“Well, what does the bar really do, anyway?” If you took a poll of past presidents of the bar, I’m quite certain this question would rank near the top on the list of questions people most often ask. And surprisingly, that question is posed even by people who you would think should know better – not only long-time attorneys in the county, but sometimes even judges and name partners in certain law firms that shall remain nameless. But you know who you are.
I must admit, in the years before I became involved in activities of the bar, I was among those asking that same question. Today, even though I like to think that I know a lot about the bar and all of its affiliated organizations, there are still occasions when I find the activity in the bar to be truly remarkable. When I think about our local association, I consider the mission to be fairly simple: education, fellowship and community service, a so-called “three-legged stool” which would fail to serve its purpose with one leg missing.
So, are those three legs solid? Early on a recent Saturday morning, 41 men and women – board members, sections leaders and others – gathered for the 20th Annual Ventura County Bar Association Bar Leaders Conference, and answered that question very clearly. Here is just a bit of what is going on in your bar association, and how you can get involved.
History: To give you some perspective, the 1st Annual Bar Leaders Conference in 1990 included just five people, only one of whom was a woman: Wendy Lascher, Tom Hinkle, Bart Bleuel, Dennis LaRochelle and Steve Henderson. This year, more than 40 people attended and half were women. In 1990, the VCBA Board of Directors topped out at 11, and we had 15 subsections. Today, we have 23 board members, and 35 distinct affiliated organizations. Both our membership and our annual budget have more than doubled in the last 20 years, but we have managed to not yet double the annual dues from the $75 members paid in 1990.
Sections: Whenever someone asks me what they can do to get involved with bar activities, my answer always includes a suggestion that they take a look at some of the almost three dozen different bar sections, committees and affiliates. Of course, they include sections devoted to continuing education in particular practice areas, such as bankruptcy, dispute resolution, business litigation, probate and estate planning, family law, employment law and intellectual property, to name a few. In 2009 the bar, through its affiliated organizations, offered 122 individual programs, providing 260 hours of continuing legal education. There are also a number of sections that foster support, mentoring and networking for their members, such as the Women Lawyers Association, the Mexican-American Bar
Association, and the East County Bar Association. Membership in any of these sections or their steering committees is welcome, and I encourage you to look into the ones that interest you.
I am grateful for the sections and committees that devote their activities to raising money for the bar. For over 25 years, Joe Strohman has organized the Law Day 5K, and raised thousands of dollars for the bar. Thanks to Don Hurley, the silent auction at the annual dinner routinely raises thousands of dollars for the Volunteer Lawyer Services Program (VLSP) each year. We also have Don to thank for volunteering to chair the newly-formed Bar Fundraising committee of VLSP, Inc., which is planning new fundraising opportunities this year, including a raffle for the Annual Dinner, and family barbeque in the spring or summer. I’m sure Joe would welcome another runner or two this year, and Don will always welcome an offer to help securing auction items.
Of course, we’re not all work and no play. Our Annual Dinner Committee, chaired this year by Eric Reed, organizes our annual November gathering to honor the recipient of the Ben E. Nordman Public Service Award, complete with dinner, dancing and a martini luge (you just have to see it to appreciate it). Barristers – open to attorneys 36 years of age or under, or who have been in practice seven years or less – aims to provide an outlet for social and community service activities for new attorneys, which they accomplish in large part with their monthly “Thirsty Third Thursday.” The Jerome H. Berenson Inns of Court offers mentoring, ethics education and improved trial skills by gathering monthly and presenting their “teachable moment” through fun skits and presentations. The Inns of Court has 80 members, and a waiting list each year.
Legal Support Sections: We are particularly fortunate in Ventura County to have a very close affiliation with both the Ventura County Paralegal Association (VCPA) and the Ventura County Legal Professionals
Association (VCLPA). Both organizations provide their members continuing education, host different social events during the year and generously donate the proceeds to VLSP. Be sure to watch for announcements about these events during the year.
Community Service: Ventura County lawyers should take particular pride in how much our members give back to the community. Several of our sections, including MABA and the Ventura County Asian-American Bar Association, award annual scholarships to law students, or those interested in the legal profession. For more than 30 years, the Court Tour Program has provided tours of the courthouse for more than 1,000 students annually. Run entirely by volunteers, the program provides an opportunity for the students to watch proceedings while court is in session, and exposes children to our system of justice. Contact the bar to find out information about becoming a docent for the Court Tour Program.
But no discussion of public service within the VCBA would be complete without mention of our highly regarded and honored VLSP, Inc. Over a span of almost 15 years, hundreds of lawyers have provided pro bono legal services to the low income and underserved population in the county. The backbone of the program is the panel of 13 emeritus attorneys, who screen prospective clients and then refer appropriate matters to counsel in the community. In 2002, our emeritus team of attorneys was awarded the California State Bar President’s Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award, in recognition of their commitment to provide or enable the direct provision of legal services to the poor in our county. As the needs of the community grow, so does the work of VLSP, which is always looking for willing volunteers.
Still not interested? There’s more! Call Wendy Lascher to contribute an article to this publication, or to serve on the editorial board. Volunteer to arbitrate an attorney- client fee dispute through the Client Relations Committee. Call Tony Strauss to participate in the long-range planning for the bar, or call me to find out information about serving on next year’s VCBA Board of Directors.
“Well, what does the bar really do, anyway?” At least next time somebody asks me that question, I’ll have it in writing.
Oh! I almost forgot. I promised you in my first article that my birthday month would have to be duly recognized. Consider it recognized. It’s the 6th and I don’t mind telling you that I’ll be 44. I’d happily accept gifts of cash and jewelry, but will instead ask you to forego the shopping and wrapping, and make a donation to VLSP in honor of the occasion.