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A look back at promises fulfilled

By James O. Heiting
President, State Bar of California

James O. Heiting

At the beginning of my year as your president, I promised to develop an approach to get young people involved, encouraging minorities and the discouraged, the disadvantaged, the disenchanted, the disabled, in a program to encourage a career in the law and to encourage those already in the law in advancement.

I promised that we would have a good, true model “pipeline” program in place by the end of my year. After countless hours of dedication, analysis and review by our Pipeline Task Force, we have it! Rolled out this month at the Annual Meeting, it will be available on our Web site.

 I told you we must insure that all legal service programs of value to indigents continue, with increased capabilities wherever possible. The Equal Access Fund is now in better shape than ever, and I have been working with the legislature and have appointed a group to study how we may optimize funding for legal services for indigents.

Funding for our courts has been dismal and shameful; but, with your strong support and the strong support of the Bench-Bar Coalition, 50 new judgeships are now in place, court facilities funding is looking up, and the horizon looks promising (in a reserved sort of way).

I have always been an advocate of improved member benefits, and this year we have been able to work with the State Bar Foundation to move the affinity sponsorship programs from the foundation over to the State Bar where we can, while assisting in funding the foundation at equal or better levels, increase member benefits and availability of affinity programs (insurance products, office products, telephone, credit card, overnight mail, etc.). We have assigned a senior member of the staff to be dedicated to member benefits and to oversee increasing efforts in this area.

We have continued to evaluate and critique our management and performance, our budget, our spending and our use of your funds. I have worked hard to insure that programs and departments are as efficient as possible and that appropriate studies be undertaken to insure efficiency and results.

I mentioned planting seeds for courts dedicated to pro per litigants, and I am pleased to report we now have pilot programs for some courts. I mentioned exploring civil litigants’ right to counsel, and while we are not there yet, we have achieved new legislation that gives civil litigants a right to interpreters in certain cases. 

I have asked that the courts look at attorney security passes for access to courts without standing in long lines and going through unnecessary security checks. We currently have multiple courts that permit and encourage these programs, but we are considering pilot projects in some of the larger courts to solidify this as a possible statewide program. A study is now in process with the cooperation of sheriffs’ offices, the courts and bar leaders. 

I have always been concerned with the way we treat each other and the courts and submitted a proposal for an Ethics in Advocacy School alternative to sanctions in the civil courts. While that is under consideration, Shelly Sloan, our new president, has announced an ethics and civility initiative. I look forward to supporting that initiative and wish Shelly great success with his presidency.

Of course, I will continue to support the Lawyers Assistance Program, The Other Bar and the Alternative Discipline Program, and the ideals that they embody.

I have encouraged greater communication and partnering between local bars and the State Bar, one of the expectations being to generate revenues for each. Currently in its embryonic stages, we are testing this approach, initially with our insurance programs. Eleven local bars now partner with the State Bar.

I have set in place a program for a paperless bar and board of governors. With the assistance of Gary Clarke from the bar’s I.T. department, we did some testing and have been developing our own programs that should permit the board to go paperless in the future, with direct access to board materials, agendas, section materials and other materials that would historically be provided through hard copy and mail. Paperless record keeping archives also is a focus.

My gratitude goes out to all members of the board of governors whom I have worked with over the years and all the other people that have given me so much support. I also deeply thank those members of the staff at the State Bar who have been of such great assistance.

Some final thoughts:

Power, property, prestige. These are some of the things that go along with a legal career and are certainly perceived to attend being the president of the State Bar. But do they make us happy? Is this where we find life’s essence? 

Power gives the feeling of control. It gives us the belief (however false) that we are in control of our destiny and our surroundings. Property gives us a feeling of stability and contributes to a sense of well-being. Prestige speaks of achievement and accomplishment, praise and acknowledgment.

But I have learned that the riches of life and its most satisfying aspects are realized in my relationship with others. They give me strength and courage. You give me insights, wisdom, knowledge and feelings of connection and belonging that I could never otherwise know.

It is, in part, the development of these types of relationships that has made being the president of the State Bar so fulfilling and gratifying. I have developed a wealth of good friends around the state and elsewhere, and I will cherish this opportunity you have given me, forever.

Even though the riches of life, whether one is wealthy or poor, healthy or sick, employed or jobless, truly come in our relationships with others, asperamus ad asteras, my friends, and let’s go out and do some good.

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