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A new agenda from a new leader

By Sheldon Sloan
President, State Bar of California

Sheldon Sloan

This is my first column as your president. Most of the items mentioned here were also contained in my acceptance speech on Oct. 7. However, I think they are important enough to bear repeating for those of you who were unable to attend the Annual Meeting in Monterey.

Starting a new bar year is an exciting prospect. We have new members of the board — the rookies — hailing from different practices and different regions. We have current board members — the second year returnees — often still learning their way around the bar but ready to roll up their sleeves and get to it. And we have our third-year members — the veterans — seasoned with two years of experience and ready to lead into the future.

The good news this year is that our agenda is trim and slim: We are going to pursue only two major projects — one, our Pipeline Project to Diversity, already a work in progress, and two, a Code of Professionalism and Civility, all of which can be borrowed from excellent codes already in place. The not-so-good news — but hey, this is why we run for the board in the first place – is that these two important projects will require tremendous amounts of work, not just from the veterans but from the entire board.

Two years ago, President John Van de Kamp spoke of pipeline issues, and this past year, under President Jim Heiting, we developed a set of programs for approaching young people and getting them involved in the law. These programs are designed at their core to give hope to economically disadvantaged young people in pursuit of a career in law and to encourage those already in the law to become involved in the State Bar.

In the coming year — under the continuing leadership of Dean Ruthe Ashley of McGeorge School of Law — the pipeline will develop into the full reality of a comprehensive program that encourages diversity from the ground up. Our Stakeholders Committee, with Ruthe as chair, the rest of the board, our staff and volunteers will no doubt create a model program for the nation, one from which many state and local bars can draw to help achieve the diverse and open environment we envision.

At the same time, we also are going to ask our members that they afford each other, the courts and the public simple civil courtesy and behave as lawyers should be expected to behave. By borrowing from civility codes already in place and not trying to reinvent the wheel, I do not expect the development of a Code of Professionalism to take a long time. But then, once again, that’s when the hard work really begins.

Under the watch of Marguerite Downing, a senior deputy public defender in Los Angeles County and chair of our Membership Oversight Committee, the code will then be presented to lawyers, law firms and public agencies throughout California. We will ask that they sign a pledge to abide by these common courtesy rules. While we’re at it, we also will ask the same folks to sign our existing diversity and pro bono pledges, making a renewed commitment to all of these essential elements of our profession.

While the Pipeline to Diversity and the civility pledge are the only new efforts planned for this year, I want to assure you that important ongoing work of the bar is also in capable hands. Many members are not aware of the never-ending work that goes into the bar’s appointments process — for appointments to the Judicial Council, the Judicial Evaluation Nominations Committee (JNE), the Committee of Bar Examiners and all other State Bar entities. All appointments originate in the Volunteer Involvement Committee, which will be ably chaired this year by Jo-Ann Grace, who in her “spare”time is the co-publisher of the legal daily Metropolitan News and its affiliated papers.

As most of you know, our discipline budget alone runs in the neighborhood of $50 million per year, about 80 percent of our operating budget. You also probably know that a lot of people throughout the state like to watch our entire bar budget like a hawk, which is why we spend three full days every year discussing initiatives and costs at a planning retreat.

I am pleased to report that both of these functions — discipline and the bar budget — will be in excellent hands this year: Jim Scharf of San Jose, partner in an in-house legal operation and an active trial lawyer, will head our Regulation, Admissions and Discipline Committee, and Jeffrey Bleich of San Francisco, partner in Munger, Tolles & Olson, will lead our Planning, Program Development & Budget Committee. Following our retreat, Jeff’s committee will shape and then present next spring the entire State Bar budget for the year ahead and help us work with the legislature to attain another two-year dues bill.

So, that is our agenda and our veteran team to guide us in our important mission. At our Annual Meeting in Monterey last month, I asked our board members, our staff and all other leaders of the bench and bar to make a strong commitment to the important work in the coming months. I know that they will do so.

We are truly blessed with some of the best and brightest who will help us carry out these efforts. I have pledged my support to them, and I know that any success that may be achieved this year will truly be a shared one.

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