[Marc Adelman]  Marc Adelman 

A crisis — and an opportunity

by Marc Adelman
President, State Bar of California

As you undoubtedly know, the legislation authorizing the State Bar to collect 1998 fees from our membership was vetoed last month. Our mission in fulfilling our responsibility to regulate the legal profession and the conduct of attorneys in California is threatened.

As is often the case in crucial moments like these, we can view our situation as either a crisis or an opportunity.

I view it as both.

The crisis

Along with the veto was a sharply worded message from Gov. Wilson that concluded that the bar should go back to "basics," to wit: admissions, discipline and education standards.

The veto translates into an immediate financial crisis because, without your membership fees, we will run out of money very quickly to support our mandatory regulatory functions.

Our most conservative estimates project we could run existing programs, coupled with cost control measures and limited mandatory fees, until about the end of April.

We must ask for your assistance. I appeal to all of you — friends and colleagues — to help avert the abrupt shutdown of State Bar programs.

There are certain fees that remain mandated by existing state law — $40 for the client security fund, $10 for the building fund and $27 for a portion of discipline costs. This total of $77 in mandatory fees for active members and the $50 mandatory fee paid by inactive members does not even come close to providing adequate funding for our public protection programs.

If attorneys pay only these minimum fees, the State Bar will receive less than 10 percent of its budgeted revenue. Few organizations could survive such an event.

I urge you to assist us in making up the difference by paying the full amount of fees at last year’s rate. For most of us, that would amount to $458 ($20 less than in 1996).

In turn, I promise to refund or credit any overpayment when we reach a consensus and finalize a fee bill for 1998 — and I strongly believe that this will occur. My goal is to ride out this crisis without risking the public protection services we provide.

The opportunity

The governor’s veto message has been delivered to the State Bar’s governing board. We are addressing the governor’s concerns, as well as those forwarded to us by other legislators and our membership.

If we need to restructure State Bar operations, we will do it.

If we need to explore new ways of doing business, we will do that as well.

This is a crisis, but it also is an opportunity — an opportunity to listen to the often unheard voices of members who are frustrated and unhappy, an opportunity to forge much more responsive relationships within all branches of government, and an opportunity to take bold action.

Since 1927, the State Bar has evolved to meet the changing times. We cannot — and will not — close our ears to the concerns that prompt this opportunity.

In early 1998, the board will seek emergency legislation — a revised fee bill that addresses our critics’ issues, takes into account diverse points of view, and achieves a consensus.

Working toward consensus

Consensus is crucial. For such legislation to pass on an emergency basis, the bill will need a two-thirds vote in the legislature.

We have already begun to lay the groundwork. These are very difficult times with much at stake.

But I believe that — with your help — the coming year can be one of the most exciting, productive periods in the history of our profession.