You Need to Know

Two State Bar Board of Trustees seats up for election

Nominating petitions are available for attorneys interested in seeking an elected seat on the State Bar Board of Trustees.

Two seats will be up for election – one each in Districts 1 (Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma) and District 3 (Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba).

Any active member of the State Bar who maintains his or her principal office for the practice of law within the State Bar district in which there is a vacancy is eligible to run for a seat on the board. Lawyer members are elected for three-year terms and will assume their offices at the conclusion of the 2013 Annual Meeting in October.

Nominating petitions must be submitted by April 2, ballots will be mailed April 30 and voting will be completed by July 1. As it has been doing in recent years, the State Bar will conduct a hybrid election, offering voters the option of voting electronically or by mail.

Members are elected for three-year terms and assume office after the State Bar Annual Meeting in October.

California Supreme Court seeks applicants to State Bar Board of Trustees

A newly formed committee is accepting applications through March 29 from attorneys wishing to serve on the State Bar of California Board of Trustees.

The California Supreme Court is charged with appointing five members to the State Bar governing body and has named the State Bar Trustees Nominating Committee to solicit, receive, screen and evaluate applications and make recommendations to the court. In 2013, two positions will be filled using this process.

The committee is chaired by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David De Alba, with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie serving as vice chair. The other members are: Catherine Jane Blakemore, Sacramento, executive director of Disability Rights California; Robert Alan Morgenstern, Los Angeles, partner at Bingham McCutchen; Michael Joseph Levy, Sacramento, chief counsel of California Energy Commission; and Julia Rebecca Wilson, San Francisco, executive director, One Justice and the Legal Aid Association of California.

Statewide Ethics Symposium set for April 20

The State Bar of California’s Committee on Professional Responsibility (COPRAC) will hold its 17th Annual Statewide Ethics Symposium on Saturday, April 20, at UCLA School of Law in Los Angeles. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Ethics 2013: Doing Good, Being Bad, Going Public, Being Sad.” Planned topics include ethical issues in pro bono representation, civility and the ethical bounds of aggressive lawyering, media, confidentiality and trial publicity, and lawyer mobility and law firm breakups. The keynote address will be delivered by Paul W. Vapnek, the 2013 recipient of the Harry B. Sondheim California Professional Responsibility Award. The event is approved for six hours of MCLE credit in legal ethics. Registration is open. For more information contact Lauren McCurdy at (415) 538-2107.

Nominations Sought for the 2013 Benjamin Aranda III Access to Justice Award

The California Commission on Access to Justice is seeking nominations of California judges for the 2013 Benjamin Aranda III Access to Justice Award. The deadline is May 31, 2013. The award will be presented by the chief justice in the fall.

The Aranda award recognizes one California trial judge, appellate court justice, or commissioner for his or her efforts to improve access to our judicial system. The recipients have demonstrated a long-term commitment to equal access to the courts and have done significant work in improving access to the courts for low and moderate income Californians. The nomination form and additional information is available online. Contact Frank Monti, 415-238-2141, for questions or further information.

California courts seek feedback on website

Attorneys who use the California Judicial Branch website are invited to fill out a user survey. The survey asks whether the website information was understandable and easy to find. Website users may also offer suggestions for improvements. The survey will be posted online through late March.

California Bar Foundation announces new leadership team

The California Bar Foundation, the center of philanthropy for California’s legal profession, has hired two key staff members, Executive Director Sonia Gonzales announced last month.

Natalia Merluzzi joined the foundation as director of programming and policy in August 2012. She was formerly with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., where her responsibilities included prosecuting cases on behalf of the United States Attorney’s Office and serving as a special assistant to the Assistant Attorney General  Tony West. She was the racial justice project fellow at the ACLU of Northern California and began her career as a litigation associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP. 

Joe Swimmer became the foundation’s director of development in November 2012. He brings nearly 20 years of experience in legal practice, fundraising, marketing and business development. He was senior development officer for Berkeley Law – Boalt Hall and alumni relations officer with Georgetown Law School and the Stanford Alumni Association. Former senior director of litigation services at LexisNexis, Swimmer started his career practicing law with Shartsis Friese LLP and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, both in San Francisco.

“The new leadership for the Foundation brings expertise, as well as professional and personal networks, certain to further our important work,” said Frederick Brown, California Bar Foundation President and partner with the international law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “With Sonia’s leadership, and Natalia and Joe’s contributions, the Foundation is poised to build on past success as we continue working towards a legal profession representing the diversity of those it serves and serving those it represents.”

