California Bar Journal
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Time for the bar to change
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'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 changing circumstances.'

- 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.

Clara SlifkinThe 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 profession's demands.

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 self-incrimination.

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.