Reminder -- All letters on the bar plebiscite must be submitted by April 16.

It's a risk worth taking to improve the profession

Am I being cynical to suspect that only one side is being presented in the California Bar Journal, the State Bar's official publication, on whether the mandatory bar should be abolished?

From the letters run last month, although nobody cites the State Bar as the model of efficiency or accountability, many lawyers appear to be afraid to do away with it because they do not know exactly what the alternative would be. The founding fathers of this country did not know exactly what the alternative to British rule would be, but they knew that they did not like British rule.

We must take some risk in order to better our profession. The plebiscite offers us that chance. If it passes, we will have an opportunity to explore what the next step would be. If it fails, the process will stop and we will return to business as usual -- to complain about the State Bar, having forfeited our opportunity to do something about it.

Peter M. Appleton
Los Angeles

Without the bar, access to justice will suffer

California's mandatory State Bar association has been among the most active and effective institutions anywhere in supporting access to justice for all, regardless of income level or other obstacles. The efforts and accomplishments of the State Bar in this area have been essential -- so much so that no informed person could anticipate abolition of the mandatory bar without expecting that access to justice in California would suffer as a consequence.

The importance of the continuing effort to improve access to justice is a strong reason for maintaining the State Bar of California as an association of all California lawyers.

Jack W. Londen
Los Angeles

The current State Bar is not our friend

Can you imagine reading through the Bar Journal and discovering that not one attorney had been disciplined? Of course, that is hard to imagine because it will never happen in a bar that has as its primary motive, supported by 71 percent of its budget, the discipline of its members.

It still amazes me when I read a letter to the editor justifying the existence of the bar. When are we, all the members, going to finally face the fact that the State Bar is no friend to us and does not in any form have the members' interests in mind?

Philip A. Gunnels

A broad base and stature

The fact that every lawyer in the state belongs to the State Bar gives the organization a broad base and the necessary stature to speak for the profession on justice issues. The bar is, and is nationally recognized as, more than a trade organization. Its committee chairs and staff are respected, thoughtful and energetic leaders in the national effort to preserve funding for free legal services for the poor. The Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts program is recognized as a model system for responsible delivery of legal services for the poor.

The existence of the unified bar underscores that lawyers have responsibilities, in addition to the practice of their craft, and that every lawyer -- regardless of politics or practice -- can subscribe to basic principles that every person should have reasonable access to justice and the right to be heard and represented.

Mary S. Burdick
Los Angeles

Too much money for too much discipline

The problem of the State Bar is that it focuses three-fourths of its attention on discipline for lawyers as a means of improving the image of lawyers. Each lawyer in this state pays approximately $300 a year for the disciplinary system which has grown by leaps and bounds. As a result, the organization uses most of its attention on the unfortunate aspects of the practice of law. We now have negative advertising. Focusing on the ugly can never improve the stature of lawyers.

In addition, the claim that the bar allows lawyers to govern their own destiny is a myth. Because the State Bar is intertwined with state regulation of lawyers, the state feels that it is entirely appropriate to appoint "citizen members" to the bar's governing board. To put it another way, "political appointees" on the bar's board are deeply involved in governing the destiny of lawyers.

Doctors, who have achieved substantially better results in terms of their image with the expenditure of less money, have a private organization that promotes their abilities and benefits to the general public. They leave the unsavory aspects of regulation of health care to a state agency.

If this were done here and the State Bar were shed from the public's requirements of discipline, it would be much freer in enabling itself to speak for the lawyers it represents. It will also be a lot cheaper. The present system, while it sounds good, operates against lawyers rather than for them and should be abolished.

James R. Christiansen
Santa Barbara

A voluntary bar would carry little influence

Since becoming a member of the North Carolina bar last April, I have had an opportunity to observe the issue of a unified bar from the perspective of a state which does not have one.

The North Carolina State Bar deals with admissions, discipline, issuance of ethics opinions and the maintenance of a client security fund. It also administers a voluntary IOLTA program and uses its rather top-heavy volunteer structure as a means of disseminating information to the members rather than acquiring information from them.

All other functions are performed by a voluntary North Carolina Bar Association, to which somewhat more than half of the state's lawyers belong, and which seems to have little influence or success in the legislative process or in enhancing the interests of lawyers or their image with the public.

