Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
July 4, 2016 – 6:39 PM

  • State Bar both regulator of lawyers and trade association
  • Its shortcomings have been well known for years
  • Reform bill stalled in the state Senate

Somehow, you knew it was too good to be true.

It’s been evident for years that the State Bar – the quasi-public agency that licenses lawyers – is an organizational mess.

It has functioned, illogically, as both regulator of the legal profession and as a trade association that promotes economic interests of the profession.

It’s as if the Medical Board of California, which licenses physicians and is supposed to crack down on those who go astray, had been merged with the California Medical Association, which protects physicians’ professional and financial interests.

To add even another complication to the State Bar’s place in the scheme of things, it also is an arm, after a fashion, of the state Supreme Court, which holds the ultimate authority over lawyers’ ethics.

The State Bar’s incompatible functions, coupled with financial shenanigans and administrative shortcomings detailed in a state auditor’s report, finally sparked a reaction in the Legislature.

When the State Bar made its routine request to the Legislature for authority to impose mandatory “dues” on attorneys to support its operations, a rank-and-file revolt among the Assembly’s members resulted in a fairly strong bill to reform some of its operations.

It deals with a shameful backlog of disciplinary cases and its finances, requires a majority of nonlawyers on its governing board and begins the process of separating its licensure and trade association functions.

But when Assembly Bill 2878 reached the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, the legal empire struck back.

The committee’s chairwoman, Hannah-Beth Jackson, called the bill “heavy-handed” and insisted on amendments that would water down the reforms, apparently with tacit support from Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

To read expanded column, click here.