California Bar Journal
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A good year for the State Bar
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President, State Bar of California
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Palmer Madden, President, State Bar of CaliforniaAs my year as president comes to a close, I'd like to look back with you on the work of your State Bar. The staff of the State Bar, led by executive director Judy Johnson, together with countless volunteer hours given by the members of the board of governors, have done much this past year to benefit the public and the profession.

Dues and don'ts

For the first time since 1995, the State Bar received bipartisan support in both houses for a two-year dues bill. This bipartisan support shows that the legislature recognizes that the bar is going in the right direction. Larry Doyle, our lobbyist, deserves accolades for his work on the bill.

We cut your dues by 30 percent. This was made possible because Judy Johnson has been keeping a tight rein on the budget.

Our members have demonstrated that they believe we are going in the right direction. More than 85 percent of the membership made a voluntary contribution to help the bar's lobbying efforts on behalf of the profession. Members gave over $700,000 to the Foundation of the State Bar to support its effort to eliminate bias in the practice of law and more than $140,000 to support the conference of delegates.

The bar settled all of its major litigation. These settlements eliminate the cost of these matters, puts the past behind us and allows the State Bar to keep its focus on the future.


We hired Mike Nisperos Jr. as our new chief prosecutor. Mike represents a new direction for the discipline system. He brings to the office a commitment both to tough prosecution when appropriate and to giving a second chance to attorneys who are willing to work for it.

The ABA has conducted a complete review of our discipline system and has provided a report to the chief justice.

The state auditor credits the State Bar with improving the discipline system and being better stewards of membership funds.

The bar exam

Our Committee of Bar Examiners, with the help of Jerry Braun, is taking a hard look at reducing the bar exam from three days to two. This would both help to keep down the cost of the exam and impose less on the time of applicants for the bar. If it can be shown that a two-day exam is as valid as a three-day exam, that is where the bar appears to be headed.  

Building for the future

We all owe a debt of gratitude to incoming president Karen Nobumoto for her fine work promoting diversity in all our committees and sections. The board of governors adopted a policy statement committing the bar to work on improving diversity in our profession. As a step toward that goal, we will build the census information that will allow us to track the diversity of our profession. 

The board has undertaken significant work in the area of ensuring access to justice by working with the Judicial Council to begin to make it more possible for attorneys to "unbundle" their services. Thus, when a client wants an attorney to work on only a portion of a given problem, the attorney will be able to do so without worrying about malpractice exposure for missing some issue that the attorney would have seen had he or she worked on the entire matter. This will lead to more work for attorneys and lower costs for consumers.

Our committee on multidisciplinary practice issued its report recommending that the State Bar pursue an experimental MDP program. MDP's are common in Europe and appear to be coming our way. This report puts California on the path toward building more opportunities for our profession. 

Pursuing the work started long ago by the State Bar's futures commission, former president Andy Guilford has been working hard on the chief justice's multijurisdictional practice committee. The committee's recent report recommended making it easier for in-house counsel and legal services attorneys to practice nationally. This is an important first step toward the long-term goal of making it possible for attorneys to easily practice nationwide.

The board of governors, responding to the recommendation of special master Justice Elwood Lui, and with the support of the chief justice, has committed itself to reforming its governance structure.

The board voted to restructure MCLE to eliminate credits for so-called stress reduction courses. Not a big deal, but a sign of progress.

Well, friends, my four years of service on the board of governors has certainly been interesting. My term started with the governor's veto of the dues bill. The bar had to lay off more than 500 people. Our then-president Marc Adelman spent the entire year trying to build support for the bar in the legislature while he held together the few survivors of the veto. His successor, Ray Marshall, led the successful fight in the Supreme Court for court-ordered partial refunding of the discipline system. Then his successor, Andy Guilford, led the effort to rebuild the bar and was successful in obtaining a dues bill.

My year has seen the State Bar build on the rock solid foundation laid by these wonderful people. We have steered a middle course, both keeping our eye on the core duties of the bar as well as moving forward in areas where our members agree we should be going. My goal has been to leave to my successor, Karen Nobumoto, a State Bar that has moved from recovering from the past toward building for the future.