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From the President

A year of accomplishments

By Patrick Kelly
President, State Bar of California

Patrick KellyAs I prepare to turn over the reins as State Bar president, I want to take the opportunity to recap our activities this past year. It’s been a rewarding year for me personally and one in which the State Bar and the judicial branch have made tremendous strides in our mission of public protection and access to justice. It can truly be said that this is a “new” State Bar – one that meets its responsibilities and is reaching out to the community like never before in fulfilling its mission of public protection and facilitating access to justice. To illustrate this new and proactive approach, I would like to share with you some of the positive steps the State Bar has taken this year.

Court funding. As many of you know, court funding by our state has been cut by about 30 percent since 2008. In my first address, I stated that California attorneys would be moving to the “front lines” in the pursuit of full funding of our courts. Working with the Open Courts Coalition, we presented a strong show of force to the Legislature and effectively delivered the message that continued budget cuts would irreparably harm the public and businesses in California.

I am pleased to say that as a result of the efforts of the judicial branch, California lawyers and community leaders, for the first time in five years, the branch received positive money in this year’s budget. Although the modest $63 million reinvestment in the courts won’t end the funding crisis, it signaled a critical change in the priority given by state government to our justice system and marked a very important first step in restoring access to justice in California.

Civility oath. In my speeches and a previous President’s Page, I’ve noted that the time has come for civility to be added to our attorney oath. Not being civil results in contentious situations that not only challenge our psyche, but also waste our client’s time and money. I believe attorneys entering the profession should be on notice from the start that civility is a fundamental duty. We have made great progress working with the court and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA).

The State Bar is currently seeking public comment on a proposed new Rule of Court 9.4 that would embrace a civility requirement. If approved by the Board of Trustees later this month, the proposal would be submitted to the California Supreme Court for action.

Senior lawyers. Under the leadership of trustee Pearl Mann and Deputy Executive Director/CEO Robert Hawley, over the past year we have reached out to senior lawyers, holding a series of meetings to address the challenges facing our state’s growing population of lawyers nearing retirement. The State Bar launched a senior lawyers web page, a collection of resources addressing professional responsibility issues that can arise in connection with retirement, disability and the death of attorneys, including guidelines for closing or selling a law practice.

Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE). The Member Oversight Committee led by Trustee Loren Kieve held a series of hearings and gathered input on ways to improve the program such as increasing the course options and improving the quality of the courses. Those recommendations, which include a proposed increase in the required hours to 36, were submitted for public comment. The board will consider those comments and propose appropriate rule changes at the Board of Trustees’ October meeting.

Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform. After more than a year of public hearings and study, the task force has recommended new training requirements for lawyers that emphasize competency and professionalism. They include 15 units of pre-admission practice-based coursework, 50 hours of pro bono work and 10 extra CLE courses in the first year of practice. The task force’s report has been submitted for public comment and the board will take action on this report at its October meeting.

Discipline system. With more than 240,000 lawyers, the State Bar of California, which is a public agency and regulator, operates the largest attorney discipline system in the world. Under the leadership of Trustee Karen Goodman and Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim, the discipline system made tremendous progress this year in reducing the time for processing complaints. This is important not only to the attorneys who are charged with a violation but also clients who have a very strong interest in prompt resolution. In this regard, the State Bar administers a Client Security Fund that will reimburse clients up to $100,000 for funds taken by an attorney. But those funds can only be recovered at the conclusion of the disciplinary process. Thus, these clients have a very strong interest in prompt resolution of their matter. I am pleased to say that as of today the State Bar discipline system ranks as one of the best, if not the best state discipline system in the country.

Outreach to the public. Last month I brought you up to speed on the State Bar’s public outreach efforts. Since then, the Legislature has approved two State Bar-backed measures aimed at preventing fraud on the immigrant community and combating the unauthorized practice of law. We continue to nurture our relationships with law enforcement, the consulate community and elected officials who can help alert our citizens to consumer fraud.

Enhancing the access of sections. Our substantive sections are the principal educational arm of the State Bar. This year we have reached out to our section leadership to include them more effectively in the State Bar processes and decisions and help them fulfill a key mission of improving the quality of client service through the education they provide.

Legislative initiatives. Working closely with the Legislature, the State Bar successfully sponsored several key pieces of legislation this year designed to both protect the public and increase access to justice. These efforts include: SB 345 (Evans), the annual “fee bill” which also includes language that will increase funding for legal services; AB 1159 (Gonzalez) which helps protect the undocumented community from unscrupulous professionals providing immigration reform services; and AB 888 (Dickinson) which gives the State Bar greater ability to pressure individuals engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. We wish to thank all these individuals and organizations that assisted in these efforts which made for a very successful legislative year in the name of public protection and access for justice.

Concluding remarks. As you can see, by any standard, it’s been a tremendous year of progress and possibly the most productive year the State Bar has experienced. Indeed this is a “new” State Bar. Not only did we see a turnaround in the court funding problem, but the State Bar took a number of positive steps forward in our public protection and access to justice mission. I’d like to thank the fabulous Board of Trustees and staff who worked so hard and effectively to make these many initiatives a reality.