President’s Message: Ventura County Barristers – A Glimpse into the Past and Looking to the Future

Apart from the first message, which is traditionally supposed to be about the president, I want to focus the rest of the year on the diverse faces and things that make VCBA a great organization. With that in mind, each month I will be showcasing one or more of VCBA’s 35 sections, committees or affiliates.

One of the most active sections with a long distinguished history is the Ventura County Barristers. What better way to start than by looking at the Barristers President’s Award plaques hanging in the hallway of the VCBA office. There you will find the names of all the past presidents of Barristers beginning with Joe Strohman (1986) and ending with Christina Stokholm (2011). Also included among that list are Gregn Totten (1987) and Paul Tyler, who has the distinction of serving two terms (1997 and 1998). While I assumed that Joe was the first president, upon further investigation, I learned that Barristers was founded in 1982 by Richard Loy. However, Rick is quick to give credit to Judge Fred Bysshe, who was VCBA president that year and was a strong proponent of establishing a “young” attorneys group. Judge Bysshe has been an unstinting supporter ever since.

 Barristers, which started as a modest group of 10-15 members, has now grown to over 100+ members. To be a Barrister, you have to be either less than 36 years old, or in practice for seven years or less. The Barristers Board currently consists of over 15 board members.  The original focus was on having brown bag lunch meetings at the courthouse by inviting judges and attorneys to speak about different areas of law, practice tips and providing continuing education. One of Barristers’ signature events has to be Judges’ Pizza Night, which gives members the exclusive opportunity to meet all of the local justices, judges and commissioners in an informal setting. The event has become so popular over the years that during the administration of Meghan Clark (2001), the location of the event had to be kept a secret (attendees had to call the VCBA office) so as to prevent LA attorneys and other non-Barristers from crashing. Under the leadership of Jesse Cahill (2007), the focus then shifted to more fun and social events with the first  Bowling Night. Katie Pietrolungo (2008) continued the momentum of more sportsrelated and competitive events with the first Barristers’ Cup Three-on-Three Basketball Tournament. This inaugural tournament was recognized with an Award for Achievement from the ABA Young Lawyers Division.  Another fun event that soon followed was the annual darts tournament.

Barristers then eventually combined the fun, social and competitive activities with supporting local charitable causes such as Food Share, YMCA, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Habitat for Humanity.  Last year, through the efforts of current Vice President Matt Purcell, the Self-Help Nights were started at the Salvation Army’sTransitionalLivingCenter inVentura, where Barristers assist indigent residents who need access to our courts in such areas as family law, criminal law, and housing. Barristers hope to build on this idea and expand outreach to other community organizations. This year, VCBA’s pro bono program, Volunteer Lawyer Services Program (VLSP), will be a fortunate beneficiary of Barristers’ fundraising efforts.

Those who think that Barristers is no longer about training and professional development of new attorneys, should remember that Barristers still presents its Bridging the Gap conference every other year, featuring distinguished panelists and provides up to 6 MCLE credits (free for new admittees).  Another Barristers’ activity that has made a big comeback in the past year (thanks to current Treasurer Rennee Dehesa) is the Mentorship Program. This program is an invaluable way for newer attorneys to receive career advice and guidance from more seasoned attorneys.

It’s worth noting that Meghan pioneered the development of an e-mail distribution list of members, while during my year (2002), I infamously became dubbed the “king of spam” for my prolific use of e-mails to notify members. However, Joel Villaseñor (2005) was known for the most creative and eloquently written e-mail blasts. With the advent of social media, Mike Strauss (2009) was the first to create Barristers’ Facebook page.

What is clear from all of my interviews of past and current members is that all felt that getting involved with Barristers offers them the chance to “meet people you would not otherwise get to,” get to know colleagues outside of the office and develop lasting friendships, and give back to the community, which they find the most rewarding. Given the current challenges facing new attorneys entering one of the most difficult job markets, compounded by the fact that most Barristers are still paying back significant loans from law school, fostering such networking opportunities may prove more beneficial than ever in terms of assisting with the job search.

2012 president Bob Krimmer’s goal is to keep the energy going by maintaining the current initiatives, while being sensitive to the time constraints of newer attorneys and the legal community as a whole during these tough economic times. Initially, Bob had reservations about taking on this position because he was older than everyone else (having had a previous career in the entertainment industry), but soon felt very welcomed. He believes Barristers is not so much a function of age, but common shared experiences as a new attorney starting out in the profession. I wholeheartedly share Bob’s vision of enhancing the communication, coordination and collaboration with VCBA because when all is said and done we are all part of one bar.

About Charmaine H. Buehner

Charmaine H. Buehner is an Assistant County Counsel and is the 2015-2016 president of the Ventura County Bar Association.