Self interest abounds in State Bar action

The President said that “the State Bar shouldn’t base policies upon what will or won’t be popular … Ultimately, our responsibility is to do the right thing."   With this remark, the President of the State Bar of California justifies requiring 30,000 mostly small firm and sole practitioners to disclose to clients when they do not have malpractice insurance.

I find this remark of particular interest because it is usually said by one who wants to justify an act that is opposed by the vast majority of his very own organization. It is also offensive because it fails to address the very issue at hand. This statement is like Mom’s or Dad’s "…just because …" response to a kid’s inquiry as to why he should or shouldn’t do something.

In this case, the statement is used to justify an action that will prejudice an isolated group of lawyers who practice in the small firm environment. They need assistance from the Bar … and they don’t get it. Instead, they get slapped in the face. We might just as well place yellow arm bands around these folks and say they are "bad" people. There is no empirical evidence that this group of lawyers is subject to more malpractice claims than others. There is no empirical evidence yet set forth that suggests any reason to isolate this group of lawyers and identify or punish them in this fashion.

Yet, this very same organization has not, to date, honored its earlier (2005 Board of Governors Retreat) stated commitment to its members to provide them with help in their businesses (The Business of Law®) because it might antagonize a few legislators or other special interest groups or cost a few dollars or place additional demands on the staff. Where is the Board when they’re needed?

This attitude explains why members of the legal community, generally, have lost confidence in its governing body. Why the Board of Governors would anticipate that lawyers in this State would support it in any future disagreement with the State Legislature or with the Governor is beyond understanding. One can “turn one’s cheek” only so many times before the resentment rises to the point of action.

The perception amongst small firm attorneys that the State Bar is the enemy and not the friend clearly gains traction with actions such as taken now by this Board. John Dutton of the Board of Governors perhaps said it best. “Dutton argued that some county bar associations, a few State Bar committees and most of the members of the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations have joined critics in opposing disclosure. ‘And here we are,’ he said, ‘saying, ‘We’re going to jam it down your throat. We don’t care what you think.’”

Of course, the very Governors voting on this issue also fail to disclose any personal financial interest they may have in this issue, and several do. They also fail to address more important issues for disclosure if we were truly interested in client protection. And, most importantly, they fail to create an affordable insurance program that would allow economically marginal (but very good) lawyers to buy the very product the Board is promoting! (Dare we remember that the State Bar obtains several million dollars each year from the insurance program it promotes?)

Tags: , ,

Categorized in: