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A more member-centric bar

By James O. Heiting
President, State Bar of California

James O. Heiting

The State Bar Board of Governors is grateful for your service and your dedication to the law, justice and our citizens. You make “liberty and justice for all” not only a work in progress, but an illusive dream that you can bring closer to reality every day. You are a lawyer, an advocate. You make a difference.

For these reasons, during my tenure on the board of governors, we have focused a great deal of effort toward benefiting and supporting our membership. In 2002, we began surveying our membership and other bars and began to explore benefits to assist lawyers in their practices, careers and lives. We looked at the State Bar Foundation to determine whether we could use their programs and complement them. We explored the legislative scheme to make sure we capitalized on our capabilities within those constraints.

The bar is exploring a variety of “affinity” products, with the ultimate goal of making available value-added products, such as financial services, office equipment and other programs, to assist attorneys in their practices. The concept includes a “virtual warehouse” of State Bar-sponsored programs and products that members could access through a link on the bar’s Web site. The bar is also looking at ways to measure member satisfaction through frequent polling.

We can’t take credit for this effort without a nod to the State Bar Foundation (a nonprofit, philanthropic entity). The foundation currently sponsors member benefit programs in order to fund its scholarship and charitable activities. However, the State Bar is currently exploring ways to enhance these programs with an eye toward making them more comprehensive and competitive.

The State Bar has sponsored a life insurance product for more than 50 years and professional liability, off and on, for almost 30 years. We have two outstanding committees that oversee our insurance programs, the Committee on Group Insurance and the Committee on Professional Liability Insurance. The committee members are expert attorneys and business professionals who volunteer countless hours to receive and review quarterly reports on claims and pay-outs, review policy provisions, and advocate on behalf of our members who either are policyholders or wish to be policyholders. They examine the relationships with brokers and administrators, carriers and products, and provide invaluable services in the development and administration of the insurance offered.

But we don’t stop with life and PLI. We also have made provision for home, auto, workers’ compensation, long-term disability and care, accidental death and dismemberment, and business office packages. We are working to develop a portfolio of other affinity products and programs, value added, tailored to the demographics of our membership. These are only the outside edges of a more member-centric State Bar.

The most solid, and probably greatest, member benefit program was created as the result of Sen. John Burton’s recognition of the services that The Other Bar (1-800/222-0767) has provided for decades to our members, confidentially and anonymously. I was pleased to be able to assist Sen. Burton with some of the language and with implementation of the most comprehensive Lawyer Assistance Program in the nation. Assistance with chemical dependency and mental health issues, as well as short-term counseling services for stress, is offered. The program saves lives, families and careers. The LAP (1-877/LAP 4 HELP or 1-877/527-4435) is completely confidential and no member is turned away due to finances. We also put in place the Alternative Discipline Program to address chemical dependency and mental health issues that impact discipline. The program is designed to reduce the costs of prosecution and investigation and ultimately to reduce recidivism and increase client protection.

At the top of the benefits list is the Ethics Hotline (1-800/238-4427). Members may call with questions and receive answers and guidance within 24 hours. Following the lead of the hotline, this year we instituted a Member Services Center (1-888/800-3400), which acts as the bar’s information booth. We have already had thousands of calls, and our staff deserves high marks for being of real assistance to our members.

We are constantly looking for ways to improve access to justice, and we see serving our members as a part of that overall scheme. 

If you haven’t heard it lately, to all the members of the judiciary, and to all of the lawyers out there, thank you for what you do. Let’s go out and do some good.

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