Chief Justice Speech - September 7, 2001

PRO BONO RECEPTION AWARDS
STATE BAR CONVENTION
REMARKS BY CHIEF JUSTICE RONALD M. GEORGE
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2001

GOOD AFTERNOON. I AM VERY PLEASED ONCE AGAIN TO HAVE BEEN INVITED TO JOIN IN HONORING THE RECIPIENTS OF THE STATE BAR PRESIDENT'S PRO BONO SERVICE AWARDS AND THE LOREN MILLER LEGAL SERVICES AWARD. I HAVE PARTICIPATED IN THIS EVENT SINCE BECOMING CHIEF JUSTICE IN 1996, AND EACH YEAR I CONSIDER IT TO BE ONE OF THE HIGH POINTS OF MY AGENDA.

 

THESE PRESENTATIONS ARE A TIME TO CELEBRATE THE OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE RECIPIENTS. BUT THEY ALSO OFFER AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO MORE — TO REFLECT NOT ONLY ON THE BROAD IMPACT THAT LAWYERS HAVE ON THEIR COMMUNITY, BUT ALSO ON THE AMAZING DIVERSITY AND DEDICATION OF THE ATTORNEYS WHO STEP FORWARD EVERY DAY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN INDIVIDUAL LIVES.

IN PREVIOUS YEARS, THESE AWARDS WERE GIVEN ON A GEOGRAPHIC BASIS. THIS YEAR, THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE DELIVERY OF LEGAL SERVICES, WHICH OVERSEES THIS PRESENTATION, CREATED 9 CATEGORIES IN ORDER TO ILLUSTRATE THAT THOSE WHO CONTRIBUTE PRO BONO SERVICES CAN COME FROM ANY SEGMENT OF THE BAR. ATTORNEYS IN SOLO PRACTICE, GOVERNMENT AND CORPORATE PRACTICE, FIRMS LARGE, MEDIUM AND SMALL, NEWLY ADMITTED AND RETIRED ATTORNEYS — ALL ARE BEING RECOGNIZED FOR THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS IN PROVIDING OUTSTANDING PRO BONO SERVICE.

FOR ME, THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS EVENT ARISES IN ITS REINFORCEMENT OF THE FUNDAMENTAL MESSAGE THAT PROVIDING PRO BONO SERVICE IS AN IMPORTANT RESPONSIBILITY AND OBLIGATION THAT ATTACHES TO THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING AN ATTORNEY. THIS EXPECTATION OF SERVICE AND PUBLIC-SPIRITED ACTION IS NOT LIMITED TO A PARTICULAR KIND OF ATTORNEY ENGAGED IN A SPECIFIC TYPE OF PRACTICE, BUT INSTEAD TO ALL ATTORNEYS. WHETHER A LITIGATOR, A CORPORATE LAWYER, A SPECIALIST IN ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS, A NOTED TRANSACTIONAL GURU, A MASTER AT MEDIATION, OR A LEADER IN IPO'S — EVERY ATTORNEY HAS SKILLS THAT CAN BE USED TO ASSIST INDIVIDUALS IN THE COMMUNITY TO VINDICATE RIGHTS AND REALIZE BENEFITS THAT OTHERWISE MIGHT ELUDE THEM.

GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY AND IMPROVING THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE THROUGH PRO BONO CONTRIBUTIONS IS AT THE HEART OF STYLING ONESELF A PROFESSIONAL. THUS, THE PRACTICE OF THE PROFESSION OF LAW ENCOMPASSES FAR MORE THAN THE BUSINESS OF RUNNING A LAW FIRM. IT DEMANDS MORE THAN THAT A LAWYER COMPETENTLY REPRESENT CLIENTS, DRAW UP NECESSARY PAPERS, OR NEGOTIATE A FAVORABLE OUTCOME.

THE TITLE OF PROFESSIONAL REQUIRES THAT IN DAILY PRACTICE, AN ATTORNEY STRIVE TO TRANSCEND THE DEMANDS OF THE MOMENT TO CONSIDER THE GREATER GOOD. LAWYERS ARE NOT SIMPLY REPRESENTATIVES OR EMPLOYEES OF THEIR CLIENTS — THEY ARE OFFICERS OF THE COURT. THAT DENOMINATION REMINDS US THAT A LAWYER'S OBLIGATIONS FLOW NOT ONLY TO THE CLIENT, BUT TO THE COURTS AND TO THE SYSTEM OF JUSTICE OF WHICH THEY ARE AN INTEGRAL PART.

