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Working to make our bar more relevant

By Anthony P. Capozzi
President, State Bar of California

Anthony P. Capozzi

We are entering a pivotal year for the State Bar. In the past few years, we have worked together to bring about positive change for an organization that just six years ago faced the worst crisis in its history.

This past year, my predecessor, Jim Herman, moved the bar forward on a number of issues, from fiscal accountability, member services and benefits, to access to justice. He and our chief justice, Ronald George, fought tirelessly to blunt the severe impact that drastic reductions in funding would bring to our courts. We salute both of these leaders and their undying efforts to work for the good of all Californians and our system of justice.

We cannot rest on what has been accomplished. We must continue building on the good works of this past year, working with the chief justice, the courts and the legislature on issues of funding, as well as insuring that our State Bar is relevant to our membership and the public in a positive manner.

Throughout history, indeed even in the present time, it is safe to say that the image and the reality of lawyers are quite far apart. The majority of members of this State Bar and of every state and local bar around the country, work unheralded every day to make life better for the people of this state and the nation. This year, we will work hard to raise the awareness of the general public to the dedication of lawyers everywhere.

Lawyers do not get enough credit for the work they do, day in and day out. Public lawyers, prosecutors, public defenders, county counsel work tirelessly for wages that would be much higher in the private sector, but they remain in their jobs working to insure that our system of justice works. Lawyers in the private arena insure that disputes are resolved within the justice system and donate countless hours to charitable organizations.

The lawyers who I believe do not get enough credit and whose story is seldom told are the legal services and pro bono attorneys. In addition to all the reasons that people don’t like lawyers, the pro bono service of attorneys almost always adds some: They insist that poor people have rights – rights that often make the unpoor very uncomfortable. Just last month, the State Bar honored many of these attorneys at our annual meeting, and in upcoming months we are going to tell their stories and others, in many different ways throughout this great state.

Our extra efforts to make the public aware of these “good lawyer” stories will not leave the business of the bar untended. For the first time in recent memory, our State Bar is financially accountable and receives a clean bill of health from our state auditor.

We are pursuing all avenues to insure that our dues are kept at the lowest level possible. Revenue enhancement from sources other than membership dues will be a priority this coming year. We are going to work very hard to do everything possible to keep dues at a low level while insuring the discipline system continues its excellent job with our primary mission: public protection.

I am optimistic for the coming year and look forward to the challenging issues that confront us as lawyers, as members of the public at large and as guardians of our system of justice. We invite all of our members, including the local bars, specialty bars and those members who are not involved in any organized bar to join us in confronting the challenges ahead. Together we can work to make our bar and our profession more relevant to the lawyers of this state and more responsive to the needs of all who live in the state of California.

Also important to us is that 2004 is the 50th anniversary of Brown v. The Board of Education. Our bar has been a leader in promoting culturally diverse representation at all levels, and we will be taking steps in the coming months to plan how the State Bar will celebrate this momentous occasion in our nation’s history.

We have a busy and challenging year ahead of us. My hope is that our board, composed of lawyers and public members of the highest caliber, will take this opportunity to implement real change by not just finding fault, rather finding remedies to problems and offering new ideas to move us into the future.

I am humbled and honored to serve as your president. I love being a lawyer. I am proud to be a lawyer. Hopefully, that same feeling I have will be shared throughout our membership.

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