[Marc Adelman] 

Marc Adelman 

Hearing members loud and clear

by Marc Adelman
President, State Bar of California

Thanks George Kraw. I hear you loud and clear. Thank you Robert Rosenthal, Bruce Busch, Al Bianchi, Dale Bacigalupi and William Walters … you too have made an impression on my thought process.

The bar president always receives a steady stream of letters and e-mail messages, but the governor’s veto of our funding authority has sent record numbers of them in my direction.

Although I am certain I have not seen them all (as the numbers are overwhelming), I do try to respond, in one form or another to all of them.

The text of the messages are similar. They all contain an opinion about the future of the State Bar and our profession.

Although I agree with very few of them, I feel they may reflect the vocal majority of our silent membership. They contain a wealth of information about how this organization is perceived and respected. Perhaps I have been wrong all along about our members’ sentiments.

I felt, having toiled as a sole practitioner for so many years, that my attitudes might have reflected those of us who make up the largest segment of the bar &emdash; the solo or small firm member.

Our members who have had little contact with the State Bar or who rarely speak up are taking the time to express their concerns and to propose solutions. Local voluntary bar associations insist, for the most part, that we draw a “line in the sand” to maintain the programs we have traditionally offered.

One longtime member urged me to “hang tough.” Others have detailed their past experiences with the State Bar — some positive, most negative.

Others have raised questions about the bar’s budget, programs or policies. Still others have written pages and pages of suggestions for trimming, reconstructing, revamping or rebuilding our 70-year-old bar.

For me, this recent avalanche of letters — including those critical of the bar — is enlightening. It is always important for State Bar members to make their views known. But in light of the recent fee bill veto, it is even more crucial.

My colleagues on the board of governors and I have spent much of these last three months listening to the concerns of the governor and legislators, as well as those of our members.

Our goal is to find common ground, seek a resolution to the crisis and finalize a 1998 fee bill through emergency legislation.

Many of the letters provide snapshots of how many of you view the State Bar. Some are eye-opening.

In explaining his feelings of alienation toward the bar, Palo Alto attorney Peter Brewer wrote, “I am not a fat cat lawyer in a big firm . . . We don’t have marble or teak wood decor.”

It made me wonder how he envisions the board of governors. No marble or teak can be found in my office. How about a folding chair?

Then there was the letter from Modesto attorney Richard Cotta Jr., suggesting that he probably could not even get an interview at my “firm” because he doesn’t know the right people, didn’t go to the right school or doesn’t belong to the “right clubs.”

He also thought I was paying my associates more than he was making (Richard is a well-respected 12-year veteran trial attorney). I couldn’t resist. I promptly called him and revealed the name of my club — the YMCA — and the fact that I have never had an associate.

On a more serious note, members have written to express their concerns and embrace valued programs. Some have even offered their time and assistance.

A relatively new attorney from Spring Valley wrote, “If there is any help a young, energetic lawyer can provide, please let me know and I will be happy to help … How will proper discipline be assured? How will the bar run the bar exam and, if its costs soar, what about the poorer aspiring lawyers who are already sadly underrepresented?”

Sacramento attorney Harold M. Thomas, in submitting his voluntary fees, expressed concern about how far the State Bar will go to compromise: "What is the bar willing to give up for a dues bill?"

The letters propose a variety of solutions from a wide range of attorneys. San Francisco attorney Philip Adams wrote to suggest exploring the possibility of having the state Supreme Court take over the operation of the State Bar Court by court rule.

A State Bar executive called Mr. Adams to discuss his letter and happened to discover that, at 92, he was the oldest practicing attorney in San Francisco — and proud of it. (Just a few days later I was saddened to learn he passed away.)

Walnut Creek attorney Ken Fishbach wrote: "The best result would be to dismantle the State Bar and start over with zero-based budgeting. Beyond licensing, all else should be voluntary and separate associations of choice, just as with other professions."

Los Angeles attorney Joseph Aidlin suggested that the bar review its spending and MCLE programs. Andrew S. Cho, another Los Angeles attorney, urged the bar to refrain from all political lobbying and to dismantle JNE.

Then, of course, there were my personal favorites, an e-mail message that arrived shortly after the veto. It stated simply and succinctly: "What a bummer!"

The other from a close friend on the bench: “What’s next for the State Bar, Marc — a plague of locusts?”

The letters also revealed some misperceptions about the State Bar — particularly about its legislative activities and its Conference of Delegates.

Contrary to the views of some, the resolutions approved by the conference do not automatically become the State Bar’s positions. The conference is an annual free speech forum in which some 1,000 local bar association representatives from across the state meet to debate and vote on resolutions.

A misrepresentation regarding the bar’s primary focus also seems to persist. The bulk of the bar’s general fund continues to support its disciplinary and regulatory functions — in essence, public protection. In fact, roughly 85 percent of the bar’s general fund supports its public protection activities.

I do not mean by any stretch of the imagination that there is no room for change. As I write this column, no one knows what the solution will be to our funding crisis or what changes in addition to greater efficiency and cost controls will come about.

I am driven to improve our organization in every facet. Rest assured that your letters and e-mail will be considered in our re-evaluation of the bar’s operations and programs.

During this difficult time, we, the officers of the court and trustees of our profession, must work together to forge a solution.