By Dien Le

As I look back on my year as Ventura County Bar Association President, I can’t help but reflect on the 130+ meetings and 3,374 miles (but who’s counting?) driving back and forth from East and West Ventura County to attend all those meetings and events. It’s hard to believe that my “reign of terror” (as Steve puts it) is finally over.

 Like everything else, VCBA has not been immune to the downturn in the economy. This has been a challenging year faced with a significant budget shortfall caused by a $36,000 decrease in revenue from four line items: membership ($5,000); arbitrations ($3,000); Lawyer Referral & Information Service (LRIS) client fees ($15,000); and LRIS personal injury awards ($13,000). Unfortunately as a result, we have had to make some difficult decisions and have implemented some cost saving measures, which have had a serious impact on VCBA staff, including: 20 percent workforce reduction in terms of office hours (VCBA office is now closed all Fridays and is only open until 4 pm Monday through Thursday); eliminating health benefits; eliminating training, travel and professional development; and reducing the number of pages in CITATIONS. While some of these budget problems are outside our control, one thing that we can focus on and do something about is membership. A few months ago, VCBA formed a new Membership Committee chaired by Doug Goldwater to come up with strategies to retain and more importantly to increase membership. This committee is comprised of many current VCBA Board of Directors as well as Barristers Board members who bring with them a lot of enthusiasm and ideas.

Similarly, VCBA’s award-winning probono program, Volunteer Lawyers Services Program (VLSP), has been struggling over the years to maintain its level of funding due to the elimination of one key grant source (the Annenberg Foundation) that had previously kept VLSP operating.  Thanks to the generosity of many local firms and individuals who have made annual contributions to our capital raising campaign (spearheaded by Jon Light in 2011), VLSP is now completely funded by private  donations. Because VLSP cannot survive long term on donations alone, a Grants Committee was formed this year, chaired by VCBA past president Don Hurley with the assistance of Christina Stokholm and Alyse Lazar. We hope that production of a DVD showcasing VLSP will be helpful in seeking future grants. Christina is also working to secure our share of a previously untapped funding source through the State Bar’s Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA).  

I am confident that VCBA and VLSP will overcome these continuing budget issues and become even stronger under the leadership of incoming president Joel Mark (2013), followed by Laura Bartels (2014), and then Alvan Arzu (2015). I know that the future of VCBA is bright in their extremely capable hands.

If there is one thing that I’ve enjoyed the most this year, it’s been getting to know VCBA’s 35 sections, committees, affiliates and friends. It’s been a privilege and wonderful opportunity to meet all the dedicated and caring leaders and members of our bar, and to witness first hand all their efforts in making a difference. I am impressed and proud by what all of us have been able to accomplish by working together: from reviving inactive sections, forming new sections, committees and the Ventura County Diversity Bar Alliance, to developing partnerships with the bench, law enforcement and local officials to keep open the East County Courthouse and ensure access to justice. All of this has been possible due the strong spirit of collaboration that exists in our community. We are truly fortunate to live and work in Ventura County.

This memorable experience could not have been possible without the many people who made my job much easier this year. First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt and sincere appreciation to our fearless Executive Director Steve Henderson and his loyal and  hardworking staff – Alice Duran, Alex Varela-Guerra, and Nadia Avila (who recently returned to fill the position left by Celene Valenzuela). While presidents come and go, it is Steve and the VCBA staff that we can always depend upon to make the transition and process seamless. They often do not get the recognition they deserve for everything they do (and always with a kind smile) to ensure that things run smoothly. Then, there is Verna Kagan  VLSP Program Manager) and her team of Emeritus Attorneys who volunteer countless hours assisting the public with numerous pro bono matters. Thanks to my fellow Executive Committee – President-Elect Joel, Secretary-Treasurer Laura, Immediate Past President Joe Strohman, and again Steve – for all their supporting efforts, guidance, and encouragement in helping me achieve my goals. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Managing Editor Wendy Lascher and her CITATIONS Editorial Board, including our graphics/production guru J.P. McWaters, for all the leeway in my president’s message (despite often exceeding the allotted word count), and never failing each month to produce a well-polished, fresh and interesting publication. It has been a pleasure working with all of these fine folks.  I also would like to thank my firm partners for putting up with me for being out of the office and for all my non-billable hours in order to fulfill my bar responsibilities. Finally, special thanks to my wife for her patience, understanding, and for always supporting me no matter what.

 Thank you again for the humbling honor of representing our members and serving as president of this amazing organization!

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