San Mateo sole practitioner Vivian L. Kral is concerned about legal ethics and the public perception of lawyers. She thinks the bar needs to do a better job of both making the public more aware of all it does and somehow improving attorneys' image.
"The public is not aware of the many different things the bar does, particularly in the discipline system," Kral says. "Neither the public nor lawyers understand how the discipline system works, which is why there are misunderstandings and misconceptions and, frankly, distrust. The public believes the bar protects its own and does not discipline, which is far from the truth."
Kral, 43, also wants to make the bar more receptive and accessible to lawyers in sole practice or who are not associated with large law firms. "Lots of solos have a genuine concern about what happens to their dues and what the bar does for them," she says.
Kral believes the plebiscite brought many issues to the attention of bar leaders and she wants to be part of the resulting discussion. She rejects the contention of some bar critics that the organization has not followed through on its promises (after last year's vote) to listen to its opponents.
Opposition to the current dues bill which apparently resulted from bar support of an amendment to the medical malpractice law is pure political retribution, she says. To say that because the bar took a position on the legislation "it is unresponsive so let's cut dues is absurd," Kral says. "It's holding a gun to the bar's head and totally ignores the good things it does."
Kral said publicizing those good things can be a problem and she is loathe to suggest spending money on publicity. "It's hard to know how to get that message out," she said. "For many people, their only contact with the bar is when they get the (dues) bill."
Kral has a lengthy list of professional, bar and civic activities, including currently serving as president of California Women Lawyers. A civil litigator, she specializes in family law and ADR. She and her husband, a commercial realtor, are the parents of two girls and a boy between the ages of 5 and 8.
Contra Costa County has not had a representative on the board of governors since 1986, and Palmer B. Madden thinks that's too long. A partner in the Walnut Creek office of McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, Madden says that although he has followed bar issues for many years, he's no bar junkie.
A fiscal conservative, he wants to be certain "our bar dues are being well-spent. I'm not sure that's true." A further dues reduction, however, requires closer study, Madden says.
Long interested in continuing education, Madden says he agrees with the bar's decision to appeal the recent appellate ruling on the MCLE program. He supports mandatory continuing education, but favors a more limited program -- one without the "peripheral" requirements such as courses on substance abuse. "There may be some opportunities to see the program structured better and smarter," Madden says. He also wants to try to lower the cost of MCLE by working with local bar associations to foster better programs.
Asked about a frequent complaint that the bar does not communicate well with its members, Madden disagrees. "I think the State Bar does a darn good job of getting the word out to people," he says. "The fact is, it's not terribly important to people. It's irrelevant for most members most of the time."
A commercial litigator, Madden, 50, graduated from Stanford University and received his law degree at Boalt Hall. He was president last year of the Contra Costa County Bar Association and has been president of the Contra Costa Council and the Kennedy King Foundation.
He and his wife, Susan Paulus, manager of litigation for the McKesson Corp., live in the East Bay with two dogs, five cats, six chickens and two horses. Madden likes to read history and ride horses in his spare time.
As a sole practitioner, Bick N. Nguyen thinks the State Bar should pay a little more attention to him and his colleagues. "We are the backbone of the State Bar," he says.
Although he has no precise recommendations, he believes the bar should have more support programs, particularly in practice management, and telephone lines dedicated to questions from solos.
Nguyen, who practices in San Jose, also believes the discipline system could use a little fine-tuning: some violations, particularly technical ones, deserve a little less punishment, while others invite more severe consequences. Attorneys who steal money from clients, for instance, should be permanently disbarred, says Nguyen, 36. He also favors more public input into the discipline process, as well as better publicity.
Dues should be set on a sliding scale and take into consideration factors such as the number of dependents an attorney supports as well as his or her earnings, says the father of four.
Nguyen operates a general practice, and frequently subcontracts with the Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara to represent criminal defendants.
He received his law degree from the University of Santa Clara and serves on the boards of several civic organizations. He and his wife, a restaurant consultant, have two boys and two girls between the ages of 7 and 11.