|For 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.
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
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
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
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.