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Q&A: Craig Holden talks about his passions and goals as president

Craig Holden
Holden - Photo by S. Todd Rogers

Los Angeles attorney Craig Holden presides over the State Bar Board of Trustees as the bar undergoes a management change. Holden talks about that as well as his other goals for the coming year.

The State Bar recently had a change in top management. What are the next steps to replace the executive director?

The board is considering appointing an interim executive director while it begins the process for the selection and recruitment of a new executive director, which will be announced shortly. Also, the board is continuing its analysis and consideration of the appropriate management/executive team structure to ensure that the important functions of the State Bar are carried out effectively, efficiently, and in a manner consistent with its obligations to the people of California. During this period of transition, Deputy Executive Director Robert Hawley is serving as acting executive director. The board has directed me to work closely with Bob as he performs the executive function for the bar during this period of transition.

What was the most gratifying case you’ve worked on as a lawyer?

The most gratifying case I’ve worked on was a pro bono case representing an elderly African-American woman who migrated from the Jim Crow South and had purchased and owned a home in South Los Angeles free and clear. She was preyed upon by people that took advantage of the fact that she was legally blind. They had her sign documents that they misrepresented to her and that resulted in the transfer of her property to total strangers. She lost her largest asset in life. The ability to get her house back for her was probably the most meaningful act I’ve done as a lawyer.

Your grandmother was an immigrant from Jamaica. Tell me about her and the influence she had on your life.

My parents were both busy executives who worked long hours. My grandmother emigrated from Jamaica so she could be there during our youth to help guide and influence us. She was big on volunteerism. She always went out of her way, even though she didn’t have to, to serve others. She imbued in me a sense of volunteerism that I carry today, and that inspires my interest in volunteer public service.

Let’s get to your year as State Bar president. What would you like to accomplish?

I’m passionate about mentoring for young lawyers, supporting pipeline diversity programs to increase diversity within the profession, and finding and implementing innovative solutions that increase access to legal services for those people with few or modest means. Those are my core areas of focus but I also plan to engage discussions on how we can broadly define the bar’s core mission of public protection – doing exceptional work in the area of admissions and discipline and exploring how we can improve – and advocating for increased funding for the judiciary. Those will continue to be fundamental areas I will address during my term. We also need to continually evaluate how we can improve our governance as a board, how we can improve in our oversight of bar staff and the culture within the bar organization.

You mentioned mentoring. Who were some of your mentors and how did they make a difference in your career?

I’ve been blessed with many mentors. I’ll get in trouble if I leave someone off. They’ve ranged from Jewish to African-American to Japanese and so many others. They were instrumental in giving me sage advice, guidance and training. They’ve helped groom me into becoming a better lawyer. My mentors have been really generous in that regard and I’d like to pay it forward.

What are some of the things you can do, that you think the bar could do, in the area of mentorship?

Mentoring can be either formal or informal. There are numerous mentoring programs out there. The challenge is finding mentors who will give up their time since there is no lack of demand by mentees but there is a dearth of mentors. I would like to canvass some of the best practices out there and convene a group of experts to explore innovative ideas and solutions. I think it’s important to see what programs are sustainable and can be replicated and implemented throughout bar organizations, committees, councils and commissions. Mentoring of young lawyers in particular is critical because of the changes that we’re seeing in the profession. So many young lawyers are starting their own firms without the benefit of traditional training, experience and guidance from seasoned practitioners. So I think mentoring is critical for young lawyers. On an informal level, everyone can engage in mentoring. It can be over a cup of coffee. It can be a quick phone call with someone to give advice or serve as a sounding board. I’ll be working with multiple bar organizations, including the Sections and the California Young Lawyers Association, so I’m excited about partnering with them and what we can accomplish.

You also mentioned diversity. Given the constraints that the bar has in that area, what do you think the bar can do to promote diversity?

We have to comport with the laws of the state, but in doing so I think we can promote the rich diversity that this state has and the need for a dialogue about diversifying our profession. There are organizations that have developed terrific initiatives that take advantage of the rich diversity of this state in helping students in early education, high school, college and law school matriculate into the profession. Promoting and supporting those initiatives, and exploring other innovative solutions, is one of the most effective things we can do. As former chairman of the Council on Access & Fairness, the State Bar’s diversity think tank, I have confidence in the ability of the Council and its leadership to continue to develop winning diversity and inclusion strategies. The California Minority Counsel Program is another important organization that has been a leader on the diversity and inclusion front, and I’ll continue to work with them and similar organizations that have a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion.

You mentioned your commitment to access to justice. What do you think the bar can do in that area?

We have to be innovative and look at new solutions. The legal profession’s going through a paradigm shift. There are a lot of bright scholars out there who have identified solutions to the justice gap – not just increasing legal services for the poor but also getting legal services for those with modest means that are above the poverty line but still need lawyers in life-critical areas but cannot afford them. The bar board will have to seriously consider some of these creative and innovative ideas and how we may be able to implement them. I chaired the working group on the limited license concept, which was received favorably by the bar board last year. I think that’s a good example of innovative solutions that can be explored. The need is greater today because of increased poverty and decreased funding. The more we can do with lawyers either volunteering time or monetary contributions the more we can do to close the justice gap.

Especially now that you’re president – you have an insanely busy schedule I’m sure – how do you blow off steam?

I get several hundred emails daily and it’s easy to get buried, but I’m surrounded by terrific lawyers at my firm who are supportive and that makes a big difference. As much as I love being a lawyer, getting away from the law business during free time is critical. I work out regularly and spend time with family and friends, all of which keeps me grounded.