Public Law

Public Law Journal: Winter 2015, Vol. 38, No. 1

Message from the Chair

By K. Scott Dickey*

I wanted to begin my "Message from the Chair" by sharing with you a set of conversations about the nature of public law that I was fortunate to be a part of. Last August, I began attending meetings of the Council of State Bar Sections (CSBS) along with Immediate Past Chair David Hirsch and former Chair and then CSBS co-chair Jodi Cleesattle. These meetings are generally attended by officers from all 16 Bar Sections as well as representatives of the California Young Lawyers Association. Although I have been a member of the Public Law Section’s Executive Committee since 2009, this was the first time I directly interacted with members from other Sections. It was encouraging to meet so many attorneys who shared the commitment to supporting and improving the legal practice—the same commitment that I so admire in my fellow Executive Committee members.

After meeting several other Section leaders, I noticed a common theme in our discussions: very few of them felt that they understood what the term "Public Law" meant, and all were curious. Most other Sections are practice-specific; no one ever wonders what members of the Labor & Employment Law, Intellectual Property, or Antitrust & Unfair Competition Sections do in their practices. Even as to the broader categories, I imagine that most Section leaders even had a general idea of what members of the Business Law and International Law sections do in their practices. But most were unsure just what it meant to be a public lawyer, offering up not much more than guesses that we handle public meetings and criminal prosecutions.

While attending the CSBS meetings, my short answer to the question of what public lawyers do was "virtually everything, with a constitutional and public overlay." But, as all public law practitioners know, the longer answer is much more interesting. A public law practice can involve labor and employment; family law; finance; real, personal, and intellectual property; land use; eminent domain; environmental law; code enforcement; utilities; elections; criminal law; contracts and public contracting; constitutional law; taxation; workers’ compensation; education; maritime law; medicine; telecommunications; and unfair competition (and I’m absolutely sure I’m leaving out some subjects!). In truth, a public law "generalist," like many of California’s county counsel, city attorneys and special district counsel, may be called upon for advice or to litigate on nearly any legal topic. It is this variety and staggering scope that makes public practice so dynamic and challenging.

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