California Bar Journal
spacer.gif (810 bytes)


spacer.gif (810 bytes)

spacer.gif (810 bytes)
A new board: not glamorous but better
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
President, State Bar of California
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Karen Nobumoto
Karen Nobumoto

While not glamorous or exciting to the outside world, the State Bar has been transforming itself over this past year in a way that will make it work better for its members and be more efficient and understandable to all people who transact business with the bar.

Known in the "organizational world" as governance, the bar's board has tackled the challenging issue of how best to govern itself: how to structure its committees, how to channel issues and projects through to completion, and how to ensure that the process is open and accessible to bar members and the public.

This has been a long and evolving process, one that has been underway since the days following the bar's fiscal and political crisis which began in 1997. Former board member David Roth got the ball rolling, and former board presidents Andy Guilford and Tom Stolpman, along with many other board members and justice system representatives, have contributed significantly to a collective effort to take stock of the bar's focus and restructure its organization.

Your current board continued the dialogue and made the final decision to put a new structure in place. While we've had spirited debates about the whys and wherefores, over the theoretical methods to adopt and the roles that individual board members will eventually play, we have not been bashful in exploring our options and then altering a system that no longer worked effectively for our organization.

The most important aspect of the new governance structure is that the bar has its eye on the future. For the first time in bar history, we have developed a strategic plan to help us meet the expectations of our members, the public, other branches of government and other justice system partners. With the plan, we are setting goals and strategies for dealing with six long-range issues: admissions, regulation and discipline; member services; equal access to justice; stakeholder relations; leadership and accountability; and technology.

Our entire board meeting in May will be devoted to planning to implement these goals through our new governance structure. And the structure itself is one of the most important parts of our transformation.

In the past, issues were pretty much assigned to one of the board committees. That committee was presented with all the background and research material, received a staff recommendation and then thrashed out a position. Sometimes financial concerns weren't taken into consideration, and often the majority of the board members who were not on that particular committee had little knowledge about the issue they were being asked to vote on.

The new system does not "buttonhole" or "silo" an issue into one part of the bar. Instead, board members will be looking at the issue with regard to all aspects of the bar from the vantage point of five key committee viewpoints: Regulation, Admissions & Discipline; Planning, Program Development & Budget; Stakeholder Relations; Member Oversight; and Board Operations. By the time an    issue works its way through the process to a full board vote, each board member should be fully apprised of all the components of the issue.

Under this structure, no good idea will be adopted just because it sounds good. If a good idea isn't affordable, the bar will have to figure out how to finance it or the idea will have to wait. In a nutshell, this is our ultimate goal: to be more efficient and to be accountable.

This is a new era for the bar. This board, with the help from many others who care about the State Bar's future and who had experience working through a different form of governance, made tough decisions to put in place a new process that requires a lot more work from our staff and from both our elected and public board members.

But we believe it is worth it because it will benefit all of the people who work with the bar. We hope many of you will come to our meetings and see it work.