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From the President

Major milestone for governance reform

By Luis J. Rodriguez
President, State Bar of California

Luis RodriguezWhen the incoming class of trustees takes office next month, it will mark a major milestone for the State Bar.

A process that has been gradually taking place since 2012 will be complete. The bar will fully realize the new governance structure envisioned by legislative reform. For the first time in its 87-year history, our governing board will have a majority of members who are appointed rather than elected.

You may ask why California lawyers should care. In my opinion, governance reform and the strides we’ve made in refocusing on the bar’s longstanding mission of public protection are to the benefit of everyone in this state, including attorneys.

Just as it’s a privilege for us to be able to serve our clients, we should never forget that it’s a great privilege for our profession to be entrusted with self-regulation. With this privilege comes great responsibility. We have a duty to the public to ensure the competency of those who are allowed to practice law.

Here are some of the steps the bar has taken to strengthen public protection following governance reform:

  • Supporting tougher standards under AB 1159 that protect the consumer by educating the public about dishonest notarios and attorneys seeking fees for services under the promise of immigration reform by Congress
  • Supporting training requirements to better prepare law students for the practice of law
  • Seeking solutions to the “justice gap” between the need for low-income legal services and the resources to meet it
  • Strengthening the regulation of California-accredited law schools, which now must maintain a cumulative bar exam pass rate of at least 40 percent
  • Supporting the increase of membership fees by $30, with funds going to legal services unless the attorney opts out.

The core of the bar’s regulatory function lies in its admissions and discipline systems. But as part of its public protection mission, the bar also strives to give attorneys the tools they need to ethically serve their clients. 

The bar provides courses for lawyers in ethics and client trust accounting. It maintains an Ethics Hotline, a confidential research service to help lawyers understand their professional responsibilities. The State Bar Sections offer continuing education in specialized practice areas.

The new governance structure was designed to keep the bar focused on its primary mission of public protection. Now that we’ve reached this milestone, I look forward to seeing the bar continue its good work for the people of California.

When we hold our profession to the highest ethical standards, we not only improve the level of service our clients receive but also the level of trust and respect for our profession.