What You Should Probably Know About
the California State Bar
by Shaun Dabby Jacobs
As many of you may have heard, when the California State Bar fees bill was passed late last year it included a provision that created a Task Force for the Protection of the Public Interest (“Task Force”) to determine the future of the California State Bar and possible changes to the way in which we, the members of the State Bar, are governed. According to the legislation, the purpose of the Task Force was “for enhancing and ensuring that public protection is the highest priority in the licensing, regulation and discipline of attorneys.” The Legislature created the Task Force purportedly because of a perception that the State Bar was more interested in protecting its members than in protecting the public. While WLALA has not taken a formal position on these issues to date, we feel it is important to inform our members on the status of the work of the Task Force.
Currently, the California State Bar is run by a Board of Governors. The current composition of the Board of Governors is 15 attorneys from geographical districts around the State and one attorney representing the bar’s California Young Lawyers Association (these members are elected by the membership of the State Bar); four non-lawyer members (these members are appointed by the governor); and two public members (one appointed by the Senate and one appointed by the Assembly) for a total of 23 members. A President is then elected from the 23 members by the other members of the Board of Governors for a one year term. The Task Force is examining changes to the governance structure including having all members of the Board of Governors and the President be appointed as opposed to some being elected as they currently are.
One argument for changing the structure is that most other professions, such as doctors, are regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs and that if the attorney members of the Board of Governors is elected by its membership as it currently is, it is too focused on its constituent groups (such as local bar associations), rather than protecting the public and disciplining errant lawyers. The argument against having an all appointed Board is that it would require potential Board of Governors members to be politically connected before he or she could gain a seat on the Board.
As reported by the California Bar Journal, the Task Force is examining three proposals to change the structure of governance. The first, proposed by State Bar President Bill Hebert, would eliminate six of the attorney seats, and have the California Supreme Court appoint the attorney members, rather than be elected. Under Hebert’s plan, the appointment of the public non-lawyer members would remain the same.
The second proposal, suggested by Board members Angela Davis and Jon Streeter, would keep the number of Board of Governors at 23 but have 13 elected lawyer members, three lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court and the six public non-lawyer members appointed as they currently are with four appointed by the Governor and two appointed by the Legislature.
The third proposal, suggested by Wells Lyman, a Board member from San Diego, is to have a 19 member Board with nine of the attorney members elected one each from the nine geographical districts already in place, three public non-lawyer members appointed by the Supreme Court and the President.
Although the changes to the State Bar’s governance may seem like superficial changes at first glance, they could have long ranging and drastic implications because the Task Force is also looking at proposed changes to the State Bar’s functions, including eliminating all functions except licensing and discipline requirements. Under this proposed change, all other activities, such as providing low cost insurance to members, and the different committees the State Bar runs, would be eliminated and be part of a voluntary bar.
Shaun Dabby Jacobs is the Chair of the WLALA Conference of Delegates Committee. Ms. Jacobs is a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Los Angeles.