Open letter to California Bar President

Editor, California Bar Journal
180 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-1639

December 20, 2006

Letter to the Editor
Letter to the President of the State Bar of California

In the current issue of the California Bar Journal, Sheldon Sloan, President, State Bar of California, starts his President’s column, stating: “As members of the State Bar Board of Governors, our most important duty – second only to public protection – is keeping watch over the hard-earned dollars you (lawyers of California) send us each year both in mandatory and voluntary donations.”

President Sloan continues by highlighting the Board’s efforts to restructure both governance and budget processes to strengthen its oversight function.  As a result, he continues, the Board has saved $250,000 in one recent restructuring move. In another move that will eliminate the current automatic 45 days extension of Bar membership despite late payment of dues, the Bar will save $175,000.

As commendable as these economic savings are, I’m wondering why the Board of Governors fails to address another topic that could save the Bar millions of dollars while reducing the annual dues required from lawyers.

Specifically, I’m referring to the enforcement efforts of the Bar’s Disciplinary System which, according to the Bar audit, cost the lawyers of California an estimated $32 million per year! A review of the Bar’s own discipline audit shows that the most common (no less than one-third and possibly more than one-half) reason for lawyers to be a target of the Bar’s disciplinary system is because of poor management practices. This is consistent with similar reviews in other States. If lawyers were required to learn about management practices, something we’re not taught in law school, perhaps fewer would come before the Bar. And perhaps we could save at least 50% of the one-third of this $32 million … or about $5 million!!!

With potential savings such as this, it’s difficult to understand why the Board fails to make Law Practice Management a required category of learning in its MCLE program (though LPM is eligible for credit) and why a committee of the Board specifically rejected a resolution proposed by the Bar’s Law Practice Management & Technology Section that would have required only one unit of mandatory LPM education without increasing the 25 hours total required.

According to J.R. Phelps, the Florida Bar’s Law Practice Management Adviser since 1980, more than 70% of law firms have no one on staff dedicated to promoting practice efficiency and professionalism in ways that would reduce Bar complaints. His State, in 1980, understood that reducing such complaints can be achieved by education only, not by prosecuting lawyers. 

My congratulations to the Board for being sensitive to the issue of costs. I urge the Bar to be equally sensitive to areas of even greater savings potential … and, more importantly, greater value to the public. Adopt the LPMT Resolution submitted last year. Bold action is called for; arguments against the Resolution should be put aside. The goal is better run law practices and greater protection of the public. Better run law practices, fewer lawyers in trouble with the disciplinary system, lower costs to all lawyers all mean greater protection for the public.

Sincerely yours

Edward Poll
LawBiz Management Co.
Past Chair, Law Practice Management & Technology Section


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