TOO OFTEN, WE SEE LAWYERS PORTRAYED AS FOCUSED SOLELY ON THE BOTTOM LINE, INSTEAD OF ON IMPROVING THE SOCIETY IN WHICH THEY FUNCTION. FORTUNATELY, EVENTS SUCH AS THIS ONE REMIND US ONCE AGAIN THAT THE RUMORS OF THE DEATH OF PROFESSIONALISM ARE EXTREMELY PREMATURE. LAW CAN BE AN EXCELLENT WAY TO EARN A LIVING. BUT MAKING A PROFIT IS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH MAKING A DIFFERENCE THAT CANNOT BE MEASURED BY MONEY ALONE. THE INDIVIDUALS WE HONOR HERE TODAY VIVIDLY DEMONSTRATE THOSE PRINCIPLES.

IN REVIEWING THE LIST OF AWARD WINNERS, I WAS STRUCK BY THE FACT THAT FOR SOME OF THE HONOREES, THEIR "DAY" JOB — THE AREA OF PRACTICE IN WHICH THEY ARE ENGAGED IN MAKING A LIVING — OFTEN BORE LITTLE DIRECT RELATION TO THE AREA IN WHICH THEY PROVIDED THE PRO BONO SUPPORT. FOR OTHERS, THEIR PRO BONO CONTRIBUTIONS EXPANDED THE SCOPE OF THEIR PARTICULAR PRACTICE TO A CLIENTELE AND TO ISSUES AND QUESTIONS THAT THEY WOULD BE UNLIKELY TO ENCOUNTER. THE NEW DIVISION OF THE AWARDS INTO DIFFERENT SEGMENTS OF THE PROFESSION REINFORCES WHAT WE HAVE SEEN IN YEARS PAST: THE DIVERSITY OF BACKGROUNDS AND PROJECTS IN WHICH CALIFORNIA LAWYERS ARE MAKING IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTIONS IS ALMOST ENDLESS.

PALMER MADDEN ALREADY HAS MENTIONED THAT THREE OF THE ATTORNEYS BEING HONORED TODAY HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN ASSISTING INDIVIDUALS AFFECTED BY AIDS. ONE OF THESE ATTORNEYS, CHARLES BOWMAN, DIRECTLY USED HIS INTERNATIONAL TAX BACKGROUND IN THIS ENDEAVOR. THE OTHER TWO, SHAYE LARKIN, A BRAND NEW ATTORNEY JUST DEVELOPING HER PRACTICE, AND JASMIN FLORES, A MEMBER OF THE SAN DIEGO DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, LOOKED BEYOND THEIR AREAS OF EXPERTISE TO LEND A HAND — AND THEIR LEGAL SKILLS. EACH BROUGHT UNIQUE TALENTS TO A COMPLEX ISSUE. EACH APPROACHED MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR OWN UNIQUE WAY.

FRANK HOROWITZ TOOK THE EXPERTISE HE DEVELOPED AS A DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY IN LOS ANGELES, AND BEGAN VOLUNTEERING AFTER RETIREMENT FOR LEGAL SERVICES OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA IN ITS BUTTE REGIONAL OFFICE HOUSING ASSISTANCE PROJECT. HE PROVIDED DIRECT HELP CONCERNING HOUSING AND TENANCY TO CLIENTS IN BUTTE AND OTHER SMALL COUNTIES, AND ASSISTANCE TO THE LEGAL SERVICES STAFF.

JOHN SULLIVAN KENNY, FROM THE 12-MEMBER FIRM OF MOSS & ENOCHIAN, LOOKED BEYOND HIS MUNICIPAL LAW AND LAND USE PRACTICE TO ASSIST LEGAL SERVICES OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA AND NORTHERN VALLEY CATHOLIC SOCIAL SERVICE, TO HELP NEEDY INDIVIDUALS HANDLE HOUSING PROBLEMS, AND TO ASSIST IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW AFFORDABLE HOUSING STOCK.

THE SMALL FIRM OF KEMNITZER, ANDERSON, BARRON & OGILVIE, CONTINUES, YEAR AFTER YEAR, SINCE 1985, TO PROVIDE ATTORNEYS TO ASSIST WITH THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF SAN FRANCISCO'S VOLUNTEER LEGAL SERVICES PROGRAM'S CONSUMER PROJECT. MEANWHILE, DEBORA VIERRA AND LAURA BARTELS HAVE TAKEN TIME FROM THEIR ONGOING PRIVATE PRACTICES TO CREATE A LEGAL AID CLINIC IN THE SANTA CLARA VALLEY OFFERING NOT ONLY LEGAL COUNSELING IN AN ASSORTMENT OF LEGAL MATTERS, BUT EDUCATIONAL SEMINARS AS WELL — MUCH OF IT MADE AVAILABLE FOR NON-ENGLISH-SPEAKING INDIVIDUALS.

