Thursday, July 13, 2017
LACBA’s CEO Says Subsidizing Charitable Efforts Must End
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The turn-around of the Los Angeles County Bar Association continued yesterday, with Rick Cohen, the new interim chief executive officer, declaring that the organization’s charitable efforts need to become self-sustaining, and releasing a little known six-year-old report indicating that the efforts do not enjoy the broad support of members that has been portrayed.
His words came in an email that followed up on discussions that morning with leaders of the Council of Sections—an ad hoc group that brought about the election of reform candidates to officer and trustee positions. Taking a stance at odds with that of the 2015-16 president, Paul Kiesel, who saw charitable projects, through the Counsel for Justice (“CFJ”), as the primary mission of LACBA, Cohen said:
“[T]he ultimate sustainability of our pro bono activities depends on their ability to become self-supporting. It is my observation that CFJ has underperformed in part because it has not faced up to this reality and, as a consequence, has failed to take very many steps at all to achieve that condition. I believe that a change in thinking, in approach and in the actions we take can change all of that in the next 12-18 months. As you know, I’ve already begun to work on that very thing.
“I am fully prepared to argue that CFJ should be given more time, but you will not find me suggesting that it can go on like this forever. That’s no way to run a railroad.”
CFJ, an arm of LACBA, came into existence in 2014, and has received from LACBA large subsidies and forgiveness of debts, at a time when the association has been losing about $1 million a year. CFJ’s predecessor, the Los Angeles County Bar Association Foundation, had been self-supporting.
While Kiesel had portrayed the CFJ projects as a strong inducement to LACBA membership, Cohen released an October 2011 report from a consulting firm that is marked “CONFIDENTIAL.” He commented:
“A little while ago this morning I received the attached survey. Far from supporting the idea that a majority of the membership ‘supports’ pro bono, it actually says that only 1% of folks joining because of pro bono—which suggests that over time there came to be a lack of candor concerning the findings.”
Cohen noted that he does “believe that pro bono work on projects that improve the lot of people who can’t fend for themselves is something in which lawyers must engage” and that “just about everyone I’ve talked to agrees on the importance to LACBA of engaging in pro bono work.”
CFJ has four programs: Veterans Legal Services Project, which has been funded by a cy pres award, the Domestic Violence Legal Services Project, the Immigration Legal Assistance Project, and the AIDS Legal Services Project. Its Civic Mediation Project has been dropped.
The report, by Innovation Protocol, was based on an online survey to which 1,452 persons responded.
While determining that the pro bono projects were the main reason only one percent of the members joined LACBA, it found that the highest number—14 percent—came aboard for the practice area section activities.
Here are the other reasons:
In a section on “Program Participation,” the report showed that the highest number of members—77 percent—“currently use” the daily e-briefs, provided by the Metropolitan News-Enterprise. It reflected current use by 54 percent of CLE programs, by 51percent of practice area sections, and 34 percent of listservs.
At the low end were the projects: 3 percent used the domestic violence program and 2 percent used the immigration or AIDS projects.
It showed that 96 percent of the members are “aware” of the e-briefs, and only 56 percent were aware of the AIDS legal services or the civic mediation project.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company