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Quietly marking a 10th anniversary

By Andy Guilford

Andy Guilford, a partner in the Orange County office of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, served a three-year term on the State Bar Board of Governors starting in 1996 and as president of the State Bar in 1999-2000.

Five years ago, the California Bar Journal quietly celebrated its fifth anniversary, while at the same time the rest of the State Bar was virtually shut down by then-Gov. Pete Wilson's veto of the dues bill.

Five years before that, many in the legal publishing world fought tooth-and-nail to prevent the State Bar Board of Governors from creating its own newspaper. Most predicted doom and gloom for the as-yet-unnamed publication, foreseeing red-ink budget fiascoes and an editorial staff controlled by the board.

Today, the California Bar Journal celebrates its 10th anniversary, almost as quietly as it did its fifth, but the circumstances are far different from the newspaper's early stages. In these 10 years, the Bar Journal has asserted its editorial independence, totally paid for itself every year since the first, provided the bar with a profit to its general fund every year since its second and, in the process, been cited with eight different national awards for content and design.

When the bar was forced to lay off nearly 80 percent of its workforce in 1998 and political stalemate delayed a dues bill until calendar year 2000, the Bar Journal served as virtually the only conduit for the bar to communicate with its membership and for the members to express how they felt about what was happening in Sacramento.

Some members, of course, were not unhappy that the bar was facing tough times. The Bar Journal did not shy away from printing their views and, in turn, some board and staff members were not thrilled about that either. In the end, however, the Bar Journal's willingness to print both sides of issues — especially when the State Bar is the issue — has helped the newspaper earn the respect and credibility it enjoys today.

Financially, the paper met success much earlier than anyone dreamed. In the preliminary financial plan presented to the board of governors in 1993, the bar expected to subsidize the Bar Journal for six years, up to a high of $300,000 per year in the early going.

Instead, the Bar Journal took off in the legal financial world immediately. In the first year, the bar subsidized the paper with $140,000. In 1995, with a solid advertising base in place, the Bar Journal broke even, not costing the bar a cent.

In the third year, the paper returned a tidy profit and has done so every year since, hitting a high of $250,000 in the late 1990s before the advertising economy took a turn. Even in these tough economic times, the Bar Journal returned a profit of $100,000 to the bar in 2002 and, when the final accounting is done, will return almost as much for the year just ended. This tally for the past decade is more than a million in profit, a growing sum that long ago quieted the critics who forecast financial debacle.

The newspaper is funded entirely by advertising dollars — no member dues are used in its production. That advertising is sold because the Bar Journal provides quality content, and advertisers know they reach the market they target.

In the end, though, the California Bar Journal is not about making money. As readership studies have proved over the years, the Bar Journal is a quality editorial publication, a quick read and an educational tool for busy lawyers.

The Bar Journal was created by Dean Kinley, an award-winning journalist who now serves as director of the bar's Media and Information Services office. The staff, ably guided by editor Nancy McCarthy with invaluable assistance from production coordinator David Cunningham, strives each month to put together a compact journal with news, advice, discipline reports and self-help sections for its readers. Financial success comes naturally because these items are read and used for their intended purposes and no money is wasted on frills or extras just to pad the number of pages.

After an initial outlay two years ago, costs have been reduced even further as the Bar Journal has become a digital production, with pages streaming in cyberspace from the editor's desk to the printing plant in Sylmar, eliminating paper and vendors and all the extra payments associated with them.

So, on this 10th anniversary, the Bar Journal will continue to publish, quietly and methodically, not costing bar members a dime — a fact we'll most likely not take note of again for five more years. In the interim, we'll continue to flip through these pages, looking to see what's happening elsewhere in the bar — a sure sign of success for any newspaper.

Andy Guilford, a partner in the Orange County office of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, served a three-year term on the State Bar Board of Governors starting in 1996 and as president of the State Bar in 1999-2000.

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