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From the President

Lawyers play a positive role in our society

By Craig Holden
President, the State Bar of California

Craig HoldenIt is almost a cliché – but it is certainly true – that people bad mouth lawyers until they need one. As members of a learned and venerable profession, we don’t toot our own horns enough, or celebrate the positive role that lawyers play in society. The overwhelming majority of lawyers are helping people solve their problems – whether in the context of a corporate deal or litigation or through pro bono legal services – and I’m proud to trumpet the positive role lawyers play.

While the priority of the State Bar of California is to protect the public from unethical or incompetent lawyers, some may think we are focused only on the bad apples. But in fact, we recognize and support lawyers who do many things in California and across the country in their roles as true public citizens.

As public citizens, lawyers work to improve our justice system, improve access to legal assistance, and promote diversity in the profession—which enhances both access and fairness. As members of a learned profession, lawyers cultivate wider knowledge of the law, promote civics education, and build confidence in the rule of law as a cornerstone of democracy. (The general notion of public citizen is familiar to those who know the Preamble to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.)

Lawyers are also problem solvers in business and in people’s personal lives. Lawyers help business people start companies, navigate technical regulations, and obtain patents, but they also help people become citizens, write wills and obtain redress for injuries.

Lawyers are also bold leaders. Many of our founding fathers and greatest presidents were lawyers. Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Taft and FDR were lawyers, to name just a few. And beyond our shores, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were also members of the bar.

The State Bar celebrates and encourages lawyers in their role as public citizens, and it does so in a variety of ways.

Our Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform has recommended that 50 hours of pro bono work be required for admission to the bar, which should help many get legal services who otherwise could not afford it.

We also support the California Commission on Access to Justice, which has chosen four projects to receive grants to enhance access to legal services for low- and moderate-income individuals. A total of $180,000 in commission grants has gone to a new Modest Means Incubator program that funds the training of young lawyers to create sustainable law practices providing affordable legal services. On June 9, the Los Angeles Incubator Consortium hosts an event to introduce the 10 inaugural participants or “new solos” and to launch the new initiative.

Through its Office of Legal Services, the State Bar also supports the Campaign for Justice, which helps nearly 100 nonprofit organizations throughout California provide legal aid to hundreds of thousands of individuals every year. The campaign has just received unprecedented support from the Episcopal Church, which is asking clergy to address the need to fund legal aid agencies in sermons and weekly newsletters. Similar assistance from other religious groups is also being sought.

Moreover, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution last month recommending more funding for legal aid for the indigent. And we are seeking ways to boost funding for the Client Security Fund, which provides financial support from licensing fees for those defrauded by their lawyers. Thus, the good members of the profession are paying for losses generated by a few bad members.

To promote diversity, the State Bar is developing a program similar to one working at Northwestern University School of Law to improve the pass rate on the bar exam, especially for minority and disadvantaged law students.

Also, the State Bar has convened a task force to find ways to provide mentoring and practical education programs for new members of the profession.

The State Bar is also supporting civics education, including a program to have elementary school children visit the courts and learn what goes on there by putting on a mock trial. 

And the State Bar has been holding a series of town halls across the state with other government agencies to help prevent fraud against seniors, veterans and immigrants—the three most groups most commonly preyed upon.

“First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!”  Many of us are familiar with this line from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2 that is often quoted to bash lawyers, but some may not know that in context, it actually has the opposite meaning. When in a violent revolt, Dick the Butcher, the henchman of the rebel leader says, “let’s kill all the lawyers,” he’s saying that lawlessness triumphs when lawyers are absent. Most scholars agree that Shakespeare here is implying that lawyers are guardians of the rule of law who stand in the way of a violent mob.

During my presidency, I have used the bully pulpit to celebrate and encourage the important and positive role lawyers play in our society.  Please join me this year in tooting our own horn.