[Thomas G. Stolpman] Thomas G. Stolpman

Foundation leads bar fund-raising

State Bar President Thomas Stolpman responds in this column each month 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: What does the State Bar do for the legal profession?

STOLPMAN: In short, the State Bar does a tremendous job of both protecting and advancing the profession and our justice system. Aside from the obvious, including our legislative programs, legal services programs, multifaceted support for the trial and appellate courts, the State Bar has an impact in many ways which are not realized directly by members.

For instance, in the last several years, each of us has had a check-off box on our bar dues statements for the Foundation of the State Bar of California, a relatively new part of the bar.

The foundation was established in 1990 as a separate non-profit corporation under §501(c) (3) of the federal tax code, largely in response to the holding in Keller v. State Bar.

In Keller, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the bar had to create a system for dissenting members to avoid paying compulsory dues for certain activities with political or ideological overtones that are not reasonably related to regulating the profession or improving the quality of legal services.

The goal of the foundation is to be involved in the "charitable, educational and public benefit purposes of the State Bar of California." Many of these purposes might be considered outside of Keller purview, but nevertheless are important to our profession and to us as lawyers.

Although many members do support the foundation through a contribution made at the time that dues are paid, the overwhelming support of the foundation comes from corporate sponsors. Members also receive information about many benefits, including a mail delivery service, magazine subscriptions and a credit card program which provides significant income to the foundation.

It is significant to note that none of your State Bar dues are used for foundation activities. Funding sources for the foundation are completely separate from dues.

What is the mission of the foundation? The foundation is dedicated to promoting, improving and building public trust and confidence in the rule of law.

It funds public education programs, programs which increase access to the legal system for the poor and middle class, and efforts by members and organizations in our profession to express support for law-related causes.

In addition, the foundation provides financial support for institutions and programs which cultivate the tradition that the practice of law is a noble profession.

The foundation also provides scholarships to law students who have expressed an intention to enter into practices which encourage providing access to the poor and middle class to our justice system.

The foundation is currently at a very exciting crossroad.

With a board made up of current and past members of the Board of Governors and others, the foundation has engaged in significant and successful solicitations of corporate sponsorships.

Their efforts have led me, as president, to ask our executive director to form an executive task force to explore fundraising opportunities for the entire State Bar family, including not only the foundation, but also our sections, committees and other entities within the bar.

One of the goals of this exploration will be to provide ways for corporate sponsors interested in having access to the legal profession to provide funding for programs and activities sponsored by the foundation as well as for undertakings of our sections and others who wish to expand their roles.

What can you do to promote the foundation? First of all, be sure to use the check-off to make a contribution to the foundation when you pay your State Bar dues.

At a minimum, you should consider donating the $20 dues reduction to the foundation. Second, look around your community for programs and activities which fall within the mission of the State Bar foundation and encourage those programs.

If you have any questions, contact Jim Pfeiffer, executive director of the foundation, at 415/561-8805.

Finally, we should keep in mind the motto of the foundation: "Knowledge serves justice."