Raising the bar
By Craig Holden
President, the State Bar of California
As former American Bar Association President Dennis Archer once noted: Sometimes you don’t always get to choose your agenda, sometimes your
agenda chooses you. This has certainly been the case for the Board of Trustees
since our board term started in September 2014.
While I am grateful the board has supported, promoted and
helped me implement the agenda and initiatives I set forth at the beginning of
my term – which I’ll discuss in more detail in a later column – I’m most proud
of the board’s leadership in improving and reforming the way we conduct our
business. As a public agency within the judicial branch of government, we are
committed to conducting our business effectively and openly so that we are
accountable to the public, our stakeholders and licensees.
As I embark on the second half of my year-long
presidency, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a few initiatives
the board is undertaking to improve the organization. We are actively engaged
in a national search for a new executive director and general counsel, have
redesigned some of the functions of these and other positions and increased
board oversight. Further, we have tasked our acting chief financial officer to
conduct a review of fiscal and budgeting policies as well as board and
management expenses. This fiscal review has led to our implementation of new
measures that increase fiscal accountability and controls.
I have also reconstituted the Governance
in the Public Interest Task Force that will focus upon reinforcing our
mission of public protection and implementing additional reforms. Some of these
measures I have or will ask the task force to consider are:
- Reviewing our board oversight functions to ensure
greater accountability and better adherence to our broadly-defined mission of
- Studying and/or proposing reforms across the
- Making our board and organizational rules
available to the public and making them more user-friendly in order to increase
- Exploring the creation of a compliance unit or
committee that will ensure the organization’s adherence to our myriad of
- Studying and implementing additional transparency
- Institutionalizing our culture of public
protection and accountability, including in our strategic plan and throughout
- Evaluating our governance structure as a board
and potentially making changes
It’s important to note that the State Bar generally has
well developed fiscal and other controls appropriate for a public corporation,
and is staffed by consummate professionals. We have an acting executive director
in Bob Hawley who has more than 25 years of experience running the
organization. But nothing should be taken for granted.
The board has requested a deeper level of information from
the State Bar’s Finance Office about the budget and expenditures that largely
involve annual licensing fees. This includes ensuring that if there are
significant variances between the projected annual budget and actual
expenditures, we will be able to inquire about the reasons and make budgetary
adjustments as appropriate. This process has always existed. It is just that
the board wishes to be more “hands on” in this process than it has
historically, and to do so with public reports available to all. A good thing,
we believe, for transparency.
We have also enhanced transparency for expenditures to
reimburse senior executives and board members for their business and travel
expenses in conducting State Bar business. Beginning last month, the board’s audit
committee began quarterly reviews of these expenses, with the reports being
made public as part of the meeting process.
The expenses of the president are no exception. At my
direction, we changed the policy to ensure that the president’s expenses are
not funded by mandatory dues or donations, and imposed further limits on the
types of reimbursements allowed.
We are also soliciting
feedback on a new set of rules designed to provide public access to State
Bar administrative records. Comments are due by June 16.
Last but not least, the board continues to be vigilant in
its oversight of our core functions of admissions and discipline – and is
active in promoting greater access to legal services for the poor and those
with modest means, as well as the diversification of the legal profession. We
are also helping young lawyers with mentoring and training.
We hope that these efforts will bolster public confidence
that the State Bar – as the regulatory body for more than a quarter million
attorneys – is effectively administering its revenues and fulfilling its broadly-defined
mission of public protection.