Serious Challenges for the New CalBar President
Congratulations to Craig E. Holden, the new president of the State Bar of California. Among other attributes, Mr. Holden is a partner in the major law firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, a person of color, a former member of the executive committee of the CalBar Law Practice Management & Technology Section, and the youngest person to be elected president of the California State Bar. Each of these attributes is sufficient to give Mr. Holden a sensitivity to the needs of the average lawyer. However, taken together, they provide an appropriate backdrop for one of his major goals during his tenure: to help lawyers succeed. Success in this context means helping lawyers be more effective in dealing with their clients, be more efficient and encounter less stress in their practice.
Not since Jim Heiting was president years ago as any California State Bar president suggested anything but a regulatory and enforcement goal for the State Bar. Mr. Holden is even suggesting that State Bar funds might be used to support this goal. He seeks to expand his concept by creating a system of mentorship for young lawyers. Personally, my hope is that he expands this idea to include all lawyers in the state of California.
Adopting Mr. Holden’s perspective can also be financially rewarding for the State Bar as well as its lawyer members. The current budget for the State Bar includes approximately 80%, or $32 million for disciplinary activities. If the education that Mr. Holden envisions enables lawyers to avoid future discipline, even if only to the extent of 50%, the State Bar will save $16 million. These funds could then be used to meet other goals of the State Bar.
“The proposed initiative is part of Holden’s broader goal to re-examine the State Bar’s mission of public protection. Ever since the Bar radically reformed its governance structure four years ago (in response to legislative mandate), many lawyers have come to believe that ‘all we do is regulate,’ he said…. ‘That is the core function… But I don’t agree that that’s all we do.’” He continued by saying that “‘… My ultimate goal is to broadly define our mission and what it means to protect the public… Our mission should be retooled… To ensure that public protection is not viewed myopically… As a punitive machine.’”
Mr. Holden clearly has his work cut out for him. As noted in my recent writings, the State Bar has wrapped itself in the cloak of regulation and punitive enforcement. While the recent vote in Scotland was to remain part of the United Kingdom, I am sure that a similar vote among California lawyers would not be so favorable; based on recent actions and non-actions of the State Bar, I am convinced the overwhelming vote of California lawyers would be to separate public protection activities from lawyer education and improvement. Perhaps Mr. Holden will persuade a sufficient number of Board members to see the world as he does. This will be a tough challenge and one that I heartily endorse.