Lawyer misconduct charges will go online because of your vote. You, who were voted in by the members of the State Bar to represent our interests, have completely ignored the interests of your members. As the California Bar Journal stated “The board… rejected opposition to online postings by the majority of those who contacted the bar about the proposal.” It is a shame that you have taken such an approach and ignored the majority of your constituents.
You have, with one vote, managed to place access to legal services to the most needy of our population at risk. It is quite simple. Sole practitioners, especially those of us who practice social justice law, provide access to the legal system that is vital in a democratic system. My clients, for example, cannot afford to hire Mr. Bleich’s firm or Ms. Fujie’s firm. Even the 3% of attorney time that Mr. Bleich’s firm spends on pro-bono time is a drop in the bucket compared to the legal work done by sole practitioners and small firm attorneys throughout the state When we honestly analyze the legal system, we see that small firm attorneys provide most of the legal work to most Californians (and most Americans, nationwide).
Of course, who is more likely to have a complaint filed against him? The attorney in the 100+ lawyer firm who represents the nation’s biggest companies, or the sole practitioner representing individuals? In law firms with a managing partner, the complaint moves up the chain of command to be resolved. For the sole practitioner, there is no one else to call. Further, the corporate clients don’t need to file complaints, they just pull their million dollars plus of legal work. The individual clients file complaints more often. This is played out in the back of the California Bar Journal where the discipline reads like a list of individuals making complaints against other individuals, not corporations complaining that mega law firms are violating the ethics rules. Sole practitioners, the very people who provide most of the legal services to individuals, face most of the complaints.
And how does a sole practitioner compete against the big firms? What is the best marketing for a small firm or a solo? Word of mouth. Reputation. My clients hire me because they have been told that I am good at what I do. They have found out, through a variety of sources, that I am an honest, ethical, hard working attorney. Of course, one resource is the State Bar website. This is how most small firm lawyers and sole practitioners get their work.
But, what happens if the State Bar
decides to bring charges against a sole practitioner? The reputation that the
attorney worked so hard for is gone with just a few keystrokes. Sometimes it
will be deserved. Sometimes it won’t. The eight percent figure cited in the
California Bar Journal (although other sources put the number higher) when the
Bar does not prevail represents a fair number of attorneys whose reputations
will have been wrongly sullied by your new system. While Mr. Bleich believes
“Charges are just that,” innocent until proven guilty has no meaning to the
general public who will assume you are like the US Attorney with dog fighting
charges – you never are wrong. Reputations will be ruined before one word has
been uttered to the State Bar
State Bar Court
Interestingly, Scott Drexel, chief trial counsel, “wondered aloud if people ‘want ready access’ to disciplinary information when they hire a lawyer. ‘I think the answer has to be yes,’ he said.” Mr. Drexel is WONDERING this when a vote is pending. Instead of wondering about whether the public wants this information and instead of thinking he knows the answer, why did the Bar not follow the lead of the board members who wanted more time to study the issue? A simple survey, which the Bar has done many times before, would have made it so Mr. Drexel does not have to wonder what information the public wants, but would rather have provided a firm answer as to what the public wants. This issue is too important for wondering or guessing. I wonder what Mr. Drexel would say if the California Legislature wondered if the public would like the Bar to be dissolved and voted based on their musings and not based on facts. I think the answer is he would not like votes based on wondering.
I spent three years volunteering on the board of CYLA. I have continued to offer my assistance to CYLA. I understand the commitment board members make – not just in time, but in family sacrifices. And I generally appreciate it. However, every board member who voted for this proposal should be ashamed. You have ignored the members of the Bar and you have put legal services to most Californians at risk. Why would any attorney want to open a law firm in a day and age when it is clear that the Board of Governors cares nothing about the sole practitioner or small firm attorney? Maybe its time that the Board composition be changed to more accurately reflect the membership of the Bar and the big firm attorneys be replaced by those of us who understand the needs of the majority of members of the State Bar?