Open Letter to the State Bar President

(Note: The California State Bar President asked  California lawyers to contribute to the State Bar’s efforts to provide legal services to those in need. Following is an open letter to the President; his letter is set forth below.


Dear Mr. President:

 I agree with you completely. There is a tremendous "justice gap." I’m glad the State Bar is seeking to do something about this. I wonder, however, why the State Bar doesn’t expend the same energy on helping its own members, lawyers. One study reported by the State Bar several years ago indicated that 50% of lawyers in this state earn less than $100,000. Just think, if the State Bar would actually help its members be more effective with their clients, be more efficient in the delivery of their services and, yes, be more profitable, members of the Bar would then i) be less tempted to invade client trust accounts (a public service issue) and ii) have money to contribute to narrow the "justice gap."

Instead, however,  the Bar does things that are perceived by our members to be antithetical to the interests of lawyers … The list is rather long and I won’t bore you here with issues on which I’ve spoken before. But, until you (the organized, mandatory Bar) works with its members … until you (the organized, mandatory Bar) has as at least one of its primary goals the interests of its members, you have a great deal of courage (some might say gall) to ask struggling lawyers to contribute more than they already do.

If our Bar were a voluntary Bar, I suspect less than 50% would join … Then we would not have governance issues imposed on us by the legislature. Of course, we would also be far more interested in the thoughts and concerns of our members than is currently the case.

Clearly, these are my own thoughts, not those of any Section or other body of the State Bar … but these thoughts were clearly expressed to me just this morning by another attorney. I thought you should know, considering you’re asking us for money.

And let me take this opportunity to wish you and your family the best of the holiday season.  You’ve taken on a very tough job, some would say a thankless job, and I wish you great courage and strength. 


Dear Colleagues:

As you renew your State Bar membership, I am writing to make sure you are aware that one of the most vital roles of the State Bar is to distribute funds to support legal aid to low income people. Please join these efforts by supporting the Justice Gap Fund.  I am asking you to join me in two ways:

  • When you pay your 2011 State Bar dues, please donate $100 or more to support legal aid for low income people. All gifts are tax deductible; and every dollar goes to help those in need. You can even make a gift online at Donors of $1,000 or more will be recognized as “benefactors” of The Justice Gap Fund.
  • Share this email with your colleagues and friends and urge them to contribute. Last year, only about 4% of California lawyers contributed. If every member of the Bar were to donate the recommended $100 amount, more than $20 million would be raised for the Justice Gap Fund. Even if every attorney were to donate only $25, there still would be over $5.4 million available to provide services to vulnerable Californians.

The “justice gap” is the gap between the number of people who need legal services and the resources available to provide those services. There simply aren’t enough resources to provide legal services to all of those in need. Every day legal aid intake workers have to turn away people who are struggling with heartbreaking legal issues. The Justice Gap Fund is one way that we, as lawyers, can help to close this “justice gap.”

According to the California Budget Project, in 2009 more than 5.6 million Californians were living below the federal poverty line — $21,756 for a family of four. (A full-time minimum wage worker makes about $5,000 less than that.) If working a full-time job is not enough to ensure that your family has enough to eat, how do you cope when your sick child is wrongfully refused insurance coverage, when your husband begins to show the strain of unemployment by abusing your children, or when your elderly mother is evicted because her landlord’s house was lost in a foreclosure? When low-income people cannot afford an attorney to help them claim what is right and fair, legal aid is there to help. But the system is so overburdened by the sheer number of people who need help, many of those people now have nowhere to turn.

Closing this gap is one of the most important things that the State Bar does, and we’ve never needed your help more to ensure that access to justice, the very underpinning of our society, is truly available to all.


Bill Hebert

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