A year of accomplishments
By Patrick Kelly
President, State Bar of California
As I prepare to turn over the reins as State Bar president,
I want to take the opportunity to recap our activities this past year. It’s
been a rewarding year for me personally and one in which the State Bar and the
judicial branch have made tremendous strides in our mission of public
protection and access to justice. It can truly be said that this is a “new”
State Bar – one that meets its responsibilities and is reaching out to
the community like never before in fulfilling its mission of public protection
and facilitating access to justice. To illustrate this new and proactive
approach, I would like to share with you some of the positive steps the State
Bar has taken this year.
Court funding. As many of you know, court funding by
our state has been cut by about 30 percent since 2008. In my first address, I
stated that California attorneys would be moving to the “front lines” in the
pursuit of full funding of our courts. Working with the Open Courts Coalition,
we presented a strong show of force to the Legislature and effectively delivered
the message that continued budget cuts would irreparably harm the public
and businesses in California.
I am pleased to say that as a result of the efforts of the
judicial branch, California lawyers and community leaders, for the first time
in five years, the branch received positive money in this year’s budget. Although the
modest $63 million reinvestment in the courts won’t end the funding crisis, it
signaled a critical change in the priority given by state government to our
justice system and marked a very important first step in restoring access to
justice in California.
Civility oath. In my speeches and a previous
President’s Page, I’ve noted that the time has come for civility to be
added to our attorney oath. Not being civil results in contentious situations
that not only challenge our psyche, but also waste our client’s time and money.
I believe attorneys entering the profession should be on notice from the start
that civility is a fundamental duty. We have made great progress working with
the court and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA).
The State Bar is currently seeking public
comment on a proposed new Rule of Court 9.4 that would embrace a civility
requirement. If approved by the Board of Trustees later this month, the
proposal would be submitted to the California Supreme Court for action.
Senior lawyers. Under the leadership of trustee Pearl
Mann and Deputy Executive Director/CEO Robert Hawley, over the past year we
out to senior lawyers, holding a series of meetings to address the
challenges facing our state’s growing population of lawyers nearing retirement.
The State Bar launched a senior
lawyers web page, a collection of resources addressing professional
responsibility issues that can arise in connection with retirement, disability
and the death of attorneys, including guidelines for closing or selling a law
Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE). The Member
Oversight Committee led by Trustee Loren Kieve held a series of hearings and gathered
input on ways to improve the program such as increasing the course options and
improving the quality of the courses. Those recommendations, which include a
proposed increase in the required hours to 36, were submitted for public
comment. The board will consider those comments and propose appropriate rule
changes at the Board of Trustees’ October meeting.
Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform. After
more than a year of public hearings and study, the task force has recommended
new training requirements for lawyers that emphasize competency and
professionalism. They include 15 units of pre-admission practice-based
coursework, 50 hours of pro bono work and 10 extra CLE courses in the first
year of practice. The task force’s report has been submitted for public
comment and the board will take action on this report at its October
Discipline system. With more than 240,000 lawyers,
the State Bar of California, which is a public agency and regulator, operates
the largest attorney discipline system in the world. Under the leadership of Trustee
Karen Goodman and Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim, the discipline system made
tremendous progress this year in reducing the time for processing complaints.
This is important not only to the attorneys who are charged with a violation
but also clients who have a very strong interest in prompt resolution. In this
regard, the State Bar administers a Client Security Fund that will reimburse
clients up to $100,000 for funds taken by an attorney. But those funds can only
be recovered at the conclusion of the disciplinary process. Thus, these clients
have a very strong interest in prompt resolution of their matter. I am pleased
to say that as of today the State Bar discipline system ranks as one of the
best, if not the best state discipline system in the country.
Outreach to the public. Last month I brought you up
to speed on the State Bar’s public
outreach efforts. Since then, the Legislature has approved two State
Bar-backed measures aimed at preventing fraud on the immigrant community and
combating the unauthorized practice of law. We continue to nurture our
relationships with law enforcement, the consulate community and elected
officials who can help alert our citizens to consumer fraud.
Enhancing the access of sections. Our substantive
sections are the principal educational arm of the State Bar. This year we have
reached out to our section leadership to include them more effectively in the
State Bar processes and decisions and help them fulfill a key mission of improving
the quality of client service through the education they provide.
Legislative initiatives. Working closely with the Legislature, the State Bar successfully sponsored several key pieces of
legislation this year designed to both protect the public and increase access
to justice. These efforts include: SB 345 (Evans), the annual “fee bill” which
also includes language that will increase funding for legal services; AB
1159 (Gonzalez) which helps protect the undocumented community from unscrupulous
professionals providing immigration reform services; and AB 888 (Dickinson)
which gives the State Bar greater ability to pressure individuals engaged in
the unauthorized practice of law. We wish to thank all these individuals and
organizations that assisted in these efforts which made for a very successful
legislative year in the name of public protection and access for justice.
Concluding remarks. As you can see, by any standard,
it’s been a tremendous year of progress and possibly the most productive year
the State Bar has experienced. Indeed this is a “new” State Bar. Not only did
we see a turnaround in the court funding problem, but the State Bar took a
number of positive steps forward in our public protection and access to justice
mission. I’d like to thank the fabulous Board of Trustees and staff who worked
so hard and effectively to make these many initiatives a reality.