Business Law

Business Law News 2016, ISSUE 4

Executive Committee: Message from the Chair

Jim Hill

As we move forward from a tumultuous year for the State Bar of California and head into the last days of our national election season, the supposed (but ersatz) Chinese blessing (or curse) comes to mind: "May you live in interesting times." Robert Kennedy was reported to have invoked the phrase in a Cape Town, South Africa speech in 1966: "Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history." We will make it through the national elections, and emerge on the other side with a new President, who will hopefully usher in a new time of healing and national reconstruction. The State Bar of California interestingly enters this new year with uncertain funding, amid clamoring for reform of the basic structure of the State Bar coming from members of the public, leaders in the State Legislature, and within the Bar itself. It is time for creative energy to be applied by all interested parties to come up with new solutions to solve the challenges still facing our State Bar.

Critical activities of the State Bar have to be funded through mandatory dues collected from the more than 250,000 lawyers who practice within the state. Those activities include discipline and enforcement of rules of practice deemed essential to the primary mission of the State Bar, namely protection of the public. Critics have argued that in recent years, the State Bar, its executives, and those supervising them did not give this primary mission the attention it deserved, spending on other priorities and diverting the attentions of the executives, hired lawyers, other bar staff, and the Bar’s Board of Trustees. The perception of inattention by past Bar leaders and executives resulted in the Legislature declining to pass a necessary Bar funding bill for 2017. As this address is being penned, a petition from the Bar is under consideration by the California Supreme Court for the Bar to step in to exercise its separate judicial power and authority for oversight of the Bar and the state’s lawyers and to authorize the Bar to send out dues bills to the state’s lawyers. Authorization was also requested for the State Bar’s dues invoices to go out on time in December 2016. We hope and expect that the State Bar will be able to include in these dues invoices the regular "check off" box for the sixteen voluntary sections of the State Bar, including the Business Law Section.

As a member of the Business Law Section (BLS), what does all of this mean to you, and why is it extremely important today? First, our section survives only through voluntary dues and volunteer time devoted by our members. Second, now, more than ever, we need our members to renew their individual commitment to the BLS in terms of time, dollars, and creative energy. We are keeping dues at their recent historical amount ($95 per lawyer for the coming year), and for that modest sum you will be receiving the same services and products produced by the BLS and its volunteer members that you have come to enjoy over the years despite the challenges of the past twelve months. We still labor in the Sections under the restrictions of the Bagley-Keene Act, but through the efforts of past and continuing officers of the BLS and others, working in close cooperation with the Office of General Counsel, we have learned to cope with these impediments as we and others within the Bar work to achieve needed reform in the structure of the Bar, including studying means to effect a separation of the Sections and their volunteers into a separate "Bar Association," most probably a 501(c)(6) non-profit entity, free from the strictures imposed on us as a result of us being part of a state regulatory agency burdened by the growing limitations imposed on all governmental entities. The BLS and other Sections are committed to coming up with solutions that will allow the Sections to more freely carry out their good works in important substantive arenas, not just in the new year, but for years to come. We will be reporting on these efforts as the reform efforts move their way through various channels within and outside the Bar and within and outside the Legislature.

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