupled. If we had not bought this building and were instead renting, our dues would have to be significantly higher.

Myth No 6: The State Bar never listens to its members.

Boy, whoever believes that the State Bar is some sort of Ivory Tower that ignores what its members say is living in a different universe. Attorneys are by nature articulate and willing to speak up. And speak up they do. The State Bar hears these concerns and, as it should, balances the costs and benefits. Consider a couple of recent examples. Virtually all licensing agencies attach 50 percent penalties if you fail to pay a fee by the deadline. So did the State Bar dues statement. Our members did not think this was fair. Well, this year, we changed the penalty, making it 10 percent after March 15 and then 25 percent after May 15.

The members also have complained about our MCLE program. In response, the bar supported legislation to reduce the required study hours from 36 to 25 hours every three years. The bar also set up a commission to study the issue, undertook a survey of the membership and next year will make changes responsive to these concerns.

There are many issues concerning how the State Bar regulates our profession. For example: what can we do to increase access to the courts for low and moderate income citizens? Should we be setting up a “minor offenses” system within the discipline system? As a profession, we need to move from the cartoon criticism so that we can instead focus on making the State Bar what it should be: the best professional organization in the world.

Palmer Madden can be reached at