California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - May 1999
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Lending compassion to a difficult situation
Legal specialist exam set Aug. 29
Board to meet June 25-26
Domestic violence group seeking volunteers
Northern California legal services board to fill five vacancies
Court statistics report now available on CD
For Y2K advice, link through bar's web site
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Trials Digest
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Hear the cries this time
A single letter, a big increase
Train time at the ABA
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From the President - Door to justice must be open
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Letters to the Editor
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Legal Tech - Litigation library great for attorneys out of office
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New Products & Services
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MCLE Self-Study
The Disabled Practitioner
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics Byte - What to do when a client goes missing
Attorney charged with exposing clients to deportation
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Public Comment


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Door to justice must be open
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President, State Bar of California
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Ray MarshallFor more than a year now most of my energies have been focused on ways to keep the 70-year-old State Bar intact and working for the attorneys and people of California.

With all my trips to Sacramento working on a fee bill, meetings with local bar leaders and conversations with lawyers throughout the state, I try not to forget that one of the most important parts of our profession should not get lost in the shuffle - access to justice for all. As lawyers and guardians of the legal system, we have a heavy responsibility to ensure that all of our state's residents have the same opportunities for justice, regardless of economic ability.

Justice cannot exist in a society where only a select few have access to legal representation. Sometimes statistics can be dry and boring, but these figures should cause anyone with a passion for justice to sit up and take notice:

More than 5.2 million Californians are at or below the federal poverty level.

Women represent 62 percent of those living in poverty in this state.

One in four California children - 2.2 million - live in poverty (the national average is one in five).

There is one legal services attorney for every 11,000 poor persons in California, compared to one private attorney for every 300 non-indigent residents.

Sixty percent of the legal needs of moderate income households (earnings below $60,000) are not addressed by the civil justice system.

More than one-third of family law judges report that unrepresented parties - in pro per - received unfair results or treatment in the courts.

These are just some of the statistics reported by the California Commission on Access to Justice in a recent study. I could go on and on about the shameful discrepancies in our justice system, but all of you are more than aware of the problems just by looking around in your own communities.

The legal problems of the poor and disenfranchised affect all aspects of our society; homelessness, unemployment and domestic violence, just to name a few. Although solutions to problems with access to justice lie within society as a whole, it is important that lawyers take the lead.

The State Bar has been sidetracked recently, but it always has taken very seriously its responsibility for access to justice and will continue to do so in the future. Consistent with our goal to preserve and improve the justice system, the State Bar is resolute in its belief that the door to justice must be open equally to all Californians, regardless of their status in society.

To maintain the confidence of all Californians, the State Bar of the future must continue to have a steadfast commitment to full and equal access to the legal system and to the delivery of effective and efficient legal services, regardless of circumstances. As members of the bar, we know that the entire legal system becomes suspect when rights effectively are denied because legal representation is not made available.

We will work to support funding for sorely needed legal services and use every tool at our disposal as a mandatory bar to encourage, support and recognize programs that meet the legal needs of middle income and poor Californians. And we cannot forget the thousands of our members who are unsung heroes, working tirelessly on a pro bono basis, one client at a time.

The State Bar is reshaping itself as it moves forward to the new century. At the same time, we are re-committing ourselves to more than seven decades of working toward the goal of making access to justice a reality beyond the year 2000.