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Making the State Bar work for you

By Holly Fujie
President, State Bar of California

Holly Fujie

What are the first things to come to mind when you think about the State Bar? I would bet they are, in no particular order: the horrible experience of the bar exam; rushing to fulfill your MCLE requirement by the deadline; having to pay bar dues every year; and a discipline system that you think costs too much and gives you no benefit. The likelihood is that you are not thinking that the State Bar provides you with services and assistance that help you as a lawyer. 

I have a confession to make. Although I am writing this as the new president of the bar, I admit that for most of my career I, too, did not consider the State Bar to be terribly relevant to my practice. During those years, I was active in local bars, did pro bono and practiced law, but — like many of you I suspect — I thought that the State Bar was primarily a bureaucracy that was a necessary evil in my practice, more to be avoided than sought after for assistance. I also thought the State Bar would never listen to my concerns or respond to what I saw as the problems in the profession. I thought that the only way that I could have an impact on the profession was in local or specialty bar organizations.

It really was not until I was approached to run for the board of governors that I bothered to look closer into this organization to which I had been forced to belong, to see what I might be getting into. I was surprised by what I learned, and I think the vast majority of you will be surprised, too, at the effect that the State Bar and the board have on your everyday practice and the extent to which one person can make a difference. I think if more people knew what you can accomplish through the bar, more would feel as I do now that one person really can change the profession for the better — and you don’t have to become State Bar President to do it.

The first thing I learned was that the board is the gatekeeper for virtually every issue of importance to the profession. If the board does not act on important issues like discipline standards, lawyer admissions or law school accreditation, it does not happen. In just the last year alone, the board decided the hot-button issues of revealing bar passage and race information to an outside researcher, changing the requirements for the operations of nonprofit legal services entities, increasing oversight of law schools and requiring disclosure to clients if you do not have legal malpractice insurance. All in one meeting of one board committee. And one vote on an issue — either at the committee level or by the full board — can block or pass a proposal. So raising an issue with your district governor(s) can make a difference in the deliberations and actions of the entire board.

And I learned that the board is not a rubber stamp, approving everything that the staff puts in front of it without thought or consideration. For although the staff is smart and hardworking, it is the board’s job to investigate and question every proposal presented by the staff, and it often substantially modifies, and sometimes rejects entirely, those proposals, and also makes its own proposals to address problems that it perceives to exist in the profession.

How does that affect you as a member of the bar? It means that you can have substantial input into the regulation of the profession through the members of the board. On the bar’s Web site,, look for “Board of Governors” on the left side of the home page and click on “District Representatives” to identify your district and to identify and get contact information on your governor(s). The board’s open agendas are also on the Web site, also under “Board of Governors” as “Meeting Agendas.” 

The governors are very hardworking and eager to get input on the issues before us. I cannot begin to count the number of times during my three years on the board that individual governors or groups of governors have raised issues that they heard about from one of their constituents that stopped us in our tracks and caused us to study an issue from a different perspective. Call, write or e-mail us and let us know your thoughts on issues important to you.

You should also check the Web site periodically, preferably after board meetings, for the issues we have sent out for public comment. There may be an issue that you oppose, but which may be approved without discussion if we receive no opposition. If you raise an objection that we have not considered, but with which we agree, you can change the actions of the board. It happens all the time, so know that you can actually affect the board’s actions, which will in turn affect the way that you and all others in the profession in California practice law.

And your input shouldn’t be limited to those issues that are already before the board. If there is some problem that you have come across in the operation of the profession, e-mail a governor — or me. Although I can’t promise that we will ultimately act on your issues, I can guarantee we will give due consideration to each issue raised. One thing I ask, however, is that rather than just contacting us with a problem and expecting us to solve it on our own, give some real thought to how you would solve that problem, and give us a workable and practical proposal to address it. Help us to help you. 

Finally, if you think of a service you believe should be offered to members of the bar, or by bar members to the public, tell us. The State Bar truly wants to provide valuable services to its members and to the public. For example, we have been hearing a lot recently from the public and from bar members that they are concerned about the housing foreclosure crisis. In response, the bar is working with various organizations to establish a central repository for public resources and attorney volunteer opportunities. Early this month, will be online to help. The public will get a much-needed service and volunteer lawyers will get MCLE credit. This would not have come to be if it were not for the suggestions and requests of our members. 

So instead of being frustrated at the way the State Bar operates, be part of the solution. We want your help and your input. Make a difference.

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