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Here’s your chance to get involved

By David Marcus

David Marcus
Marcus

Of the State Bar’s almost 200,000 members, about 75 percent actively practice law. Most lawyers’ dealings with the bar are limited to gaining admittance and paying dues. The lawyers who participate in bar activities, including attending the annual meeting, number no more than 10,000. Each year, 150 to 200 attorneys are appointed by the board of governors to serve on the 15 standing committees, 16 section executive committees and 13 special commissions, boards and committees. 

The bar wants to make sure this overwhelming majority who do not participate are making that decision consciously. Many lawyers may not know that sections and committees even exist. Others may want to serve, but have no idea how to go about doing so. Still others may believe that even if they wanted to serve, they would not be selected. 

The Volunteer Involvement Subcommittee of the board of governors, which I chair, encourages greater participation. The bar has been accused, with some justification, of being an organization run by “insiders.” The board of governors does not want any lawyer to feel he or she is excluded from participation. We want everyone with an interest to have access to the application process and the possibility of appointment. This column is written to let California lawyers know of the opportunities available and a little bit about the process, in the hopes that if you are interested, you will submit an application.

Why would anyone want to serve? It takes time. Service on the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) takes upwards of 50 hours per month. Most section executive committees meet several times a year and always at least once in person. But the intangible benefits more than compensate. The committee and commission members take pride in their work, find it fulfilling and intellectually stimulating. They are engaged in issues vitally important to the general public, lawyers, consumers of legal services, the court system and in some cases, they are involved in promoting access to justice. They serve with lawyers (and sometimes non-lawyers) who possess great expertise concerning matters within their committee’s purview. They often shape or review pending legislation. The sections produce publications, educational materials and other information, and put on seminars, all of which provide immense value to practitioners. 

The standing committees, special commissions and external entities include, but are not limited to, JNE, which evaluates qualifications of applicants to the bench; the Committee of Bar Examiners; committees established to address concerns with access to justice, provision and delivery of legal services, professional liability issues, professional responsibility and conduct; plus two outside entities, the California Judicial Council, to which the board of governors appoints four of the 27 members and the ABA House of Delegates.

Most attorneys are familiar with the sections, which involve specialized areas of practice. The largest sections have more than 9,000 members and the smallest about 1,300. Total membership approximates 60,000.

The section executive committees are made up of 15 members who serve staggered three-year terms. To apply to serve on a particular section’s executive committee, you must be a member of that section. (If you seek appointment to the eight advisory law commissions to the California Board of Legal Specialization, you must also be a certified legal specialist.) In general, the section executive committees are looking for applicants who (1) have some degree of expertise in the section’s area of law, (2) have a proven willingness to work hard on section projects, including the section’s standing committees, and (3) can get along with the other members of the section executive committee.

The sections also strive for diverse membership among committee members, taking into account gender, sexual orientation, race, length of time as a practitioner, area of practice if a section encompasses many areas of practice, size of firm and geographical locale within California. 

So if you have the time and the inclination, I invite you to take the plunge. Explore the Web sites (start at calbar.ca.gov), contact the members of the commissions, attend an executive committee, review the application form for more details and determine whether you would like to serve on one of the committees. If you decide it’s for you, fill out that application and submit it, along with any letters of recommendation, by the deadline. It may prove to be the most important decision of your legal career.

David Marcus is a vice president of the State Bar Board of Governors.

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