California Bar Journal
CBJ - March 2009 #01.
Fewer lawyer-lawmakers: Does it make a difference?
California Bar Journal March 2009 Fewer lawyer-lawmakers: Does it make a difference?By Diane CurtisStaff WriterDuring seven of State Treasurer Bill Lockyer's 25 years in the California legislature, he spent two, three or five nights a week going to classes at McGeorge School of Law. The career politician, who was an assemblyman, senator (including Senate President Pro Tem) and attorney general before being elected treasurer, decided to write legislation by day, get a legal education by night ("I didn't sleep," he says) and ultimately join the State Bar, mostly because it was a promise he had made to his mother. But it had not gone unnoticed by Lockyer that the many lawyers in the legislature had significant influence and often held leadership posts.
In 1971, almost half of the state's lawmakers - 58 of 120 - were lawyers, but the numbers have been steadily declining, hitting what is believed to be an all-time low in the current session: 21 attorneys active in the State Bar - 15 in the 80-member Assembly and six in the 40-member Senate. That's a drop from 48 percent to 18 percent. In addition, one legislator has a license to practice in Hawaii and three others have law degrees but no licenses.
Even by the time Lockyer - who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee for a decade - became Senate President Pro Tem in 1994, he noticed the dwindling numbers and the difficulty of filling the Judiciary Committee with practicing attorneys, which was a loss, he says.
«There's a skill set of being able to identify and parse issues, some language skill and negotiation practice and expertise that are useful,» Lockyer says, adding that he believes his legal background made him a better legislator.
Former Republican Senator Dick Ackerman, who is an attorney at Nossaman LLP in Orange County, agrees that legal training is very useful in the legislature, especially regarding analyzing issues and language, whether they have to do with insurance, health or crime. Otherwise, lawmakers must rely too much on staff for analysis, he says.
"I think it definitely matters if there are lawyers in the legislature," concurs State Bar President Holly Fujie. "Lawyers understand how laws are interpreted by the courts and by lawyers and how a single word in a...