If you read the last column – and I am sure everyone did – you know that I made a bold boast: No other bar association in California does it better than the Ventura County Bar Association. The boast included the fact the VCBA offers more to its members and to the civic communities we serve than any other local bar association our size. We offer more than many of the associations greater than our size. And, we provide quality and value in all of the programs we offer.

I also promised that my boast could be backed up. And no sooner had the column been published when it was. At the 23rd Annual VCBA Bar Leaders Conference on Feb. 9, our eagles gathered to map out our  direction for the coming year. What an impressive meeting it was.

It began with a historical perspective  from our Executive Director/CEO, Steve Henderson. From his twenty-plus-year perspective on where we have come from, it became obvious that our successes have come from the collective efforts of so many members over so many years. Their hard work has turned so many visions for the future into realities. And our legal community and our civic communities have received the benefit of these visions time and time again.

Next came a round-table where the leaders and representatives of our various sections, affiliates, committees and friends introduced themselves and explored ways they could collaborate for the common good. In the process, the diversity of our interests and of our members also became quite evident.

Our VCBA Board members are diverse socially in their practice areas and practice settings, and in their legal disciplines. It is that diverse collection of perspectives that allows our Board to react to challenges and to plan for our future with much greater care and thoughtfulness.

The leaders of our affiliates, sections, committees and friends took that display of diversity even further. These contributing organizations include the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section, the newly-formed Animal Law Section, the Asian-American Bar Association, the Bankruptcy Section, the Bench-Bar-Relations Committee, the Black Attorneys Association, the Business Litigation Section, the Client Relations/Fee Dispute Committee, the CPA-Law Society, the Criminal Defense Bar, the newly-formed Diversity Bar Alliance, the East County Bar Association (and there will be an East County mixer on March 28), the Employment Law and Labor Law Section, the Family Law Bar, the Immigration Law Section, the Intellectual Property Law Section, the Judicial Evaluations Committee, the Legal Professionals Association, the newly-formed LGBT Alliance, the Mexican/American Bar Association, the Ventura County Paralegal Association (which will host its annual beer and wine tasting on May 2), the Probate and Estate Planning Section, the Real Property Section, the Solo Law Firm Section, the Ventura County Trial  Lawyers Association and the Women Lawyers of Ventura County. The VCBA calendar that you received with this edition of CITATIONS lists many more of the events put on and sponsored by these sections and affiliates. You should take advantage of your membership by attending.

The VCBA also is the overarching support for many programs that also serve our legal and civic Communities, including our Court Tours program, the Jerome H. Berenson Inn of the American Inns of Court, the Law Day 5-K Run/Walk (coming up May 18), the Law Library Committee, the VCTLA support for the annual mock trial competition, the Law Referral Service and the Pro Bono Advisory Board.

Another very important component of the diversity and energy of the VCBA is the Barristers Section. Barristers are attorneys 35 and under or with seven years or fewer of practice. Their group is one of our most energetic, with the most fun meetings (bowling night, dart night, trivia night, Thirsty Third Thursdays, and on and on), and they are always seeking new members. Check them out!

And what keeps us all working together in the same direction? Why CITATIONS of course. We are so fortunate to have such a hard-working Editorial Board, headed by Editor-for-Life, Wendy Lascher.

Next at the conference we heard from our Presiding Judge, Hon. Brian Back, who outlined for us the challenges facing our courts and, more importantly, how we as an organization can help. Last year, with the VCBA providing assistance to our political leaders, our local communities responded to a dramatically reduced budget by pledging funds to keep the Simi Courthouse open on a limited basis so that it could serve the needs of the community A good start for sure.

But the challenges facing our courts are many. With the “realignment” of our prison system, an ever-greater burden will be falling on local courts to handle the court proceedings that arise out of local supervision of parolees and prisoners. Guardianship and dependency proceedings are up. In the family law area, as many as 85 percent of the cases have at least one self-represented party, putting an ever-increasing strain on our self-help  services. Budgetary restraints have resulted in shorter hours for clerks’ offices and increasing furlough days. We are the fourteenth-largest judicial district in the state, yet our courts are eighth in terms of filings per judge and fourth in terms of jury trials per judicial officer. And right now, the Ventura courts are short 120 staff positions. For civil practice attorneys, the specter of five-year deadlines seems almost inevitable. It became evident at the conference that to make good upon the boast that nobody does it better now requires the maximum effort of the VCBA to assist our courts in dealing with these challenges.

And, finally at the conference, David Shain educated us once again about how important our Volunteer Lawyer Services Program is to our community. With access to justice becoming more attenuated due to the budget challenges our courts are facing, it is more important than ever that we fund and support the VLSP, Inc. so that it can continue to assist the always-growing need for legal services among a segment of our community that otherwise would not be able to afford access to our courts at all.

As we learned by the conclusion of the conference, there truly is much to boast about. But there also are many challenges. I urge everyone to get involved and help continue the VCBA tradition of service and excellence, and bring that tradition to bear upon the new challenges we face. Join a section or an affiliate, support our friends, attend an event, contribute freely of your time and treasure to our common goals. If indeed it takes a village, let us all work even harder to continue to make our village the very valuable, successful and important one that it has been throughout its history. Thank you.

Joel Mark is the managing partner at Nordman Cormany Hair & Compton in Oxnard, where he chairs the litigation group.

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