November 20, 2020
At its meeting on November 19, the Board of Trustees set in motion a new commission to conduct an in-depth examination of the State Bar’s attorney discipline process system, a core function of the State Bar, and recommend how to further improve its effectiveness and fairness. The Board approved the charter and composition for the Ad Hoc Commission on the Discipline System.
“While the Board of Trustees and State Bar staff remain focused on and committed to continuous improvement in the discipline system, this commission will broaden that process—bringing in outside experts and stakeholders for a renewed look at how we can further optimize this work and ensure that public protection is the always guiding force in the discipline system,” said Brandon Stallings, Chair of the Board’s Regulation and Discipline Committee. “This is a continuation of the Board’s efforts to ensure transparency, accountability, and fairness in carrying out the State Bar’s mission.”
In recent years, the State Bar has implemented numerous reforms in the discipline system to increase efficiency and focus resources on protecting the most vulnerable victims of both attorney misconduct and those who defraud the public by holding themselves out to be attorneys. A new set of recommendations to address racial disparities in the discipline system, on which the Board received updates at this meeting, prompted the Board at its September meeting to undertake a more comprehensive re-examination of the agency’s discipline policies and procedures.
The commission will evaluate changes in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel since 2016, focusing on:
- Procedural justice and the experiences and perceptions of complaining witnesses and respondents;
- Workload and operational efficiency of case processing;
- Case prioritization and case-flow management; and
- The efficacy of the system for preventing future attorney misconduct.
The commission will also review related research that the State Bar has completed and planned. The commission may examine the structure of the State Bar Court, principally issues involving its independence and autonomy. In preparing its recommendations for further reforms, the commission will focus on the dual goals of ensuring both public protection and fairness in the discipline system.
The commission’s members will be chosen to reflect the state’s diversity and include key institutional entities that focus on public protection. The State Bar expects to open the application process for the commission in early December, and the new group is expected to begin its work in early 2021. The Board directed the commission to present a final report on its findings and recommendations no later than June 30, 2022. The Board anticipates receiving interim updates and proposals from the commission before the final deadline.
Accreditation Rules Revamp Approved for Public Comment
Among other actions taken at its November meeting, the Board approved to circulate for a 60-day public comment period a major revamp of the Rules for Accredited Law Schools. The proposal results from an intensive effort undertaken by the Committee of State Bar Accredited and Registered Schools beginning in April 2019. The revamped rules proposal was built around four key purposes for accreditation: consumer protection and transparency; student success; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and preparation for licensure and professionalism. Requirements that did not serve one of these core purposes were eliminated, with the intent of focusing the efforts of both law schools and the State Bar on what matters most to ensure positive student outcomes. The effort represents one of the final Admissions-related initiatives stemming from the Board’s review of its governance and oversight of State Bar subentities, a process that began with the Governance in the Public Interest Task Force report in 2017.
Supreme Court Issues Order for Remote, Online February Bar Exam
Before the Board meeting adjourned, Interim Executive Director Donna Hershkowitz shared the California Supreme Court’s newly issued order to administer the February 2021 California Bar Examination online. The exam will take place on February 23 and 24, with the State Bar given discretion to grant in-person testing for those with approved testing accommodations that cannot be effectively provided and securely administered in a remote environment, and for those with other extenuating circumstances preventing them from taking the exam remotely.