|'Childhood must pass away, and then youth, as surely as age
approaches. The true wisdom is to be always seasonable, and to change with a good grace in
- Robert Louis Stevenson
The deadline for funding has come and passed; employees have been laid off; tears have
been shed; recriminations, accusations and blame have run their course.
Now, the State Bar Board of Governors - long silent on how to restructure the bar
to afford the legislature and Gov. Wilson the opportunity to reach a consensus -
must pick up the pieces and formulate a plan.
To change with grace, we must define our common goals. We must continuously improve our
profession by raising standards of practice and civility, better representing the lawyers
throughout California, cutting costs of State Bar membership, being more responsive to
practicing lawyers and improving the discipline system. To achieve these goals, the bar's
structure must be designed to serve its members while protecting the public.
The bar has certain
voluntary and mandatory components. On the voluntary side, the Conference of Delegates can
become independent and funded solely by voluntary member contributions. While a voluntary
conference can take positions on policy issues while respecting the values, judgments and
opinions of all the members of the bar, it also can work with the bar legislation which
impacts the practice of law. The annual bar dues statement should have a $25 checkoff for
voluntary support of the conference.
The self-funded sections should also continue to have a close relationship with the
mandatory State Bar. The legislature and the courts have recognized that the purpose of
the State Bar must be to regulate the profession and improve the quality and availability
of legal services. This task cannot be accomplished without input from these sections
which have expertise in the different subject areas which affect the legal profession and
the practice of law.
Most fundamentally, the bar should listen to the voices of its constituents. Dues are
simply too high. The profession should become more affordable not only for the solo
practitioner and new attorney, but for all lawyers.
We should also transfer the State Bar Court to the Supreme Court. To avoid any
appearance of conflict, the State Bar Court should be totally independent from the rest of
the State Bar.
The State Bar of the future must concentrate on the basics: admissions, discipline,
public and professional education, access to justice and responding to our changing
The bar seeks to protect the public with a strong, fair and even-handed discipline
system which is mostly successful but does need improvement. The discipline system of the
future must focus on the most serious cases.
Prevention programs and ethics information should be available to all lawyers, as
should affordable malpractice insurance and improved fee arbitration programs.
In addition, lawyers who are disciplined should have some fundamental rights, including
reasonable notice of the charges against them and the right to receive all exculpatory
evidence from the State Bar, examine and cross-examine witnesses and exercise any rights
guaranteed by the state or U.S. constitutions, including the right against
These rights were succinctly defined this past year by Sen. John Burton, D-San
Francisco, and became amendments to the failed State Bar dues legislation.
This is the time for change, not destruction.
Any change takes time.
We have heard the legislature, the governor and our fellow lawyers.
Now is the time for the board of governors to move.
Clara Slifkin of Los Angeles is a second-year
member of the bar's board of governors.