Let's not become bystanders


After reading many months of continuing misinformation regarding the State Bar, I am compelled to write. So much has been said that it is difficult to be brief. So I will mimic the style of most of the bar's detractors by merely offering conclusions. My observations are based on recently completing a three-year term on the board of governors. I came to the board with no significant bar experience. I was not a bar junkie but did have 25 years' experience in both a private and government practice.

It was my experience that the bar's staff and management is repeatedly and unfairly maligned by folks who apparently don't know any better. Although the staff, like any private or government practice, or bench, has varying degrees of quality, it is by and large composed of very hard-working, devoted employees. They work in incredibly difficult circumstances to satisfy legislative and leadership mandates.

One of those difficulties is working for the largest bar of its kind in the nation, and perhaps the world, for a very diverse population. It is unique. Lawyers, as a class, can be difficult. Perhaps the only more difficult thing is the number of people (including lawyers) who do not like lawyers.

Many of the bar's objectors do not really object specifically to the State Bar when you get down to it, so much as anyone regulating them at all. They simply do not want to be regulated by anything other than the barest minimum standards that the marketplace and malpractice litigation will permit. For many of those people, the profession is nothing more than a business in which making money is the only measuring standard.

It is an atmosphere in which the bar's detractors frequently don't even know what they are talking about. I have followed up on a lot of complaints to find them based on actions of a trial lawyer or other specialty bar, differing views of articles published in the California Lawyer magazine, which the State Bar does not own or print, or the State Bar following a legislative mandate over which it has no control.

Some are unhappy because the State Bar actually listened to, and asked the lawyer for, his or her view of a client complaint. Or, on the other hand, because of displeasure over a rule of professional conduct with which he or she does not agree. All things which are inherent with regulation, whoever the regulator is.

The fact is that the State Bar is virtually the only government agency to have lowered its licensure fees over the last eight years. During the last 15 years, it has continually self-monitored and evaluated itself in an attempt to provide better services at lower expense, and performed terrific feats in reinventing the attorney discipline system to be more fair to both consumers and lawyers, while eliminating its controversial backlog. Its programs, including discipline, admissions and others, frequently serve as models for the nation.

I don't personally object to suggested restrictions on the bar's lobbying powers, a position I took when I was on the board. On the other hand, the flap over the relatively few controversial positions taken by the bar in recent years (as compared to years ago) has exaggerated the issue. It is given lip service to serve a different agenda - attacking our profession.

Many of the attacks (but not all) on the State Bar are nothing more than attacks on lawyers in general. We will be regulated. The major difference is that if Sen. Kopp and some of the other misguided opponents of the bar have their way, lawyers will have little participation in the process. Sen. Kopp's plan will further dilute our own roles and give the legislature even greater authority, in the same way that the courts yearly struggle with the legislature.

We will all become bystanders. I can't understand why that would be appealing to lawyers, particularly those who are unhappy with the present circumstance. They will have even less input than they have now, which is why many in Sacramento find the alternatives appealing.

Ventura lawyer Michael Case served on the State Bar Board of Governors from 1993-96.