John Morris

The director's search: 'Do it right'

by John Morris

After 10 years as executive director of the State Bar of California, Herbert Rosenthal has announced his retirement, effective Jan. 18, 1998. This came as no surprise to the Board of Governors because he mentioned his retirement plans almost two years ago.

What has come as a surprise to some members of the board is the process which will be used to select a new executive director to lead an organization with an annual budget of $100 million and 740 employees.

Despite the fact that the executive director is supposed to be selected by the entire Board of Governors and serve at the pleasure of the board, two special groups have been formed to begin the search for a successor.

The process currently being employed reminds me of the dictatorial approach that was used to select a lobbyist for the State Bar and resulted in a contract that was adamantly opposed by a significant number of board members.

Because the selection process will be the most important policy issue for the board in 1997, I urge the State Bar president to make it more inclusive. The process currently in place calls for two special groups consisting of members appointed by the president.

The first group will focus on revising the job description of the executive director. It will consist of only one voting member of the Board of Governors, along with a management consultant who has limited knowledge of the bar's function.

Additionally, the consultant has been quite controversial because he was awarded a contract without the approval of the board's Committee on Administration & Finance, and his effectiveness has been questioned by several board members.

The second group, consisting of seven board members, will approve a job description, select a search firm and present a qualified candidate or candidates to the full board.

Despite the fact that the Board of Governors has several lawyers and public members with extensive management experience, only one member of this second group has significant management expertise.

As a board member, I am deeply concerned with the search process.

Clearly it would be ludicrous to have all 23 governors actively involved in the search. However, to assure that all members of the board are part of the process which will lead to the final choice, we all should be involved in the development of a job description, the selection of a search firm and the review of qualified candidates.

If the process is not more inclusive, it is doomed to failure. The same board divisiveness that resulted in the selection of our lobbyist will carry over to the selection of a new executive director, who could be controversial on the day he or she takes office.

In fairness to members of the State Bar, the public and the new executive director, let us take our time and do it right.

John Morris is a Los Angeles investment consultant and public member of the Board of Governors of the State Bar.