California State Bar Fee Bill – and Agency Reforms – Signed

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state bar’s annual fee bill into law on Monday, putting in place several historic reforms to the agency’s leadership structure.

SB 36, by state Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, allows the state bar to collect membership dues but stipulates that its 16 specialty law groups must split off and form their own nonprofit corporation.

The “sections,” as the state bar calls them, are specialty organizations currently affiliated with the bar that focus on various areas of legal practice, from family and labor law to intellectual property and antitrust law. It also includes the California Association of Young Lawyers.

They provide low-cost continuing education for its attorney members, which the state bar requires. They also work with legislators to interpret, amend and propose legislation. While lawyers are required to be dues-paying members of the bar to practice law in California, section membership is voluntary and members pay separate dues of roughly $95 a year.

This year’s fee bill is the culmination of talks within the state bar and with the state Supreme Court and lawmakers, who were concerned about how the agency spends its money and whether it has been sufficiently diligent in disciplining wayward attorneys. Last year, the lawmakers were so fed up with the state bar that the Legislature ended its session without passing a yearly dues bill at all.

The bill also ends the practice of allowing attorneys to elect some members of the bar’s board of trustees, and cuts the number of trustees from 19 to 13. All board members will now be appointed by the Supreme Court, the Legislature and the governor. The Supreme Court will also appoint the board’s chair and vice-chair, which were previously elected by the board itself.

“SB 36 supports the state bar in our ongoing reforms to focus on our mission of public protection. While transition and change can present challenges, I am confident that we are on the right track to best serve the people of California,” the bar’s executive director Leah T. Wilson said in a statement Monday.

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