California Bar Journal
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Time to talk to one another
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President, State Bar of California
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Ray MarshallI have heard from a number of you who very generously paid voluntary dues last year and now are distressed that the bar is unable to make refunds or offer a credit toward the 1999 dues. When the board of governors sought voluntary dues last year, we believed the bar would be able to win passage of a dues bill and that its financial predicament would last only one year. As you know, that did not happen.

Although we were successful before the Supreme Court in obtaining a special assessment for discipline activities, the special master appointed by the Supreme Court has ruled that those funds must be devoted exclusively to that operation. He has directed that none are to be used to refund any excess dues paid last year.

The State Bar remains in severe financial distress. The voluntary contributions which came in last year were spent just to keep the doors open, continuing only a handful of the bar’s functions. Indeed, many mandated programs remain unfunded. We are optimistic that we will win passage of a dues bill this year, which, if a majority bill, will take effect Jan. 1, 2000. When we have reached that point, we will be in a position to fulfill our commitment to offer a dues credit to those who helped us last year and to whom we remain grateful.

In order that we obtain that legislation, I ask that you write to your representatives in Sacramento. The State Bar should be on the radar of every senator and assembly member, so that when this measure comes before them, they will have a full appreciation of the bar’s predicament.

Whether they agree or disagree with the amount of dues proposed or the individual components of the bill, I believe the vast majority of attorneys in this state understand that it is in the best interest of the public and our legal profession that the State Bar must continue to exist as a single, unified mandatory bar.

We are making an effort to address the many concerns raised in the past year, and the fee bill will do that. I hope we can use the current crisis as an opportunity to work together to achieve a bar which will protect the public effectively, serve our members efficiently, and remain true to our mission to "preserve and improve our justice system in order to assure a free and just society under law."

The State Bar mid-year meeting next month is a case in point. In years past, the bar traditionally has held a mid-year meeting for "bar leaders" throughout California. Because one of my main priorities this year is to improve communication with our members, I want to expand the audience for that meeting to include as many of you as possible. This will be an opportunity for California lawyers to join bar leaders and talk to us.

At a time when the State Bar is undergoing fundamental change, this is an opportunity for you to make a contribution.

We will hold a public forum at the meeting for just that purpose. Tell us what you think about the bar and how it can be improved. Share with us your concerns about the practice of law and how the bar might make the life of a lawyer a little easier.

We can make change and solve problems only if we talk to one another.

The mid-year meeting will be held March 26-27 in Costa Mesa. Attorney General Bill Lockyer will address the Saturday luncheon and John McKay, president of the Legal Services Corporation, will speak Friday. In addition, a variety of seminars will be presented on topics ranging from appointments to the bench to Y2K readiness.

Registration information about the meeting can be found on page 7. I encourage and welcome your participation.