What's in a number? - Your ticket to practice law

From 1 to 181500, the bar keeps records on all of its members since 1927

Staff Writer

What's in a number? Well, Aunt Zelda, with her foray into numerology, may read more into it than most, but your bar number is just that: Your ID with the State Bar. You give it when you take MCLE classes. Others give it when they want to find out if you are licensed to practice law or ever have been disciplined. And this newspaper arrives on your desk every month because a computer identifies your bar number, then sorts you by geography and your local post office address.

So this number so vital to your practice of law is assigned in the most scientific of fashions, right?

Not so, says Charlotte Blackford, supervisor of the bar's membership records. "There's no correlation between anything except your date of admission."

Getting your assignment

If your bar number is 162453, it simply means that you are Elizabeth G. O'Donnell of Woodland Hills, the 162,453rd attorney authorized to practice law in California since 1927, when the bar was established by statute. If you are 181535, you are Christina M. O'Brien of San Francisco and were just admitted on the day this story was placed on these pages.

And if your number is 1, it means you were Chief Justice William H. Waste, who was accorded the distinction of being given the very first number (see story).

Yours forever

A few people have asked about changing their numbers, says Blackford, but once you get it, "it's yours forever."

And since the database is so large, she added, individual bar numbers make it much easier to locate a particular member. "For instance," she noted, "we list 32 Robert Johnsons. Without a bar number, we are lost."

Blackford estimates that about 6,000 new attorneys are added to the bar's membership rolls each year. If that rate continues, she says, the membership department will probably assign number 200,000 before the year 2000.

A few years ago a woman tried to have her bar number changed "because she didn't like the number six," said Blackford. "She said it was unlucky, but there was nothing I could do about it."

On another occasion, a new attorney called to complain that bar numbers were discriminatory.

He was in his mid-40s, says Blackford, and he felt someone would look at his high bar number and assume he was young and inexperienced.

Luck, or not

Numerology aside, some bar numbers may be lucky for other reasons. For instance, if your State Bar of California number is 33334, 97011, 62646 or 43693, you won the "Trial of the Century" in Los Angeles last October.

Numbers 90125 and 94959 didn't fare as well in that trial, but they've signed million-dollar book deals which may soothe the sting of loss.

A well-known feminist, 65033, became even more famous when she was hired to represent the late Nicole Brown Simpson's family.

Think the number seven is lucky? Not so for 77777. He's on suspension for failing to pay his bar dues.

Does the number 15989 ring a bell? (Hint: He's a native of California who lived in the White House and is listed on the bar's membership roll as "resigned with charges pending.")

A common bond

And what do the numbers 8358, 37100 and 133144 have in common? Besides having the same surname, all three have made bids for the California governor's office, but thus far only the first two were successful.

Number 29656 was admitted to the bar in 1959 and reigned as speaker of the state Assembly for 14 years. Known for his political clout and expensive Italian suits, he was a victim of term limits but emerged unscathed as the new mayor of San Francisco last month.

And number 25470 made headlines in September 1995 when he announced at the State Bar Annual Meeting in San Francisco that he would retire from the California Supreme Court in May 1996. He's been a member of the bar since 1954.

Blackford says that a group of 3,500-4,000 new attorneys were sworn in at the end of 1995 and as of mid-January 1996, 181,500 attorneys have been admitted to the bar since 1927.

Other tidbits

When there's a lull in the conversation at your next cocktail party, dazzle your friends with these other scintillating bar membership tidbits: