California Bar Journal
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Lawyer generosity pays big dividends
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President, State Bar of California
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Karen NobumotoThe generosity of our State Bar members is unprecedented and goes well beyond the call of duty. Lawyers here in California always rise to the occasion, leading the way among professions within the state and across the country in donations of time, legal expertise and financial resources.

Just a month ago, the State Bar and its members joined with Gov. Gray Davis to form a public-private partnership to offer free legal services to victims of the recent terrorist attacks on our country. Lawyers immediately stepped forward, through our local bar associations, through public agencies and from private law firms, and are now providing pro bono services to families who lost their loved ones on Sept. 11. Our lawyers have demonstrated time and time again that they are true leaders, and this particularly difficult time for our citizens and our nation is no different.

Another significant area in which our lawyers' contributions make a real difference is through their support of the Foundation of the State Bar.

In 2001, our lawyers voluntarily contributed more than $600,000 to the foundation. Because of this generosity, academically strong students who are economically disadvantaged are given the chance to attend law school. To see this vital assistance at work, you need look no further than the November issue of this newspaper, which paid tribute to the 40 students from diverse backgrounds who were awarded scholarships from the foundation for the upcoming year.

Contributions to the foundation also provide grants for a variety of access to justice programs, from youth education, to helping domestic violence victims, to counseling the elderly on their legal rights. And for the first time, this past summer, the foundation contributions were able to bring young people together for a Legal Heritage Institute in Sacramento, where they learned about law, law-making and the vital work that goes on at the Capitol.

Our lawyers also contribute to the betterment of our profession and our society by donating money to our elimination of bias fund. With these generous donations of $700,000 this past year, we are able to finance programs and support mechanisms to open doors for people of all backgrounds, working toward a more representative body of lawyers in our bar membership.

In our recent survey, we found that while progress is being made, only 17 percent of our membership is non-white, while projections for our state show that by 2010, 60 percent of the California population will be non-white. Our members' contributions are paving the way for the bar to become a conduit of resources in the effort to build a membership more reflective of the wonderful diversity within our state population.

As an example, the Bar Association of San Francisco has created an excellent School to College program for high school students who aspire to college and then law school. Mentoring, sponsoring trips to colleges and other facets of this program assist young, economically disadvantaged students move toward their dream of becoming a lawyer. Our goal at the State Bar is not to duplicate these excellent programs, but to encourage other organizations to build their own programs and help publicize them so people know they exist and take advantage of them.

To this end, we are focusing our Midyear Meeting in Sonoma on access and fairness, highlighting resources available for all people. This three-day meeting in March will help identify issues and help us form strategies for improving access and increasing diversity in the legal profession. And we intend to use future donations to make the State Bar the distribution point for this information - built on the premise, "Call us, and we can tell you where to turn."

Lawyers really do make a difference. We are grateful for all of the good work we can accomplish because of the generous contributions of time and money made by our lawyers. They truly make the work of the State Bar happen. I have asked my colleague from District 8, Scott Wylie, to address some more specifics regarding lawyer contributions.

Opportunities abound for lawyers to contribute
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Scott WylieIn recent years, State Bar governors and staff  have worked to make the organization more responsive to the needs and concerns of our members and the profession. With the introduction of dues scaling, optional contributions for voluntary activities of the bar, and the ability to deduct lobbying costs, our members now have greater flexibility in determining which State Bar programs to support. One of the most important changes has been the creation of the Elimination of Bias - Bar Relations Fund.

The fund is supported by members who contribute $5 through their dues statement each year to support efforts to increase the diversity of our profession, support access to justice and improve our support of local bar programs.

Because of their support, the State Bar has been able to continue programs important to many members of the bench and bar without asking those members who object to this work to contribute to the activities. The fund supports our access and fairness committees (ethnic minority relations, women in the law, sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, professionals with disabilities and the senior lawyers committees), the Office of Legal Services, access and fairness programs, as well as many efforts which used to be supervised by the former Office of Bar Relations.

On March 15-17, the State Bar will host its first major conference supported by the fund. The Midyear Meeting in Sonoma will focus on increasing diversity in our profession while breaking down barriers faced by many of our fellow attorneys. The event will provide ample opportunity for policy discussions and continuing legal education in difficult-to-obtain subject areas.

The annual dues statement also provides members the opportunity to support the Foundation of the State Bar. By adding the suggested or any other donation amount to their dues payment, members support dozens of important projects and services designed to benefit the public. Projects such as the recent publication of the wildly popular "Kids & the Law," which has reached hundreds of thousands of Californians, are only possible because of voluntary contributions. In addition to its scholarship program, the foundation also supports a variety of legal education efforts.

Scott Wylie represents the board of governors from District 8.