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From the President

Reform is underway at the State Bar

By David Pasternak
President, the State Bar of California

David PasternakDuring my presidency I continue to hear the call for reform of the State Bar from various corners. We must do all we can to make sure the bar fulfills its important public protection mission. The Board of Trustees is working with the bar’s management team to reform and improve organizational operations. These systemic structural reform efforts are underway, informed by the results of four recently issued legislatively mandated reports that can be found on the State Bar website. Here is a brief summary of each of these extraordinary reports:

  • Workforce Planning. The report recommends significant operational changes in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel (OCTC), the Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) and the Office of Probation. Changes include combining the unit that investigates attorney misconduct with the unit that prosecutes those attorneys so the work can proceed more efficiently, defining the appropriate role of LAP in terms of both prevention and enforcement activities and streamlining and modernizing probation functions.  
  • A Classification and Compensation study for OCTC, which revealed some disparities in the bar’s pay scales. The study found that attorney salaries were below the labor market median while non-lawyer positions were higher than average. A bar-wide classification and compensation analysis is now underway. This will benchmark salaries at all levels, from the executive director down, to comparable state salaries.
  • Backlog Report. The State Bar has a statutory requirement to review complaints against attorneys within 180 days. The report concluded that additional resources are needed to bring down the number of cases in backlog. To meet the current standard would require 81 additional full-time positions. Funding for such positions will be a challenge, but ongoing work to achieve economies and efficiencies should help and reduce the need to seek license fee increases if not absolutely necessary.
  • Finally, a Spending Plan, which both estimates the cost of implementing the recommendations and findings of the preceding three reports and analyzes their impact on the level of member fees assessed. Cost estimates range from $1.5 million to $10.4 million. The State Bar staff, which is working directly on the implementation of these recommendations by year end (as mandated by the Legislature in last year's fee bill), is also staffing subcommittees of board members assigned to oversee and participate in the implementation process. Along with the forthcoming review of changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct, this is one of the most important things the board is doing this year.

I applaud the efforts of our new senior management team, which had the foresight to recognize the need for budget savings in January when it recommended a 6.2-percent reduction in expenditures this year. Additional proactive and responsible fiscal management practices include consolidation of our reserve accounts this year to only three accounts for more fiscal transparency, adoption of restrictions on transfers between accounts and implementation of a plan to lease our empty San Francisco office space to generate additional revenue. A careful review of the budget continues as we seek to identify resources internally and externally to support our reform and improvement efforts.

Separately, the Governance in the Public Interest Task Force has received a great deal of valuable input on how we can create the best governance structure to ensure that we carry out our critical public protection mission. That input has addressed various suggested reforms that can be found on the task force page. The governance report will be finalized later this month.

Both the board and the bar's management are committed to working with our stakeholders in the Legislature and Supreme Court to find the best path forward. We want solutions that are thoughtful, measured and instituted to address issues that need solutions and not adopted for other purposes – keeping our ultimate mission of public protection always at the forefront.