California Lawyers Association

2019: A Year to Remember

December 2019

By Emilio Varanini, President
and Howard “Chip” Wilkins, Chair of the Board of Representatives

As the holiday season gets underway, it’s a good time to reflect on all we have accomplished in 2019, in what is only our second year as the California Lawyers Association.

The year began on a high note with our achieving two major milestones. First, we welcomed Ona Dosunmu as our CEO/executive director. Second, Ona and the rest of our dedicated employees moved into our new headquarters in Sacramento. These moves gave us the solid footing we needed to continue building our independent, 100,000-member strong organization.

Legislation that went into effect in January 2018 had mandated that the former State Bar Sections and the California Young Lawyers Association become an independent nonprofit entity. Since then, we have taken over many of the professional association functions previously spearheaded by the State Bar of California in its 80-plus years of history. Those included the Solo and Small Firm Summit, collaborations with bar associations statewide and outside of the state, and an annual awards program to recognize the best in our profession. Our Sections have continued to put on amazing programming and we look forward to seeing what they can do working together.

We also committed to maintaining our focus on two important priorities—furthering diversity and access to justice. As we said in our inaugural statement, advancing diversity, equity and inclusion is critical for the public and our profession. We are developing policies to further these critical goals within CLA, seeking to recruit diverse leadership for the future within CLA, and building external relationships with stakeholders, including the judiciary.

Our new nonprofit status also gave us the freedom to act on behalf of our members and of the profession as the state bar association for all Californians. We created policies to allow the association and our Sections to actively participate in governmental affairs by filing amicus briefs and weighing in on pending legislation as well as on State Bar initiatives. Under these policies, we provided thoughtful positions on dozens of issues important to our 100,000 membership as well as all California lawyers. Most recently, we responded to the State Bar’s request for public comment on the preliminary report of the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services.

At the request of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, we joined forces with the Power of Democracy Civic Outreach Initiative, helping to educate K-12 students on the workings of government and independence of the judiciary. And we are working on access to justice initiatives both within the Sections and through the CLA itself to help the Chief Justice achieve her goals in that space as well as serve the public.

We identified the need to have a philanthropic arm to raise money for charitable purposes, so we set up a 501(c)(3) foundation to augment our work and mission within the 501(c)(6) association. Expect to hear more from this foundation in 2020.

We launched a new website and branding to showcase our activities, including the many top-flight educational programs and an incredible tool to assist with research, Fastcase. We developed the CLA eNews to keep you informed about all that’s going on. The new brand that we are using is a testimony to the incredible energy and work staff and our members put in so that our new organization would have a new brand worthy of it and memorable to our members. But we are always improving our services and our message because that is what you, the members, deserve.

Finally, hundreds of us attended the Annual Meeting in Monterey in October, where we met with members of the judiciary, networked with other lawyers throughout the state, and took advantage of the many cutting-edge educational programs. We are continuing to work on the Annual Meeting so that as the years go by, it will be ever more successful.

We are excited about the opportunity to lead the organization in 2020. Watch this space for more on our initiatives. For those who would like to get more involved by serving on a CLA or Board committee, we’re accepting applications through Dec. 9.

We look forward to another productive year and thank you, our members, for your interest and involvement. Please keep your energy, enthusiasm, and great ideas coming as we head into the New Year.

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