For years I have been trying to correct the misapprehension, held by both lawyers and civilians, that there is some entity called the “State Bar Association” that acts as an advocate for California lawyers and to inform them that The State Bar of California is not that but a government consumer protection agency.
So it is gratifying to read State Bar President Patrick Kelly’s monthly opinion piece in the California Bar Journal making exactly the same point. As President Kelly explains
The Legislature created the State Bar of California as a unified bar in 1927, dissolving the California State Bar Association the same year. Since then, the State Bar of California has been a governmental agency whose core function is to admit, regulate, discipline and license lawyers. All California attorneys are compelled to be “members” of the State Bar. There are also some professional association characteristics that are noted below.
Yes, “some professional association characteristics” remain, kind of like the vestigal tails that some people are born with.
Unfortunately, the President goes off the rails when he tries to explain what California lawyers get for the bar dues. “The first benefit is that in California we are one of very few states where lawyers are allowed to regulate themselves. That is a significant benefit…”
A more accurate statement would be that part of what California lawyers pay for with their dues is participating in the sham that lawyers regulate themselves. The regulation, admissions and discipline functions of the State Bar are now completely dictated by the California Legislature and the Supreme Court. The State Bar Board of Governors…oops, I mean Board of Trustees…puts on a good front but in fact the input of California lawyers matters little or none when evaluating any proposed rule change that is packaged as “necessary for public protection.”
Still it is gratifying that the man at the top of the pyramid, if not exactly in charge, concedes this much. Reading between the lines of President’s piece, you must come to the conclusion that if California lawyers want effective voices to advocate for them, they should look to their local bar associations or the State Bar sections, voluntarily funded entities that are not constrained by the need to function as a government regulator. Those entities are divided by subject matter and geography.
One other inaccuracy in President Kelly’s article here deserves note. The California State Bar Association did cease to exist when the integrated bar was created in 1927 but it wasn’t dissolved by the Legislature, which could not dissolve a private organization. It ceased existence because it wasn’t deemed necessary. President Kelly has very cogently explained, without meaning to, why a California State Bar Association, an entity that can advocate for the interests of all California lawyers is needed now more than ever.