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A year of progress and achievement

By Sheldon Sloan
President, State Bar of California

Sheldon Sloan

Later this month, with mixed emotions of sadness and joy, I will turn over the Presidency of the State Bar to my good friend Jeff Bleich, who has served this Board with distinction and will be an outstanding leader for the next year.

As I prepare to move on — after serving on the board for four years with some of the most talented members of our profession and with several dedicated public appointees — I can reflect back upon this past year as President and say that we held true to our commitment to improve the Bar and the profession without reinventing the wheel and spending tremendous amounts of money to create new programs.

First and foremost, we carried through on commitments made by former Presidents to implement what has become known as our “Pipeline Program” to attract younger people of all levels to our profession. We extended our hand to bar associations around the state and uploaded on our Web site extensive resource material so that our Pipeline efforts could be implemented in every community. We have recorded downloads from bar associations all over the nation — just as it was predicted we would.

We made better use of our resources and talent by taking five separate access committees and creating one central Council on Access and Fairness, thus enabling more focused and cooperative efforts to provide opportunities for people of all backgrounds. We made use of our existing resources — most notably our publication Kids & the Law — to help interest young people in the laws that affect them and perhaps even encourage them some day to consider law as a career.

Our second pledge for this year was to implement a new set of civility guidelines to stem a perceived rise in unbecoming behavior by attorneys in and out of court.

The guidelines passed by the board this past summer are designed to complement those already put in place by local bars throughout the state. In fact, instead of starting from scratch, we built on many of these guidelines already in place and focused on eight aspects of professionalism: civility, professional integrity, personal dignity, candor, diligence, respect, courtesy and cooperation. We now extend our hand to every member of the State Bar to sign on voluntarily to this effort to help bring civil behavior back to our daily work as lawyers. It is my fond hope that next year, under Jeff’s wise and steady hand, the Civility Pledge, together with the previously developed Diversity Pledge and Pro Bono Pledge, will be implemented across the state.

We also took two major steps this year to improve our income flow and strengthen bar services. With the former, this Board voted to adhere to its February 1 statutory deadline for dues payments. As a result, we collected nearly 90 percent of our dues payments by the deadline and we sent the smallest number of non-payers to the Supreme Court for suspension in modern Bar history. Incidentally, by adhering to the deadline and reducing the number of fee mailings, we saved at least $65,000 in postage and fee statement production. We project even more savings in this area in the future as more of our members move to the Web to manage their State Bar membership. In this regard, let me once more urge every member to log on and update your personal profiles, as it is the lack of such updating that causes the vast majority of suspensions. We just can’t find people who move and don’t remember to notify us.

With the latter, we are taking a giant step to adequately fund our technological advancement by including in the next three fee cycles a $10 assessment dedicated to upgrading and securing the technological infrastructure of the bar. This does not mean that lawyers will be paying more in dues. The $10 that members formerly paid into our building fund will no longer be collected now that the Bar has paid off its San Francisco headquarters building.

As a technological aside, your Board moved seamlessly to a paperless agenda this past year, and is now working to advance an initiative to require members to register and create a My State Bar Profile. This will be a major step toward the ultimate goal of a paperless State Bar membership.

Also for our members, in August, in cooperation with the Los Angeles County Superior Courts, we launched a pilot program to test a photo identification card to provide Los Angeles lawyers expedited access through the employee security line to LA courtrooms. We offered the invitation to participate in this program to 26,000 attorneys who maintain a private e-mail address on their My State Bar Profile. The 1,500 slots in the pilot program were filled in less than 48 hours, demonstrating that this is the type of service that our members want the State Bar to provide.

The Bar and the Los Angeles Superior Court will be working together in the next year to assess the pilot program and consider expanding it, making it permanent and, with the cooperation of the AOC, extending it to other areas of California where the need exists. This program is designed to help the Courts run on time, without delays caused by lawyers caught in long security lines.

We set out a year ago to keep the Bar on track, keep our eye on spending and intercede where we can to help make our members’ lives better. I am proud of what we accomplished and recognize fully that none of this would have happened without the ideas, cooperation and support of the Board of Governors, our staff, led by Judy Johnson, and hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers.

I especially want to recognize and thank the other members of the Board of Governors who leave this year with me; Marguerite Downing — who not only is leaving the board, but the practice of law as well, as she has been appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court — for her strong leadership in the Civility Initiative and on branding issues; Ruthe Ashley — for her continuing leadership on the Pipeline and the Diversity Council; Jo-Ann Grace — for her solid leadership in Volunteer Involvement and Quality Appointment Recommendations; and Jim Scharf — for his leadership in Regulation, Admissions and Discipline. All are true leaders, and the members of the State Bar of California have been fortunate, indeed, to have them serve the past three years.

Finally, I depart with a major thanks to all other Governors and staff for this opportunity and for their hard work. I now offer my support to your new President, Jeff Bleich, and a new Board of Governors, which will continue to move us even further into the future.

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