State Bar of California California Bar Journal
Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California February2009
Top Headlines
Letters to the Editor
MCLE Self-Study
You Need to Know
Trials Digest
Contact CBJ

A Valentine’s Day message to lawyers

By Holly Fujie
President, State Bar of California

Holly Fujie

I love lawyers. Really I do. Most of my best friends are lawyers, as is my husband, and many of the best people I know. I love lawyers because the law is the only profession that regularly, and as a matter of course, performs work for free or takes on below-market-rate work as a public service. When a single doctor performs surgery for free, it makes headlines — and yet tens of thousands of California lawyers perform hundreds of thousands of hours of pro bono legal work every year without public recognition. So for my Valentine’s month message, I want to stop and praise our profession, which is so often maligned and derided. My special thanks go to the following groups:


Of course, I have to first send out a big, fancy Valentine to the thousands of California lawyers who volunteer to chair committees, serve as officers and on boards and committees, organize MCLE and other programs, mentor new lawyers and provide the support for countless bar programs, without whom the State Bar, national bars, and local and specialty bars could not function. These wonderful people work without compensation — and often at considerable cost to themselves in unreimbursed expenses, contributions and unbilled and non-family time — to serve the profession and its members in so many ways. Without them, the legal profession would be less congenial, educated and welcoming.

And I have to add a special Valentine to those non-lawyers who serve the legal profession through service in bar organizations, and especially to the extremely hard-working public members of the board of governors who are always vigilant in their protection of the public interest, and to all public members serving on State Bar committees and task forces. Theirs is truly a labor of love, and I am grateful for their efforts.


There is a special place in heaven, I believe, for those who provide free legal services to those in need. For the poor of the State of California, there are few things more frightening than being confronted with legal problems, whether criminal or civil, and having no idea where to turn or how to avoid dire consequences in a legal system that they do not understand.

Every day I see wonderful examples of the work that lawyers do for free, such as the large numbers of attorneys who are assisting those subject to foreclosure proceedings. You can learn more about opportunities to help in this area through, a project of the bar’s Office of Legal Services, Access and Fairness Programs, the California Bar Foundation and the Public Interest Clearinghouse through

All lawyers who work pro bono — and I include those who serve low-income clients who cannot pay standard billing rates, and for whom “pro bono” work is not always intended to be such — provide hope to the poor of our society and help to make our justice system seem fairer.


And then there are those who have sacrificed potentially lucrative careers in private practice for the low pay, limited benefits and personal satisfaction of public service. Making a career in public service often means long hours and sometimes Sisyphus-like efforts dealing with issues that may never be fully resolved — whether the ever-increasing number of eviction cases or the endless parade of criminal matters to defend or prosecute.

Dedicating your life to the interest of justice is a truly noble calling, and those of us in private practice owe a debt of gratitude to those who serve the public in this way.


Since I am a litigator, it might seem self-serving to praise judges and other judicial officers, but the longer I practice, the more it is clear that being a judge entails enormous sacrifices and a strong dedication to public service that seldom receives recognition. One of my partners asked me recently what an “entry-level judge” makes in the California and federal courts. I gave him the numbers, which shocked him as being approximately the same as those of an entry level associate in a large California law firm. But he soon recovered, saying “Well, but that’s entry level, so it must be much higher for experienced judges, right?”

When I told him that all trial judges make the same amount, regardless of tenure, and how they often don’t even receive cost of living adjustments, it became clear why judges leave the bench for financial reasons. So I am sending, with all our thanks, a Valentine to California’s judicial officers for your service to the justice system.


A bar leader told me a few years ago, “My rabbi says it is always the lawyers who are the first to volunteer when he needs help.” That is my experience, too. Look at any community organization, law-related or not, and you will find lawyer volunteers serving tirelessly to assist that organization to reach its goals. Schools, hospitals, children’s sports teams, theaters, museums and organizations targeting such societal ills as poverty, poor education, street crime and domestic violence — most such organizations could not function without the voluntary assistance of lawyers.

They provide not only legal advice, but business and operational services, using their skills to help nonprofits and other entities navigate the labyrinthine paths of regulation and day-to-day operations. There are far too many to acknowledge individually, so this Valentine goes out to you all with our thanks.


In an era of legislative term limits, it has become increasingly difficult for a successful lawyer to justify the high cost and time commitment to run for legislative office when in a matter of a few years — regardless of your efforts and success in that office — you will necessarily lose your job and have to go through the same Herculean effort to win another, similarly short-lived position.

And yet, the benefit to the public of having attorneys serve in the legislature is immense — the advantage of having people trained in the analysis of the law being in a position of creating, evaluating and voting on those laws cannot be measured. As we watch the number of lawyer-legislators dwindle each year, we value and thank those who remain and who still choose this difficult and demanding career.

And finally …


For those of you just starting in the profession during the worst economic recession most of us have ever seen, a special Valentine and my advice for you to “Gambatte Kudasai!” (Japanese for “Hang in there!”). There is much to love in this profession, and I encourage you to look for mentors to guide you.

I also recommend “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law,” a publication of the ABA Section of Litigation, written by Mark Herrmann, a California-licensed lawyer now practicing in Cleveland, available at Herrmann gives practical and honest advice on how to succeed in a law firm in an easy-to-read and humorous format. While it is directed to the young associate at a firm, much of the advice carries over to all new lawyers.

Your goal should be to weather these early years in practice so that you can get to what I consider to be the “fun” part of your career — the time when you feel confident in your abilities and have developed a strong reputation for excellent work and the respect of your peers. The time and effort spent will be worthwhile, and someday I hope that you will be able to look back on your career with the same affection for lawyers and the law as I have.

Contact Us Site Map Notices Privacy Policy
© 2024 The State Bar of California