Brief Overview of the Utah Bar’s Governing Board
Kristen Olsen and Kate Conyers, J.
What is the Bar Commission?
The Utah State Bar Commission (Commission) is the governing board and decision-making body of the Utah State Bar. Under the state’s constitution, the Utah Supreme Court regulates the practice of law. The court, in turn, has delegated responsibility for the administration of the practice of law and the regulation of lawyers to the Utah State Bar, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit corporation. The Commission, in essence, acts as a revolving board of directors for the Utah Bar.
What does the Commission do?
The primary responsibility of the Commission is to carry out all of the responsibilities delegated to the Bar. Specifically, the Commission establishes policies and rules ranging from admissions of lawyers, writing and administering the Bar Examination, and setting thresholds for the character and fitness committee process through the Utah Supreme Court.
The Commission also:
• Organizes CLEs, annual conventions (Spring, Summer, and Fall Forum), and other Bar events;
• Lobbies the legislature when bills and issues affect the administration of justice and the regulation and management of the practice;
• Creates and implements programs and services, such as the Bar’s Pro Bono program, Modest Means program, and the Lawyer Referral Service Directory;
• Selects members to be considered by the Governor for the Judicial Nominating Commission and other law-related commissions;
• Arranges for services and benefits to Bar members like Beneplace Group Benefits, Blomquist Hale counseling services, and Casemaker online legal research, all found at www.utahbar.org/members; and
• Selects individuals to receive recognition and awards.
The Bar commissioners, who are elected to serve three-year terms, meet nine to ten times a year and each meeting lasts up to four hours. Individual commissioners also spend around eight to ten hours between each Commission meeting on other responsibilities, such as sitting on subcommittees, liaising to various sections and divisions of the Bar, and attending Bar conventions, events, and socials. The Commission also delegates many of its responsibilities to the Bar’s Executive Director, John Baldwin, who manages a staff of thirty-eight individuals to assist in these tasks.
How does the Commission operate?
Some things can be handled by the Commission during the course of one meeting and other things – such as implementing long-term projects – can take years. The Executive Committee of the Commission – which consists of the President, President-elect, and one to three commissioners – meets quarterly with the Utah Supreme Court to update the Court and seek approval for any project that is not financially self-sustaining.
The Mentoring Program, for example, was created after the Utah Supreme Court approached the Commission with a mentoring report written by local lawyers and judges. The court asked the Commission to determine whether a mentoring program should be implemented in Utah. The Commission, in turn, set up a committee to research whether the program would be valuable, necessary, important, and achievable. That committee met and researched these issues over the course of a year, regularly reporting to the Commission about its progress and requesting feedback. Once the committee determined that the mentoring program would be a good fit for the Bar, the Commission approved it and determined how the program would be funded and implemented. Then the Commission petitioned the court for final approval. Now, the Bar’s mentoring program is a requirement for all new attorneys admitted to the Bar.
What are the priorities and goals of the current Commission?
This year, Bar President Rob Rice has asked the Commission to focus on several initiatives, beginning with further increasing membership services. In that regard, the Commission is studying a new look for the Bar’s webpage and incorporating an online law practice management system that will assist solo- and small-firm practitioners with managing their calendaring, invoicing, research, networking, CLE, and a wide array of legal information. The Commission is also rolling out its online lawyer directory and referral service at www.licensedlawyer.org. President Rice hopes that all lawyers in the Bar will sign up and take advantage of this new service to expand their client base.
In addition, the Commission is focused on promoting diversity and inclusion in the law. It is supporting an expansion of unconscious bias training in the Bar’s New Lawyer Training Program and giving more attention to diversity issues at CLEs and conventions. The Commission is also working with the newly formed Utah Center for Legal Inclusion, an organization dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives in the legal profession. The Commission remains dedicated to reviewing and fulfilling the recommendations made by the Bar’s Futures Commission in its recent Report and Recommendations on the Future of Legal Services in Utah.