|As my term comes to an
end, I thought I would share in my last president's column some thoughts and insights from
the past year.
It was a little over a year ago--July 26, 1997, to be exact--that
I was elected president of the State Bar. It was the culmination of what most agreed to be
an extraordinarily contentious year. I vowed to put an end to the dissension and
infighting, exacting promises from board members to work together toward a common goal of
improving access to, and quality of, legal services for our membership and the people of
the state of California.
I felt proud to have been given this opportunity. Whether you were an avid supporter of
the State Bar or held it in disdain, the honor of being elected to lead the policy
governing board for the largest legal regulatory agency in the world was a privilege and
challenge that I would relish.
The previous three years on the board of governors had afforded me many opportunities
to envision what I could offer the membership and the profession as a small firm
practitioner and parent. I wondered realistically what I could do during my short one-year
term to make a difference--what I could do to impart a message. One can only relate their
own life experiences in developing a goal or challenges.
My wife Erin and I are the parents of 7-year-old twins. Our son Ben is afflicted with
autism and has special educational needs. For the last five years, we have worked
tirelessly to ensure that he gets the best educational programs possible. It has been
challenging and extraordinarily time-consuming. It requires our constant attention. We
wondered if parents of other special needs children who weren't lawyers or doctors would
have the time or ability to take time off from their employment and take on the system (as
we had to do) to insure their special needs children could receive the education they were
entitled to under the law.
This experience clarified a need in which attorneys could make a huge difference in the
life of a child or a child's family. This would be the agenda I would set forth this year.
A call to action to assist children.
What could possibly be so important as to interfere with this agenda?
I was in Sacramento that fateful Saturday last October when the governor vetoed our fee
bill. The commencement of the worst crisis ever to befall the State Bar in its 71-year
history. A crisis that, no matter what happens hereafter, has profoundly impacted more
than 500 families of those State Bar employees who lost their jobs, as well as the
reputation of the profession.
With 20 years of trial work under my belt, the victories, the defeats and the emotions
that go with it, the battle waged in the last 10 months to secure emergency funding
legislation pales those sentiments. The roadblocks and frustrations brought about an
emotional roller coaster of Guinness proportions.
Despite the impasse, this year will be one I can look back at with a great deal of
pride. Every appearance around the state brought a large audience. Anxious to hear about
the State Bar's political entanglement, members were always lectured first about the
profound needs of our children. Countless members and numerous bar associations answered
the challenge. Much needed attention was given to the problem. In addition, Erin and I
raised the awareness of autism among our legal and health communities and raised thousands
of dollars for autism research when we completed the L.A. Marathon.
Lastly, the relationships I developed this year will forever be cherished. The
allegiance most members of the board provided was invaluable. I was always well received
in Sacramento by legislators and representatives of the governor's office. Despite the
vast differences in positions about the future of the State Bar, I was always welcomed and
I cannot overstate the camaraderie and assistance I received from so many. Bar
associations that made me feel special cannot go unrecognized--Pasadena, Santa Barbara,
Imperial Valley, San Diego, Northern San Diego, Lawyers Club of San Diego, ABOTA, Southern
California Defense Association, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Eastern LA, Beverly Hills
and Orange County. I extend my deepest gratitude to them. With few exceptions, almost very
living past State Bar president and board member offered valuable advice, encouragement
Res Ipsa Loquitur! If no bill is passed by the end of the legislative session, the
major disappointment at the end of my term will be to leave the organization with no
funding mechanism. This translates into a lack of attorney discipline or regulation.
Despite our critics downplaying the significance of this, I can assure you from the vast
numbers of calls I receive, it is a significant problem.
Leadership can be elusive during trying times. But little do outsiders realize we had
the brain trust of thousands, all of whom had suggestions on how to end the standoff. We
listened to everyone, followed every lead and continuously ended up where we started. From
this end, everyone gave 110 percent in trying to solve a crisis for which there was no job
description. This crisis was truly out of our hands.
This year's legacy is not one I will relish. My practice has been profoundly affected.
If I had the opportunity to take on the same challenge again, I would. My only regret lies
with the families of those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and leaving
the organization in the condition it now finds itself. Once solved, this episode in the
chapter of our legal profession should never be repeated.