California Lawyers Association

Inaugural Statement From Your New President and Chair

November 2019

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

As the second-largest bar association in the nation—with more than 60,000 members of our Sections and 50,000 members of the California Young Lawyers Association (CYLA)—the California Lawyers Association has already demonstrated that we represent the interests and aspirations of the legal profession of this state. Building on this solid foundation and the historical excellence of our 16 subject-matter Sections and the vibrancy of our newer professionals in CYLA, we will continue CLA’s efforts in reaching out to California’s legal professionals and stakeholders to ensure we are recognized as the bar association for all California attorneys, while fulfilling our mission of promoting excellence, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession and fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law.  

We will work tirelessly to ensure that CLA continues to be devoted to the profession and to its continued growth. To that end, we want our members to know that CLA has an initiative under way to consider how we can enhance CLA and its offerings so as to ensure that our profession and membership benefit even more strongly from CLA and are encouraged to join. At the same time, we strongly believe that CLA can take a leading role in developing the future of our profession and to this end, we have set up the Future of the Profession Task Force, about which we will have more to say in a separate forthcoming article.

For us, furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion within CLA and within the legal profession is critical to the future of the legal profession and the service of the public. We both spoke out early about this critical goal and will continue to devote our energies to achieving it. We will continue to support and spotlight diversity efforts undertaken by Sections and encourage them to work with and learn from each other. In addition, CLA will be stepping up to work with the State Bar to further the critical goal of enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, including convening the first-ever judicial diversity summit in 2020 with the support and imprimatur of the Judicial Council to bring together key stakeholders.

We both believe that supporting the rule of law, including the independence of the judiciary, is critical not just to our profession but to the public. We are mindful of what happens to a society in which the rule of law is undermined or ceases to exist. To that end, CLA not only has its Civic Education initiative but also has a policy allowing it to speak out when appropriate about unjust criticism of the judiciary. Furthering fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law through continuing and deepening such initiatives is also critical to CLA’s mission. We both have spoken out early about our support for, and willingness to devote our energies to, these important initiatives, which build on earlier efforts by individual Sections and respond to calls for action in these areas by the Chief Justice among others.  These initiatives will include convening summits with key stakeholders and hosting events.

But more needs to be done on issues such as access to justice and the rule of law: CLA must deepen its partnerships—both centrally and at the Section level—with other key stakeholders such as local and affinity bar associations, the American Bar Association and its House of Delegates, the State Bar of California, the California Judges Association, and the Judicial Council among others. We pledge our energies and efforts to that work.  

CLA is also the voice of California attorneys in our Legislature in California, in the State Bar of California, and elsewhere. CLA successfully weighed in on behalf of California lawyers with the California Legislature on a number of issues of key importance to the profession, including reducing the proposed fee hike in the State Bar dues bill. We are both committed to continuing CLA’s efforts in this area along with the CLA Board.  

CLA has also provided an important, needed, and welcome input on issues raised by the State Bar of critical importance to our profession such as those presented by its Access Through Innovation of Legal Services Task Force. That effort will also continue under our leadership and that of our Board.

We also plan to take a leadership role in health and wellness—for our members, our colleagues, and the profession. There is a nationwide movement afoot to begin addressing those elements of practicing law that contribute to imbalance, poor health, and, in the most extreme circumstances, mental illness, addiction, and suicide. CLA, through a new, association-wide committee, will now join the conversation and promote health and wellness to our members and the profession at large. This is an area in which we anticipate partnering with the judiciary via the California Judges Association, among others.  

CLA also promotes excellence in the practice through the offerings of its subject-matter Sections, plus CYLA. CLA has and will continue to put on cutting-edge programming and signature events, such as its Annual Meeting and the Solo and Small Firm Summit, with more to come. However, recognizing that new areas of the law are emerging that involve the expertise of lawyers across multiple Sections, we are committed to developing cross-section working groups that collaborate in these new areas of law—with the area of privacy being only the beginning. And we are committed to strengthening CYLA in its work with the Sections, with other bar associations, and with the public so that it takes on a leading role in our profession and becomes the wellspring for the future leaders of our profession.

Ultimately, CLA is only as strong as its members. We have been fortunate in having a hand in the birth of CLA arising from the separation of the Sections from the State Bar. We have been impressed at the energy that our members have put into the organization since that separation. But we can only succeed if our members continue that effort and so we welcome wholeheartedly the ideas, feedback, and comments of our members as we continue to work toward CLA’s continued success.

Finally, we wish to extend our profound thanks to the Immediate Past President Heather Rosing and the Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Representatives Jim Hill. They shepherded CLA for the first two years of its separation from the State Bar as well as its rapid growth, including CLA’s relocation to its new headquarters on Capitol Mall in Sacramento, its hiring of our incredible staff and our outstanding CEO Ona Dosunmu, and the commencement of many of the initiatives that we are continuing and deepening.

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