LA/OC legal aid group seeking board members

The State Bar of California is seeking applications from attorneys interested in filling vacant positions on the Board of Directors for Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Community Legal Services in Southeast Los Angeles County (LASOC/CLS). Applicants must practice or reside in the area served by LASOC/CLS. 

One position is open and one will open in August. The term of office is three years, with the successful candidate eligible for re-appointment for an additional term. Deadline for applications is April 30, 2013.

Interested attorneys should apply by letter, listing the reasons they should be appointed. A resume outlining work experience, community activity and educational background must be included. The materials should be sent to Sarah Lindsey Chanrasmi, The State Bar of California, Office of Legal Services, 180 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105. Questions may be directed to Sarah Lindsey Chanrasmi by email or phone, (415) 538-2534.

California Rural Legal Assistance filling board vacancies

The Board of Directors of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) is recruiting for two vacancies. The State Bar of California is seeking applications from attorneys interested in serving. 

The term of office is two years, with the successful candidate eligible for re-appointment for two additional terms. Deadline for applications is April 30, 2013.

Interested attorneys should apply by letter, listing the reasons they should be appointed. A resume outlining work experience, community activity and educational background must be included. The materials should be sent to Sarah Lindsey Chanrasmi, The State Bar of California, Office of Legal Services, 180 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105. Questions may be directed to Sarah Lindsey Chanrasmi by email or phone, (415) 538-2534.

Significant changes to the law concerning construction-related disability access claims

Senate Bill No. 1186, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), made significant changes to the law, some of which impose State Bar disciplinary consequences on lawyers. The bill contains an urgency clause, which means it was effective immediately upon enactment Sept. 19, 2012, but some of its provisions didn’t go into effect until Jan. 1. The bill includes the following provisions, all of which govern construction-related disability access claims:

  • A general prohibition against sending a demand letter that includes a request or demand for money or an offer or agreement to accept money, effective immediately
  • A revision to the existing mandatory written advisory that must be provided with a demand letter or complaint, effective immediately
  • A requirement that a lawyer send a copy of a demand letter to the State Bar and the California Commission on Disability Access, effective Jan. 1.
  • A requirement that a demand letter sent by a lawyer include the lawyer’s State Bar license number, effective Jan. 1.
  • A requirement that a lawyer send a copy of a complaint to the California Commission on Disability Access, effective Jan. 1.
  • A requirement that demand letters and complaints contain plain language sufficient for a recipient business or property owner to determine the basis of alleged violations, including: specific identification of each access barrier encountered; the date of the incident; and a description of how each barrier interfered with full and equal access, effective Jan. 1.
  • A requirement that a complaint be verified by the plaintiff, effective Jan. 1.  A complaint filed without verification is subject to a motion to strike
  • A reduction of statutory damages if specified conditions apply, effective immediately
  • The establishment of procedures for a mandatory evaluation conference, effective as to claims filed on or after Jan. 1.

Help JNE move to paperless evaluations

The State Bar commission that evaluates the governor’s candidates for judgeships is seeking the help of attorneys to solicit information electronically.

For more than 20 years, the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, commonly known as the JNE (“Jenny”) Commission, has gathered information about candidates by mailing paper comment forms to attorneys. Over the past 18 months, the commission has experimented with the use of email to gather comments, but has encountered one barrier: the spam filter. While most of JNE’s emails reach their intended recipients, a significant number are blocked.

Attorneys can solve this problem by authorizing the spam filters serving their email address listed with the State Bar to accept the following email address: jneccf@calbar.ca.gov. Those who work in legal offices can help by asking their IT specialists to authorize the JNE email address for all spam filters serving office computers.

The electronic comment forms are identical to the written forms. A hyperlink in the email takes the commenter to a website where a form identical to the written comment form can be completed electronically. The electronic comments are maintained confidentially, with access only by investigating commissioners and staff. The use of email appears to result in response rates at least as high as the use of written forms, and it will save the State Bar tens of thousands of dollars a year in copying, stationery and postage costs.

Bar rules book available for e-Reader

To facilitate a lawyer’s ability to readily identify and address legal ethics issues, the State Bar has published an e-Reader version of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the State Bar Act. The e-Reader version of the rule book is compatible with the Kindle Reader App, a free e-Reader application available for iPads, iPhones, Blackberry phones, Android phones, Macbooks, and PC laptops. The book also works on all versions of Amazon.com’s Kindle.

The 2012 edition of the e‑Reader version of the rule book can be purchased at Amazon.com for $6.99, a significant discount from the price of the hardcopy book. It offers several useful features including a search function, bookmarking, highlighting and annotating. In addition, once downloaded to a tablet, smart phone or other compatible device, the book can be accessed at any time, even without an Internet or cellular data signal.

