If it ain't broke, don't fix it


The "another body or bodies" which would regulate California's licensed attorneys if the State Bar is abolished most certainly will be a state agency. The legislature very rarely passes the authority to regulate to private bodies, and its efforts at disbanding the bar will certainly result in another public agency.

Do you think a public agency can do a better job at regulating our profession than the State Bar of California? Think again. How long did you wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles? How many minutes were you on hold when you attempted to reach the Franchise Tax Board?

During my two-year tenure with the Board of Accountancy, I witnessed the effects of state budget cuts. When the board's budget was slashed, either as a move by the governor to divert funds to an area he viewed as more important or simply because regulation of CPAs was no longer a priority at all, the board's funds were cut.

Wham. It's over. No genuine discussion with the board's managers. Just cut. Regardless of the needs of the licensees, the board was required to do more with less.

The effect? Phone personnel were cut, investigators were reassigned, temporary application processing personnel were not rehired.

The result? Delays. And more delays. Do you want to be placed on hold for 45 minutes to verify receipt of your membership dues? Or have a bar exam application sit in an in-basket for two months because the processing technician is suffering from a backlog? Do you want to wait five days for a return phone call from a technician assigned to your disciplinary hearing, or have an investigator make a quick decision in favor of suspension because he is too backlogged to take the time to question a witness testifying on your behalf?

It will happen.

A voluntary bar association? Yeah, right. While a voluntary bar association may function in a state like Iowa, which has a handful of attorneys compared to California, a voluntary bar association cannot provide effective regulation in a state with more than 120,000 active members serving more than 30 million people.

An attorney in a small state will be treated as an outcast and be shamed if he acts outside the ethical standard. An attorney in California violating the standards couldn't care less, because who is really going to know about it, much less treat him with the scorn he deserves?

Will a member of the voluntary bar be held in the same awed esteem as a member of the Better Business Bureau, an existing voluntary association which is similar to a voluntary bar? Do you really care if your hair salon is a member of the Better Business Bureau? I don't. Is practicing law as a member of the voluntary bar association to be relegated to the same revered stature as membership in the Better Business Bureau?

I implore my fellow professionals to consider the following adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Why? Because if you think it's not operating well now, you will really know the definition of "broke," both mechanically and financially, when the private guild known as the State Bar of California gets disbanded in favor of a public agency. And you, as a member of a professional organization regulated by a public agency, will suffer, along with the public you serve.

Mark La Rocque, admitted to the bar last year, is a staff services analyst with the Department of Housing and Community Development.