Letter From The 2012 President Of The Bar Association Of San Francisco

2012-01-03 16:46

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Access to Justice, Diversity And Service By the Bar Top 2012 Commitments

In 2012, The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) is going to remain steadfast in our commitment to securing appropriate funding for courts across the state of California; we will

continue our 23-year push to bring more diversity to the legal profession; and we will do more to help people in our community address legal issues that block their road to a better life.

California is regrettably part of a national trend of defunding state courts. In our state, the economic realities of a recession and the shrinking state budget are staggering.  But of all the things in the budget, the courts have been among the hardest hit, with a drop in court budget since Fiscal 2008 that is roughly 23 percent

What has this meant?  For starters, widespread layoffs, staff furloughs, reduced clerks’ office hours, and courtroom closures across the state.  The result is that business clients who need to resolve commercial disputes can’t move forward.  Californians saddled with medical bills or other debts caused by the recklessness of others are left in a costly and uncertain limbo as trials are delayed.  And people are experiencing dire consequences in a wide variety of housing and family law matters. 

There are parts of the state where courts face the prospect of closing all civil courtrooms.  We know that story well, because it almost happened in San Francisco. This past year we were lucky to avoid almost certain catastrophe.  Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein sounded the alarm in June that the continuing budget cuts placed our court in jeopardy, and BASF mobilized the community to support a viable, short-term solution achieved by our court with the Administrative Office of the Courts.

But this work is not done.

BASF’s Court Funding Task Force knows we have a big job ahead in the state budget fight in the coming year.  We are committed to helping our court and working in partnership with bars around the state to ensure that our independent third branch of government receives appropriate funding to provide the access to justice needed in a free society.

Our second focus in the year ahead is diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.  BASF has long been a champion of diversity, including in the areas of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, and disability.  In 1989, BASF issued voluntary goals and timetables on minority hiring and advancement and secured the commitment of 100 Bay Area law firms and legal departments to adopt those voluntary targets. Since then, BASF has issued a report every five years detailing our community’s progress toward those goals, as well as best practices and barriers to advancement.  The results have been mixed, and we are not content with the status quo.

Our next report will be issued in three years.  But in advance of that report, BASF, in collaboration with the Bay Area’s Minority Bar Coalition, will be inviting a series of discussions about what it means in this decade to evaluate progress or lack thereof on diversity in the law.  The results of these discussions will be reported out at a 2012 Diversity Summit in late 2012.

And finally, this brings me to service.

As the California budget problems reflect, we are living in tough times. Nearly one in five people in San Francisco struggles each day to feed themselves.  And working families are falling deeper into need.  In fact, roughly 40 percent of households served by the San Francisco Food Bank include at least one working adult.    

Engagement on behalf of the community is a proud tradition of our bar.  It is built into our DNA.  But in the coming year we need to do more – for those in need, for a healthier community, for our weary and oversubscribed courts, and for our own collective expression of character. 

In 2012, we are sponsoring five BASF Service Days, each of which would require attorneys to set aside just a few hours, on only one day, to help on a life-affirming project. These five opportunities are modeled on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service which mobilizes people from all backgrounds to work together to solve our most pressing problems.

So, next year, whether it’s by stepping up pro bono and volunteer efforts, by working to increase court funding statewide, or by joining one of our 2012 Service Days, I hope that you will help make a difference.

Sincerely,

Kelly M. Dermody