It seems clear to me that the California system is far more beneficial to the interests of both lawyer and layperson; it would be unfortunate indeed if the results of this ill-conceived plebiscite gave encouragement to those who would destroy that system in the name of reforming it.

Stephen C. Taylor
Wilmington, N.C.

Get rid of public members on the Board of Governors

The public members were added to the Board of Governors to satisfy legislators who believed the State Bar was ineffectual in enforcing discipline. Since then, California has erected the finest attorney discipline system in the nation. The reason, then, for public members of the Board of Governors has ceased.

Eliminate the public members and increase attorney satisfaction with the bar, which, unshackled, can once again represent the interests of its members. In the hope this will come to pass, I shall vote to retain the State Bar.

Andrew Landay
Santa Monica

Bar services are pitiful . . .

The services offered by the State Bar are pitiful. Each time I've contacted a State Bar-sponsored program, I find it uncompetitive. Both life and malpractice insurers I found to be 30-50 percent higher in price than the same services elsewhere in the market.

Worse is the fact that my own State Bar does absolutely nothing to improve the image of lawyers. To the contrary, we were represented three years ago by a president so out of touch with the public that he suggested making lawyer jokes illegal!

I believe a voluntary bar would result in a bar which must be responsive to its membership and the consumers of legal services. It would sponsor only the best vendor programs offered at the best prices; it would represent my clients in their battle to freely contract with their lawyers; it would not employ non-lawyers to contact a member regarding a complaint; and it would aggressively inform the public about the great work we do and how we help our clients in day-to-day work.

Timothy Lee Davis
San Diego

. . . or they're exceptional

Did you know the State Bar-sponsored life insurance program has performed so outstandingly well that lawyers insured by it have enjoyed reduced premiums for years? Did you know that every single lawyer in California can get health insurance through the bar program, no questions asked?

The State Bar oversees lawyers in California from the administration of the bar exam itself to the day-to-day practice of law by thousands of lawyers all over the state. It's a place where all the local bar associations have a voice, so the California bar is truly statewide. It provides educational programs and booklets for the public. It provides, in its substantive committees, a forum where lawyers practicing a particular specialty can get together and publish useful materials for other practitioners of that specialty.

I agree that the annual dues are very high, but I also understand that most of the dues have been required by duties imposed upon the bar by the legislature, particularly relating to lawyer discipline.

I believe the State Bar serves many, many useful purposes and I do not believe these purposes will or can be served by voluntary membership on local or even statewide bar associations.

Sharon S. Rollo

Unnecessary functions

The mandatory bar should be abolished. Its only functions are:

1. Admissions - handled by independent testing services.

2. Discipline - totally erratic.

3. Obscene budget - 120,000 active attorneys at $478 a year, all for the purpose of creating a huge bureaucracy.

4. Mandatory continuing education - has created a huge money-making industry. What a farce! Wealthy lawyers and big firms love it, deductible vacations almost anywhere in the world.

5. Annual reports of professional law corporations - another source of revenue for the bureaucrats, duplicating the secretary of state. This duplication is not necessary.

John F. Reed
Playa Del Rey

Abolish the bar; improve the system

The best reason to abolish the State Bar is given by bar officials themselves: that lawyer discipline costs over 70 percent of membership dues. As a profession guarding democracy, it is peculiar that California lawyers are presumed to be such a public menace as to require the most expensive disciplinary system ever imposed.

This State Bar now seems to inquire into everything, from harmless errors in bank accounts, errors made in our courts and other state agencies, all intended to continuously monitor our behavior in financial dealings, in politics, into driving habits, bedrooms and everywhere, sniffing the air for the slightest scent of unapproved conduct.

Thanks to the lack of opposition of the State Bar, lawyers now face laws prohibiting normal human error in court proceedings, punishing errors in papers, delays in filing, creative causes of action, or even asking the court to reconsider its own ruling. When judges demand money so often for sanctions, it is but a step further to ask for money for themselves.

How the State Bar considers this an improvement in the justice system is perplexing, but that the State Bar has failed to oppose such a mess is outrageous and indicative of how obsolete and ineffective this state agency has become.

A vote to abolish the State Bar may well improve the justice system.

Phillip Reed