California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - September 1998
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Need info about bar members? Look on the net
Western State law school wins provisional approval for ABA accreditation
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You Need to Know
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From the President - A privilege gone awry
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In defense of opinion
Thomas can think as he chooses
Time to drain the 'BOG'
Let's build a stronger forum
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Letters to the Editor
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Trials Digest
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Legal Tech - 10 reasons to ignore 2000 problem
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New Products & Services
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Law Practice - When mediating, let your imagination run loose
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MCLE Self-Study
The Internet and Global Implications
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics Byte - 'He said, she said' rule for sex
Attorney disbarred after investing client's assets
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Annual Meeting
Did you know these Monterey Peninsula facts?
Scenic, legal visions on the menu
Four vie to lead embattled State Bar
11 seek five seats on bar board
District 2: Three-way race in capital and environs
District 4: Unopposed in San Francisco, Albers is ready
District 7, Office 1: 3 seek southern seat...
District 7, Office 2: ...and also in Los Angeles...
District 3: Two-way race develops in South, East Bay region


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A privilege gone awry
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President, State Bar of California
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Marc AdelmanAs 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 treated well.

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 and assistance.

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.