Tuesday, October 12, 2004
John Van de Kamp Sworn in as 80th President of State Bar
Promises to Make Member Benefits a Focus of 11-Month Term
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Former state Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp was sworn in Saturday at the State Bar convention in Monterey, becoming the organization’s 80th president and promising to make improvements in member benefits a top priority for his term of office.
Van de Kamp, 68, noted that the term to which he was elected in May by fellow members of the Board of Governors will be two months shorter than that of his predecessor, Fresno attorney Anthony P. Capozzi.
State Bar presidents serve from one convention to the next. The 2003 gathering took place in Anaheim in September, and the 2005 convention in San Diego will also occur during that month.
Van de Kamp acknowledged that an offer to help lawyers from the State Bar, which spends about 75 percent of its income on its attorney discipline system, may have little more credibility than “a letter from the IRS saying, ‘I’m here to help you.’”
But he declared:
“For too long now our members have looked at the Bar as the disciplinarian—.We will continue to operate a discipline system. But those of us on the board also realize that better trained, happier lawyers are consistent with the public protection that we are duty bound to provide.”
During his 11 months in office, Van de Kamp pledged, the State Bar will provide “tangible value” to members by taking steps to learn what they need in terms of professional development and in other areas, by “providing malpractice, life and other insurance products at cost-saving rates,” by developing a Member Service Center to answer “all types of bar and practice questions,” and by increasing public awareness of what lawyers do.
Van de Kamp said the long-promised Member Service Center will be a step in “the process of convincing lawyers that the first call to make when looking for assistance is the State Bar,” but he also cautioned that it is “not going to happen overnight.”
The new president has estimated the cost of establishing the center at between $500,000 and $750,000, and has said the funds will come not from bar dues but from income generated by insurance and similar products.
Van de Kamp was sworn in by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who also administered the oath of office to Sacramento Superior Court Judge James M. Mize, the new California Judges Association president, and new members of the CJA and State Bar governing boards.
Five new members of the State Bar Board of Governors were elected in mail balloting during May and June, among them Los Angeles Deputy Public Defender Marguerite Downing and MetNews Co-Publisher Jo-Ann W. Grace, who will represent District 7, consisting of Los Angeles County, on the board for the next three years. Downing and Grace replace Van de Kamp and Matthew E. Cavanaugh as District 7 representatives.
Cavanaugh leaves the board after completing his three-year term, though as president Van de Kamp remains a board member.
The ceremony was conducted in the hall in which the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations met over the weekend. The CDCBA—reconstituted as an independent entity, succeeding the State Bar Conference of Delegates, two years ago—and the CJA joined the State Bar in activities spread over four Monterey hotels and the Monterey Conference Center.
Van de Kamp, of counsel with the Los Angeles office of Dewey Ballantine, said that because the State Bar recently completed a long-range planning process begun during Karen Nabumoto’s presidency and continuing under those of Jim Herman and Capozzi, bar presidents now “pretty much know what they’re going to do.”
In addition to member benefits, Van de Kamp cited two other areas in which he asserted the State Bar needs to improve: providing greater access to justice and “greater inclusiveness in our membership.”
The budget pressures affecting the courts have placed the justice system “more and more out of reach” for many Californians, Van de Kamp charged. While a variety of self-help programs have been established, he observed, the new president declared that there is “no substitute for traditional live face-to-face lawyer representation.”
“To make that possible we’re going to need greater funding for legal service programs and a renewed commitment by California’s attorneys to pro bono programs.”
Many major law firms, Van de Kamp said, have not made the necessary “deep commitments” to pro bono work.
“I call on every firm in this state to evaluate its policy on pro bono activity and to support pro bono work by its partners and associates,” he said. “The bar will work with you to provide contacts to local legal aid providers. I’ll be checking on your programs and progress as I get around the state during the year. I’ll be around to ask those questions.”
Though the Latino proportion of the state’s population is on the rise, Latinos and African Americans each account for less than four percent of the state’s attorneys, Van de Kamp said. To serve those communities, as well as the state’s gay, lesbian and transgender population, attorneys who are members of those communities are required, he said.
“The bar’s demographics will not change overnight,” Van de Kamp conceded, “but if we don’t start now the issue will be with us 10 years from now.”
Van de Kamp said the State Bar needs to work with local bar groups to “better educate high school and college students of color about the opportunities in law,” and he urged lawyers to visit their own high schools and colleges to talk to students about law careers.
Sworn in along with Grace and Downing to represent other districts were Ruthe Ashley, director of Career Services at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento; James A. Scharf of MacMorris & Carbone in San Jose; and Jeffrey Bleich of the San Francisco office of Munger, Tolles & Olson.
A spokesperson said registration for the State Bar convention this year had already exceeded last year’s total of about 3,000 by the time the gathering began. The convention features an array of speeches, luncheons, receptions and awards, but in recent years the main draw has been the over 200 MCLE courses offered.
Subjects for professional training credit at this year’s meeting included ethics in the appellate courts, managing stress, persuasive legal writing, using Google to prevent malpractice, doing business in Mexico, increasing repeat business in your law practice, and using electronic evidence.
Next year’s convention will take place in San Diego from Sept. 8-11.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company