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A new name launches a new era

By R. Scott Wylie

Scott Wylie
Wylie

As Shakespeare is so often quoted, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” For nearly two decades, the charitable foundation representing the attorneys of the state has gone by the somewhat inelegant and cumbersome name of the Foundation of the State Bar of California.

Lots of “ofs.” Too many words. Not marketed very effectively. It was time for a change.

Today the board of the Foundation is announcing what we hope will be a much sweeter sounding name — California Bar Foundation. Not a lot of “ofs”; more concise; and easier to fit on a check. Along with the new name, the board is undertaking a broad initiative to re-introduce the Foundation and its important work on behalf of California’s legal community, including a newly relaunched Web site.

In the near future, you will begin to see new marketing pieces and advertisements that tell the compelling story of the good lawyers do in California. Good, by the way, that the supporters of the Foundation do on a voluntary basis and without compulsion. More than 10,000 of the state’s attorneys and judges voluntarily support the California Bar Foundation financially each year. We also count among our top donors a fast-growing number of law firms committed to giving back to the community.

The California Bar Foundation was created in 1990 to serve as the charitable giving arm of the State Bar of California. Since that time, the Foundation has focused its giving on investing in the next generation of public interest attorneys and access to justice efforts undertaken by local, specialty and minority bar associations, legal services agencies and California courts. Over the years, the Foundation has distributed more than $2 million in scholarship assistance and nearly $3.5 million in grants to eligible organizations. All of this giving comes from attorney and law firm donations and revenue from corporate sponsors and generates immeasurable goodwill for the state’s legal profession as a whole.

Through our Law School Scholarship program, hundreds of public-service minded law students from nearly every law school in the state have received substantial scholarship support to ease the crushing debt burden that keeps so many new lawyers from choosing to serve in the public’s interest. According to a recent sampling, more than one-half of the Foundation’s past recipients are pursuing public interest law careers. This diverse group of California attorneys is working with public defender offices, for district attorneys and federal prosecutors, and with pro bono and legal aid organizations. Through our scholarship program, we help ensure that a corps of impressive public interest attorneys, committed to serving the critical legal needs of an increasingly multicultural California, flows from the state’s law schools. 

The Foundation has also been instrumental in supporting many of the State Bar of California’s education and outreach efforts that cannot be funded by mandatory membership dues. For example, we support the Lawyer Assistance Program, diversity pipeline projects, public education programs sponsored by our sections, and the widely respected publication series that includes Kids & the Law, Seniors & the Law, and When You Become 18. 

While we are very proud of these important efforts, we know that we can do so much more. By marshaling the philanthropic efforts of California’s attorneys and their firms, the foundation is in a unique position to galvanize the state’s legal community to invest in building a better justice system for all Californians.

Unlike many funders, the California Bar Foundation has a special role supporting causes throughout the entire state, including rural areas that may not be served by large legal service agencies or bar associations. The foundation is often the only funder available to small, unstaffed local, specialty and minority bar associations who wish to create pro bono service opportunities for their members and the community. If you attend the State Bar’s Annual Meeting, you need only attend our law school scholarship ceremony to understand the Foundation’s impact.

I hope that those of you who support the California Bar Foundation on an annual basis will continue to do so and will increase your giving this year. For those of you who have not joined our efforts, I encourage you to visit our Web site at www.calbarfoundation.org or to contact our staff at 415/856-0780 to find out about our programs and giving opportunities. Once you discover the good we do, you will want to be part of our efforts. 

• Scott Wylie is president of the California Bar Foundation and a former vice president of the State Bar of California. He can be reached at rswylie@sigecom.net.

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