It’s official. The State Bar of California is splitting. Last May, the Commission reported early rumors of the split, but this October, California Governor Jerry Brown made it official when he signed SB 36 – “the state bar act” – into law.
The major reform is to separate the regulatory functions that will be retained in the State Bar from the voluntary trade association activities which will continue to exist in a separate nonprofit entity. Under these provisions, the State Bar trustees will consist of seven attorneys and six other individuals. The California Supreme Court, the Legislature and the Governor will appoint all trustees, and the practice of electing trustees will end.
As a result, the state bar will in 2019 begin to serve strictly as a disciplinary and regulatory agency that is mandatory for the state’s lawyers. The nonprofit entity comprised of all of the sections will be voluntary for California attorneys with an annual membership fee of $95.
The bill also provides that the State Bar must adhere to a Supreme Court-approved policy to identify and address any proposed decision of the board of trustees that raises antitrust concerns. This notion comes following the North Carolina dental case in 2015, which found a dental regulatory board made up of primarily dentists did not have state-action antitrust immunity in its efforts to block non-dentists from providing teeth-whitening services to the public.
According to SB 36, the current 19-member board will transition into a group of 13 individuals serving four-year terms. Six of the 13 members must be members of the public. All board members will be appointed by the California Supreme Court, the state legislature, and the governor.
According to the State Bar of California press release, bar leadership and members are optimistic about the changes to the organizational structure. President of the Bar, Michael G. Colantuono believes that change will allow the work of the bar to more closely align with its mission.
“These reforms will allow the State Bar to focus on protecting Californians who need access to ethical and competent attorneys by regulating the practice of law, pursuing diversity in the profession and our justice system and promoting access to justice for Californians of every income level.”
Will more states follow in the footsteps of California?
Generally, the regulation of lawyers falls to bar associations and to committees of bar associations made up of attorneys. In light of the North Carolina dental case, they likely are taking a hard look at composition of their boards and at supervision of their actions.
In Illinois, the issues that came to a head in California are not present. Created by the Illinois Supreme Court, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission handles the registration and discipline of attorneys. All attorneys must pay dues to the ARDC. Disciplinary orders issue from the Court as an exercise of sovereign authority. The Illinois State Bar Association is a separate voluntary association.
And will the legal profession consider more reform to its current standards of self-regulation? Feel free to share your thoughts and concerns on the matter in the comments below.