[San Diego '97]

100 years and counting for San Diego's lawyers

by Kathleen O. Beitiks
Staff Writer

[San Diego Lawyer] Nearly 100 years ago, San Diego's lawyers greeted the 20th century with horse-drawn buggies and pens and inkwells. Today, on the verge of the 21st century, the county's lawyers conduct their business with computers, have seen a man walk on the moon and can watch live photos transmitted from Mars.

A lot can happen in 100 years.

The San Diego County Bar Association was born on April 22, 1899, as the Bar Assciation of San Diego, with its growth mirroring that of the San Diego area.

It began with a small, loose-knit group of attorneys gathering primarily for social purposes and today boasts a membership of about 6,000.

Eugene Daney, a native of France, was the organization's first president and his son, Eugene Daney Jr., was president of the SDCBA in 1926.

A graduate of Hastings College of the Law, Daney Sr. was the 24th lawyer to be listed on the State Bar's membership rolls when it was established in 1927.

He was a member of the first State Bar Board of Governors, serving from 1927-34. Daney also was president of the San Diego Lawyers Institute, established in 1919 by a group of lawyers interested in discussing law review articles, ethics and fee cutting.

The Institute, which later merged with the SDCBA, became one of the nation's first regulatory law organizations, screening applicants, disciplining attorneys and working to simplify legal proceedings.

The SDCBA has produced four State Bar presidents: DeWitt Higgs, 1954-55; David Casey Sr., 1975-76; Colin Weid, 1988-89; and John Seitman, 1991-92.

As with all of the state's early bar organizations, the SDCBA was centered around dinners, picnics and other social events, eventually growing into a professional organization devoted to the education of its members and the advancement of "the science of jurisprudence."

Today, the SDCBA is in the midst of preparing for its centennial celebration and anxious to showcase some of its recent projects.

At the top of the list is the inauguration of San Diego Lawyer magazine, which will officially be introduced at the State Bar Annual Meeting Sept. 11-14. San Diego Lawyer replaces the 46-year-old Dicta as the official voice of the SDCBA.

Bar officials also are proud of Project Heartbeat, a collaborative effort of the SDCBA, county government, school districts, private service providers and families, to develop a comprehensive system of care for emotionally troubled children in the county.

In addition, the SDCBA is involved with Private Conflicts Counsel, providing counseling for the indigent.

Some of the milestones in the 100-year history of the SDCBA include the establishment of a Lawyers Reference Plan in 1952. That program today is known as the Lawyer Referral and Information Service

The SDCBA also has conducted "Bridging the Gap" programs for newly-admitted attorneys since the mid-1950s and by 1960 there were three "sections" for attorneys -- tax, probate and business. Today, there are 25 sections offering educational programs.

In 1975, the SDCBA, along with the California Youth Authority and the State Bar, was an original sponsor of the area's Volunteers in Parole program. VIP teams attorneys with young offenders to offer guidance similar to the Big Brothers.

In 1985, the SDCBA established its Community Services Committee, forming subcommittees dealing with the homeless, AIDS and literacy.

The 1950s also saw the establishment of the Legal Aid Society, which came into existence earlier through a trust fund established by the estate of attorney DeWitt Mitchell, who died while serving in World War I.

The SDCBA and the University of San Diego School of Law were original sponsors of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer program, which was founded in the 1980s and has been successful as a clearinghouse for organized pro bono activities, relying on the services of legal professionals.

One of the SDCBA's more recent endeavors is the San Diego Mediation Center, founded in collaboration with the University of San Diego School of Law. The mediation center provides community-based alternative dispute resolution services.