Accelerating Reform at the State Bar, 0217 CABJ, CBJ - February 2017 #07

AuthorJames P. Fox, President, the State Bar of California

Accelerating reform at the State Bar

No. 2017 #07

California Bar Journal

February, 2017

James P. Fox, President, the State Bar of California

When I began my term as State Bar president in October 2016,1 made it clear this agency is committed to reforms that will allow us to better serve the 39 million Californians we're charged with protecting. When people need an attorney, it's often at some of the most difficult and vulnerable times for them. All Californians deserve access to a high-quality, ethical attorney to help them navigate legal issues they are facing.

Now that 2017 is in full swing, I'd like to recap recent changes and outline our plans for this year. I expect this will be another transformative year for the bar as we continue shifting from an agency with a dual mission of helping both lawyers and the public to one that is primarily focused on serving the public.

We should be clear. By statute, public protection is the highest priority of the State Bar. A new executive leadership team was hired by the Board of Trustees in 2015 to bring clarity to this mission and to increase the bar's transparency and effectiveness.

One theme of reform has been to view the bar's activities through a lens of public protection. In doing so, we have recognized the challenges of supporting a professional association, valuable though that is for supporting lawyers who do ultimately protect the public.

As a result, the bar faces difficult, but important, conversations about whether to separate the Sections, which provide practice-specific educational opportunities to lawyers, into a separate entity.

Recent history provides useful context.

In 2016, the bar fully embraced new transparency measures. The California Public Records Act and Bagley-Keene Act now apply and have changed the status quo. The board has demonstrated its commitment to this new openness by implementing Bagley-Keene's open meeting rules ahead of schedule and webcasting its meetings.

Improvements in the attorney discipline system (which handled over 40,000 calls in 2016 leading to the disbarment of nearly 200 lawyers for misconduct), and the Client Security Fund (which paid out $8 million to 1,000 people in 2016), are powerful examples of progress. We have also established a clear protocol for investigating the more than 600 complaints about the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) received in 2016 to ensure cases are referred to law enforcement more quickly. And...

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