STEPHANIE SIMPSON, A SOLO PRACTITIONER OF MANY YEARS STANDING, HAS VOLUNTEERED WITH BET TZEDEK LEGAL SERVICES FOR TWO DECADES, AND HAS PROVIDED UNTOLD NUMBERS OF INDIGENT AND OFTEN DISABLED CLIENTS WITH THE NECESSARY ASSISTANCE TO OBTAIN AND RETAIN SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS TO WHICH THEY ARE ENTITLED. THOMAS NOLAN FROM HOWREY, SIMON, ARNOLD, AND WHITE HAS DEMONSTRATED THAT BIG LAW FIRMS CAN CONFRONT BIG SLUM LORDS AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN HOW FAMILIES LIVE THEIR LIVES EVERY DAY.

I SHALL BE ADDRESSING THE CONFERENCE OF DELEGATES TOMORROW, AND MUCH OF WHAT I SHALL BE DISCUSSING IS THE NEED TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO OUR COURTS — AND THE WIDE ARRAY OF MEASURES THAT COURTS ARE TAKING TO ACHIEVE THIS GOAL. MANY OF THESE EFFORTS HAVE BEEN UNDERTAKEN IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE STATE AND LOCAL BAR ASSOCIATIONS. IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, OF COURSE, THE HARD WORK OF INDIVIDUAL ATTORNEYS UP AND DOWN THE STATE IS AN ESSENTIAL COMPONENT WITHOUT WHICH WE CANNOT SUCCEED IN MAKING PROGRESS IN THIS AREA.

THE PLIGHT OF LITIGANTS WITHOUT LAWYERS IN OUR COURTS IS NOT A NEW ONE, BUT IT HAS INTENSIFIED. IN SOME AREAS OF THE LAW, PARTICULARLY IN FAMILY LAW, THE VAST MAJORITY OF CASES HAVE NO LAWYER INVOLVEMENT AT ALL. FOR MANY OTHER INDIVIDUALS, THE COST OF A LAWYER PUTS THE HELP THEY NEED BEYOND REACH — EVEN THOUGH THAT MAY MEAN FOREGOING BENEFITS TO WHICH THESE INDIVIDUALS ARE ENTITLED — AND THAT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BARELY SURVIVING, IF AT ALL, AND DOING ALL RIGHT.

ONE MAJOR STEP THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL HAS TAKEN IS THE CREATION OF A SELF-HELP WEBSITE TO PROVIDE INFORMATION ABOUT THE COURT SYSTEM, AND BASIC FORMS AND PROCEDURAL INFORMATION THAT CAN ASSIST THE LAYPERSON IN NAVIGATING SOME OF THE DIFFICULT LEGAL LANDSCAPE. THIS WEBSITE PROVIDES INFORMATION ON LEGAL SERVICES PROVIDERS AND ON WHERE TO TURN FOR LEGAL ASSISTANCE, AS WELL AS INFORMATION FOR THE INDIVIDUAL WHO INTENDS TO PROCEED WITHOUT COUNSEL. IT ALSO HELPS THOSE WITH COUNSEL BETTER UNDERSTAND THE PROCESS AND WHAT LIES AHEAD IN A PARTICULAR MATTER SO THAT THESE PERSONS MAY WORK IN CLOSER COORDINATION WITH THE LAWYER THEY HAVE.

STARTED IN LATE JULY, THE WEBSITE HAS HAD WELL OVER A MILLION HITS ALREADY. THE RESPONSE FROM LAYPERSONS, LAWYERS, AND SERVICES PROVIDERS ALIKE HAS BEEN EXTREMELY POSITIVE. THIS SITE IS FURTHER PROOF, IF FURTHER PROOF WERE NEEDED, OF THE UNMET LEGAL NEEDS OF TOO MANY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC. WE IN THE COURT SYSTEM ARE WORKING TO PROVIDE TOOLS TO ASSIST INDIVIDUALS IN VINDICATING THEIR RIGHTS UNDER OUR LEGAL SYSTEM — AND A TASK FORCE ON SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS THAT I APPOINTED IS JUST GETTING UNDERWAY IN ITS EFFORTS TO SEEK OTHER MEANS OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT AFFORD LEGAL REPRESENTATION BUT HAVE A PROBLEM THAT REQUIRES THE ASSISTANCE OF THE COURTS.

NO FURTHER STUDIES ARE NEEDED, HOWEVER, TO CONFIRM THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PRO BONO CONTRIBUTIONS MADE EVERY DAY BY LAWYERS TO INDIVIDUALS WHOSE LIVES ARE CHANGED BY THE ASSISTANCE THEY RECEIVE. ON BEHALF OF THE CALIFORNIA JUDICIARY, I THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR OUTSTANDING WORK THAT SO BENEFITS THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE. AND CONGRATULATIONS FOR THESE WELL DESERVED AWARDS.

* * * * * * * * * *

Site Map | Careers | Contact Us | Accessibility | Public Access to Records | Terms of Use | Privacy