The bar’s rule book has been published for more than 65 years. The 30-page edition published in 1949 has grown to 411 hard copy pages. In addition to the rules and State Bar Act, the book includes other related authorities such as selected Rules of Court, code sections, the Federal Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, the State Bar Pro Bono Resolution, the Lawyer Referral Service rules, MCLE rules and more.

Legal ethics and technology resource page is online

The general Ethics Information page at the State Bar website has an area dedicated to Ethics and Technology ― a collection of resources that address professional responsibility issues raised by the use of websites, email, chat rooms and other technologies. The resources include advisory ethics opinions, articles and MCLE programs.

Most of the resources are internal links to other pages on the bar’s website and some are external links to local or specialty bar associations. The page is organized both by the type of resource (ethics opinion, article, etc.) and by subject matter (law firm websites, electronic files, social networking, etc.).

The service focuses on providing basic legal research leads on how the rules apply to new technologies rather than specific law office systems, hardware or software options. For the latter, the resources of the State Bar’s Law Practice Management & Technology Section can be considered.

Register a law corporation

Law corporations are required to register with both the California Secretary of State and the State Bar of California under Corporations Code §13404. Registration requirements are set forth in Business & Professions Code §§6160 and 6161.

Rules and application materials are available on the State Bar website. Information required to register a law corporation includes:

  • Proof of registration with the Secretary of State
  • Submission of bylaws and a sample share certificate containing the appropriate restrictions on share ownership
  • A completed application that reports all the attorneys who are associated with the corporation
  • Submission of the Guarantee for Claims in the appropriate amount
  • A Declaration of Compliance with Rule 1-400

Limited Liability Partnerships providing legal services are also required to register with the State Bar. If not registered, attorneys should be particularly aware of California Corporations Code § 16306(f), which specifically removes the protection from liability for claims based upon legal work.

Prior to registering with the Secretary of State, it is advisable to check with the State Bar to ensure that the entity name complies with rules and has not already been registered. Additional information is available at the Law Corporations page, LLP page, or the Law Office Management page. Assistance is available at LLP@calbar.ca.gov.

Create a surrogacy agreement

An “Agreement to Close Law Practice in the Future” is available on the State Bar website for attorneys who want to plan for the possibility they will not be able to continue to work. The sample agreement, available to all lawyers, spells out the responsibilities of the primary attorney and his or her successor in the case of death or incapacity.

If a lawyer designates a successor using the new sample contract, the designated surrogate goes to court for appointment as the practice administrator who can take control and dispose of the practice. A lengthy list of duties is part of the contract and includes the ability to open mail, become a signatory on bank accounts, notify clients and transfer files, pay bills and handle funds, and accept the original attorney’s clients and cases. The practice administrator also will have the power to sell the practice.

Feeling stressed? The Lawyer Assistance Program can help

Attorneys struggling to cope with the stress of a challenging economic environment or a difficult employment situation are invited to contact the Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), which now offers new support programs in addition to its traditional help with substance abuse and depression. Support is offered for issues like stress, relationship and personal problems, grief and anxiety.

The LAP is designed for attorneys who might wish to participate in a weekly group with other lawyers and would like the support of a mental health professional (group facilitator) or a trained peer counselor who is familiar with attorneys’ particular challenges.

The LAP also offers an Orientation and Assessment (O&A) to any attorney who wants professional assistance to cope with personal problems, work problems, substance abuse or other mental health issues. The O&A provides a confidential assessment completed by one of the LAP clinicians located throughout the state. Referrals to outside resources and an opportunity to participate in a LAP group for a short period of time also are provided. There is no fee for this service.

Interested attorneys should call 877 LAP 4 HELP (877-527-4435) or contact LAP@calbar.ca.gov. All calls are confidential.

Membership benefits from CalBar Connect

State Bar members can save up to 25 percent every time they rent with Hertz, a participant in CalBar Connect, the State Bar’s member services and benefits initiative. Visit the Hertz page for details.

CalBar Connect, which provides discounts to all State Bar members, also offers a variety of insurance plans including Professional Liability Insurance, Workers’ Compensation Insurance, Group and Individual Disability plans, Life Insurance, AD&D, Auto, Home and Business Office Plans.

Opt out of lists

Attorneys who wish to remove their names from lists the State Bar provides to qualified outside entities may do so by logging on to My State Bar Profile. Go to “Account Information” and select “Update my mailing preferences (opt out).”

Members also may email their opt-out request to memrec@calbar.ca.gov. Include your bar number.