Rebuilding the State Bar


After weeks of listening to the governor and legislators, as well as hundreds of attorneys from all corners of the state, we have jointly come up with what I believe is the best solution to the funding crisis which continues to threaten the State Bar’s existence.

The introduction of AB 1669 represents an enormous step toward addressing the issues confronting our 71-year-old State Bar. The real work, challenge and opportunity is just beginning.

The bill is authored by Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys; newly elected Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, D-Los Angeles; and outgoing Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante, D-Fresno. It is co-authored by outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer, D-Hayward.

The bill retains a unified State Bar to carry out regulatory functions and calls for a different structure for activities such as the Conference of Delegates and our sections.

It also lowers dues.

The bill’s most important point, however, is that it retains a State Bar in charge of attorney regulation, discipline, admissions and other related core functions.

California’s attorney discipline system — a process that has evolved for decades to meet the needs of a growing, changing profession — is integral to the legal profession’s role in protecting the public.

In reading countless letters from members and in talking to attorneys and consumers statewide, I have fielded very few complaints focused on the workings of the discipline system. The system’s costs, of course, are always an issue and some of the bar’s other activities and programs have certainly raised concerns.

But, in general, there seems to be little debate over the value of our discipline system to the public and our members.

Just consider the alternative.

Currently, the bar receives some 140,000 calls a year to its consumer hotline. It reviews roughly 15,000 complaints of attorney misconduct each year and opens full-fledged investigations in approximately 6,000 cases.

In operating any system, it is healthy — and indeed, vitally important — to continually re-evaluate the process and look for better, more cost-effective ways of getting the job done.

There is no benefit in shutting down an effective system of this magnitude — only to give the job of attorney discipline to another public entity. Attorneys, not the taxpaying public, will continue to fund the system no matter who is in charge.

Restructuring the State Bar will, of course, be our greatest challenge in the weeks and months ahead. The proposed bill lowers fees to $419 in 1998 and $399 in 1999. As a consequence, extremely difficult cuts lie ahead.

I have come to believe that this bill can lead to a stronger, more effective and efficient State Bar. This is not to say that I favor a bifurcated bar or the possibility of losing some of the programs currently operating in our unified bar.

To the contrary.

A constant stream of letters and countless hours of meetings with attorneys and legislators across the state have led me to believe that we do, indeed, have an opportunity here.

For the State Bar to continue as a vital force in California, we must listen to the multitude of voices and carefully rebuild.

Marc Adelman, a San Diego solo practitioner, is president of the State Bar of California.