[Thomas G. Stolpman] Thomas G. Stolpman

Plebiscite-inspirted changes cited

Each month, State Bar President Thomas Stolpman responds in this column to questions from bar members. To submit questions for the president, please send them to: Ask the President, California Bar Journal, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco 94102-4498; fax to 415/561-8247; or e-mail to

This month's question and Stolpman's response:

QUESTION: During the plebiscite campaign, you and other bar leaders said you heard the members and promised to make some changes in the State Bar. What changes have been made?

STOLPMAN: The plebiscite campaign gave me and other bar leaders the opportunity to travel up and down the state, visiting and talking to attorneys in small agricultural communities, the suburbs and big cities. We listened to their concerns and have taken them to heart. Some changes have been made, but our work is far from finished. At this point, some of those changes we have made include:

  • Lowering State Bar dues -- All active attorneys will see a $20 cut in bar dues in 1997, the first such reduction in State Bar history. Having pared down the bar's budget, the board and staff aim to keep dues at the new level for at least two more years. After paying $478 a year since 1991, most active attorneys will now pay $458 a year.

  • Responding to issues in the media -- To help counter unfair depictions of the legal profession or the workings of attorneys, the bar staff monitors a wide range of local and state newspapers and magazines, as well as national legal publications, and responds to any serious mischaracterizations within a 24-hour period.

  • Launching a State Bar internet site -- The bar's home page on the World Wide Web (http://www.calbar. org) has opened the door to an expanding collection of reference materials, publications and member records. It is now possible to look up the Rules of Professional Conduct, check the progress of the Board of Governors, find out about legislation affecting the legal profession, review bar exam results or gather basic information on any California attorney.

  • Restructuring the Board of Governors -- Members have urged the bar to become more streamlined and less bureaucratic. Restructuring the board and its committees has resulted in an organization that will be more responsive to members and consumers.

  • Customer service training for employees -- From mailroom workers to senior executives, most bar employees have attended training sessions to improve relations with the bar's "customers," lawyers and consumers alike. The training focuses on listening and techniques to respond to customer requests, criticism and anger.

  • Reorganizing staff to improve responsiveness -- To better coordinate assistance to members and clients, the bar has aligned a variety of staff groups already working toward similar goals. For instance, the bar's new member and client services group consolidates various State Bar units which focus on bar relations, client relations, the Client Security Fund, the Discipline Audit Panel, mandatory fee arbitration, the Internet and legal services programs.

  • Expanding outreach to diverse groups -- Outreach has included efforts to promote the work of attorneys with disabilities and chronic medical conditions, and to dispel discrimination of attorneys based on their sexual orientation. Flying Solo, a brochure for sole practitioners was published and the State Bar sponsored the first-ever roundtable for public and government lawyers.

  • Simplifying access to membership records -- Lawyers, court personnel and consumers now can tap into the bar's web site any time to find out whether or not a particular attorney is authorized to practice in California. Also available online are the bar numbers, addresses, phone numbers, school affiliations, dates of admission to the bar, and in some cases, fax numbers and e-mail address for more than 150,000 attorneys.