by Donald R. Fischbach
After a 35-year professional career devoted to the State Bar of California, Herbert Rosenthal retired Nov. 1. He will be missed. When Herb was named executive director of the bar in 1987, he was asked where he would like to see the organization five years later. "I want to see the bar still be here," he answered simply.
That the bar is still here, despite serious efforts to dismantle it entirely and a wide range of other challenges, is a testament to Herbís leadership for the past decade. He has steered the bar, the largest in the country and some would say the most unwieldy, through choppy waters infested with legal challenges, image problems and critical lawmakers.
Herb is uniformly described as quiet, low-key and unassuming, a man who operates behind the scenes and lets others serve as the barís public image. That characterization is true.
But his quiet nature masks a fierce commitment to professionalism, a real caring for the underrepresented, and a warmth that inspires loyalty among those who know him best.
I first met Herb in the late 1970s, when he was general counsel of the bar and I joined the board of the California Young Lawyers Association. I got to know him much better 15 years later when he was executive director and I was elected to the bar board of governors.
During my year as president of the State Bar, we became good friends and I cherish that friendship. My presidency was much more enjoyable than I anticipated because of his solid support and assistance.
On a professional level, I respect him for his many accomplishments, which may be unknown to those not intimately involved with the bar.
In his roles as general counsel and executive director, he has worked closely with the legislature, helped revamp the barís overloaded discipline system in the 1980s and 1990s, promoted improvement of attorney-client relations and alternative dispute resolution, and urged increased diversity in the legal profession. He helped found and was the first executive director of Volunteers in Parole, a successful program in which attorneys serve as mentors to parolees from the California Youth Authority.
In addition to his State Bar activities, Herb has been an active participant in a variety of American Bar Association projects, including client protection, legal services, non-lawyer practice, and discipline.
And, of course, he has worked closely with the California courts, particularly to eliminate gender bias.
The bottom line at all times has been improved professionalism and the delivery of quality legal services to all Californians. Herb has campaigned tirelessly for pro bono services for the poor. Indeed, in retirement he plans to devote some of his free time to that cause.
Although Herb is a workaholic, he has made time to pitch for The Suspenders, the barís erstwhile softball team, play four-on-four pickup basketball, to make a home with his wife of six years, Margarita, and spend time with his extended family. He loves Mexican food, Star Trek (yes, he is a "Trekkie"), action flicks, kaleidoscopes, and ethnic art.
Mostly, he has loved the bar and his profession.
Donald R. Fischbach, a partner in the Fresno law firm of Baker, Manock & Jensen, was president of the State Bar in 1994-95.