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From the President

A Time Of Transition

By Jon Streeter
President, State Bar of California

January marks the end of an era for the State Bar and the beginning of our transition into a new form of governance. I suppose the January timing is appropriate. The Roman god Janus, for whom January is named, was the dual-faced deity of beginnings and endings. According to the mythology, the titan Saturn gave Janus the power to see both the future and the past. Roman builders often carved the two faces of Janus into arches, gates and doorways to mark places of transition.

This month, the Bar begins a time of transition. By the terms of Senate Bill 163, this year’s annual fee bill, what has been known for 85 years as the Board of Governors of the State Bar will give way to a Board of Trustees. There will be 19 trustees, down from the current 23 governors.

Six trustees will continue to be non-attorney public members appointed by the electoral branches of state government: four by the governor, and two by the state legislature. The number of attorney members will shrink from 16 to 13, and of those 13, two will be appointed by the legislature. The California Supreme Court will appoint five attorney members of the board, and six attorney members will be elected, with one elected member coming from each appellate district in the state. The transition will take place over a three-year period, starting this year.

One thing will not change. Under Article VI of the California constitution, the Bar is part of the judicial branch of government, dedicated to the mission of helping the judicial branch promote the fair administration of justice. Our paramount commitment, carried out primarily though our core regulatory functions -- admissions and discipline -- is protection of the public. However, a wide variety of other things fall within our broader mission of promoting the fair administration of justice, including our dedication to pro bono legal services and supporting the legal service community for those who cannot afford lawyers. None of the changes taking place in governance this year will alter our determination to fulfill all these aspects of our mission, and to do so while being good stewards of members’ dues.

Nor has our continuing commitment the highest standards of professionalism changed. By setting and enforcing tough and rigorous systems of admissions and discipline, we mark off the minimum boundaries of what it means to be a California lawyer. But we expect more of ourselves than the bare minimum – which is what I mean by demonstrating commitment to the highest standards of professionalism. In this regard, I cannot improve upon the words of a mentor of mine, Judge Harry T. Edwards of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who wrote the following in a recent article calling for a recommitment to the enduring values of professionalism among lawyers:

Great lawyers are measured by intangible qualities - qualities that cannot be achieved by merely honing one's conduct to the regulatory or even the aspirational standards of our codes of ethics. Great lawyers care about law in the sense that they have a strong intellectual interest in it; they care about the well-being of their clients; they care about their own image as professionals; and they take the time to mentor younger members of the profession so that they will understand and embrace "the ideal of professionalism." Great lawyers have a sense of their professional self that leads them to internalize and update good standards of behavior, that reinforces pride in their work, and that pushes them routinely to provide high-quality services. A great lawyer does not view the "law" solely in instrumental and market terms as the outcome of aggressive assertions by opposing forces in courts, legislatures, and other institutions. Neither does the great lawyer consider "justice" to be largely subsumed within whatever our pluralistic system comes up with as a modern definition of the term. Rather, great lawyers seek to serve their clients and the public good, and these commitments are not seen as mutually exclusive.

Despite the changes in governance that the State Bar begins to implement this year, there will be no change in our dedication as an agency to public protection; to promoting the adminstration of justice; and to fostering not just minimum professional competence but to great lawyering. That, as Judge Edwards put it, is a recommitment to the ideal of professionalism. Let's all take it as our New Year's resolution.