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'Tis the season for generosity

James E. Herman 2002-03 President State Bar of California
President, State Bar of California

Whenever I speak to the public, I remind them of the generosity of lawyers. This is the season for giving. As Shakespeare's magistrate Portia said of mercy, generosity ". . . is twice blest. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

The optional contributions listed on your annual dues statement present an opportunity to give back to the profession and the public through programs like the Legal Heritage Institute and reverse mentoring.

"Reverse mentoring?" I asked, puzzled. "Yes, reverse mentoring," Senior Lawyers Committee co-chair Jay Foonberg emphasized, his lanky frame bending forward in his chair. "Young law students teach old dogs new computer tricks such as internet research and e-mailing, and seniors teach young people tools of the trade through pro bono services of our emeritus lawyer program."

Then there are the high school juniors from non-traditional backgrounds accepted in the State Bar Foundation's Legal Heritage Institute, who spend a week with volunteer lawyers learning about the rule of law, judicial independence, and the right to a fair trial at a variety of locations throughout our state, including the historic Placer County and Nevada City courthouses and Sacramento's Stanley Mosk Supreme Court Chamber. Check out the course content and streaming video on the foundation website.

Our State Bar's charitable arm, the foundation is entirely supported by voluntary contributions through the dues statement, direct contributions through the Fellows Program and income from member services corporate discount programs including MBNA financial services, Chase Home Loans, UPS and the new West Group research and web packages tailored to solos and small firms.

Contributions from 16,000 lawyers and 100 fellows have funded more than $1 million in scholarships for students from 24 law schools. The foundation has distributed more than $1.5 million in grants to community groups, non-profits and bar associations to improve access to justice for seniors, domestic violence victims, ethnic and language minorities and other under-represented groups. And take a look at "Kids & the Law," "When You Become 18" (both available in digital form on the State Bar website) and the soon-to-be- released senior law publication for examples of your gifts that keep on giving. These publications distributed to schools and community groups are demonstrations of lawyers not only doing well but doing good.

Other giving and getting opportunities on your dues statement?

  • The $5 optional contribution to our access, fairness and elimination of bias committees. These committees work closely with the Judicial Council to ensure better access to the courts for Californians and increased diversity within our profession. For the full story on our access committees, go to our website at
  • The suggested contribution to the Supreme Court Historical Society. Our state enjoys a rich legal history of vintage courthouses and colorful judges and lawyers, a history in danger of being lost without conservation funds.
  • Membership in the State Bar sections. Our sections are your key to networking with lawyers throughout the state on issues related to your practice area and for accessing high quality MCLE. The sections also use specialized expertise to promote legislation important to their members. The sections are listed on our website as well.
  • The Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations. Last year, the conference spun off into a separate legal entity to make it clear debates and resolutions of the conference are not endorsed by the State Bar of California. The conference has been self-funded through contributions and grants since January 2000. Only a small percentage of the conference's debate centers on controversial issues but those seem to always end up in the headlines. Ninety-five percent of the conference's work is nuts and bolts improvements in legal substance and procedure drafted by local lawyers.

Here is how it works. A solo practitioner in small town California notices summary judgment procedures in unlawful detainers are out of sync with the summary nature of the proceedings and brings this technical detail to the attention of the local bar association delegates who submit a resolution to the conference.

The conference accepts the resolution for its legislative agenda, finds a sponsor in the legislature and the solo practitioner's idea becomes law. With so few lawyers in the legislature, it needs help from those of us who work with the law every day.

I want to emphasize that not one dollar of your mandatory dues is spent for any of these programs. Even the cost of appearing on the dues statement is paid by voluntary contributions. If you have questions or a beef about the bar, e-mail me at

Next month we'll talk about how your mandatory dues are used and deflate a few myths floating around as well.

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