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The Bench and The Bar – A Strong and Collaborative Relationship

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 4, 2019

 

The Hon. Deborah A. Ryan  Presiding Judge, Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara

 

It was with great pleasure that I accepted President Gabriel Gregg's kind offer to write a guest column for the Santa Clara County Bar Association because it affords me the opportunity to reflect upon the strong and collaborative relationship that the SCCBA and the Santa Clara County Superior Court have enjoyed over the years. The SCCBA has always encouraged volunteerism to assist the court and the bar members have always responded by embracing that call.  I write this having been a part of the equation for the past forty plus years, with the first 22 years as a lawyer and bar association member and the last 19 as a judicial officer. While clearly so much has changed over the years, (I believe when I began the practice of law, we did not even use fax machines), the collaboration, relationship and spirit of volunteerism between the bench and the bar has remained intact.

 

In reviewing the guest columns written by past Presiding Judges Lucas and Pichon over the last few years there was a clear focus on budget issues that contributed to a loss of resources and a reduction of service. While we as a court and a branch are still underfunded, I am pleased to say that we continue to work with the judicial council, the governor and our legislators to remedy that situation. The May 2019 revision to Governor Gavin Newsom's budget (which still needs to be passed by the legislature and may well have by the time this goes to press) contains modest good news for the judicial branch.  There is increased funding including additional funding for 25 new judgeships, an increase in the cap on trial court reserve funds from 1% to 3%, funding  for the continued expansion of interpreter services in civil cases and to cover the additional costs in criminal cases, an increase in federal funds for court-appointed dependency counsel, additional funds for staff to help maintain trial court eligibility to collect federal reimbursements, an additional one time funding in the equal access fund to provide legal aid to renters in landlord tenant disputes and funds for the courts of appeal to address increased workloads and costs. These increases support the goal of the judiciary to provide equal access to justice to all.  These statewide changes may not translate into specific change for our local court in every area, but they will help to relieve the pressure we have experienced in attempting to provide high levels of service to the public with decreased funding. It is critical that we as a bench and bar continue to talk to our local legislators, who have been helpful in the past by recognizing our needs and how the lack of funding impacts the public that we all serve, and encourage them to continue to support adequate funding for our courts.

 

Our new case management system, Odyssey, which many of you know from the civil, family and traffic divisions of the court has now been implemented in our criminal division. As with any introduction of a new system, there have been challenges, but we are hopeful that when it is fully implemented we will see efficiencies and economies that will enable us to continue our efforts to reduce backlogs and provide improved pubic service. Our court recognizes that reduced funding has impacted all court users and we will continue to strive to lessen that impact as we move forward.

 

We are pleased that with assistance from the County of Santa Clara, we have been able to increase our self-help center hours to a full five days a week. Through the diligent efforts of its supervising attorney, Fariba Soroosh, and the excellent attorneys and staff working in self-help, we have been able to reach more self-represented litigants who need assistance and have expanded our advice and assistance in the fast-growing area of probate.

 

There is an important and substantive manner in which SCCBA members can continue to support and assist the court: volunteering for our temporary judge program. We are actively recruiting members of the bar with ten years of experience (an exception in some instances can be made to this requirement) who are interested in serving as a temporary judge in a number of areas. We are especially in need of temporary judges willing to serve in traffic and small claims. Benefits of choosing this type of public service include; an opportunity to make important decisions that impact lives and to determine if you like judging, a chance to serve the public and do much needed pro bono service for the court and free mcle credit when you take the necessary training. If you are interested, please see the court’s website for additional information about applying for the program.

 

Before I conclude, I want to offer thanks on behalf of myself personally and the court to the SCCBA’s Chief Executive Officer and General Counsel, Chris Burdick, and to wish her well in her upcoming retirement. For the past 29 years, Chris has been tireless in her dedication to serving Santa Clara County’s legal community and the public.  Her guidance and wisdom have helped to make the SCCBA an organization that is recognized for its excellence both at the state and national levels.  Chris is an institution and she will be missed. I know the search is on for her successor and all of us at the court look forward to forging the same type of bench/bar relationship that we have had under Chris’s leadership.

 

While the years ahead will undoubtedly continue to bring challenges to the practice of law and to the court system in general, we can rest assured that our bench and bar will be standing together to weather these challenges. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this tremendous legal community.

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Building A Community

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 1, 2019

 

By S. Michael Lee      SCCBA President-Elect        Attorney, Procopio

 

It's 10:30 p.m. on a Thursday night and I'm drafting a President's Message after sending my youngest child to bed. I think to myself that I could be watching TV or getting ready for bed myself.  After a long day of writing, researching, meeting with clients, going to court, billing, sorting paperwork and doing the hundreds of tasks that we lawyers do every day, it's tempting to say that we are too busy to participate in groups like the Santa Clara County Bar Association.  But all I have to do is remember my sleeping son, to know that I do have the time and that what we do is absolutely worthwhile.  

 

Organizations like ours, and good people like you, help ensure that our daughters and sons have access to mentorship, equal opportunities for advancement, and more equal pay. Organizations like ours, and people like you, work to ensure that our children may someday be able to live in a color-blind, gender-blind, orientation-blind society - that may not be perfect - but is better than what it was when we first entered into it. Together we provide a counterweight to the rhetoric of intolerance and bigotry that has gripped public dialogue in recent years.  

 

Bar participation has its immediate rewards as well. In Santa Clara, we build a community where some associations only make "contacts." Through branch organizations like our family law practice group, the diversity committee, and the women lawyers, our professional networks become social networks and vice versa.  

 

There will be a lot of changes in our bar association over the next few months and years as we transition into a new era of leadership. Chris Burdick will be retiring this year after years of leading the core of our organization. As incoming president, I hope that you will join me in creating a bar association that will add value to our lives and the lives of our children as they join us in the ranks of professionals serving our community. 

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Spring At The SCCBA

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 4, 2019

 

By Gabe Gregg                  2019 SCCBA President

 

 

Happy April everyone!


For this month’s President’s Message, I wanted to take the opportunity to remind you of all of the ways that you can participate in the SCCBA.


With regard to specific events and activities, we have a particularly rich and packed calendar over the next few months. Following are certain notable events that you should strongly consider attending:


When Bankruptcy Collides With Family Law Seminar 4/30/2019
Fifth Annual Law Day Mixer 5/1/2019
2019 Unsung Heroes Awards 5/8/2019
Returning Children Under International & Interstate Laws Seminar 5/10/2019
Save the Date: Women Lawyers Spring Symposium (Formerly Lean In) 6/13/2019


Here’s the SCCBA’s full calendar of events.


With regard to more general opportunities for participation, there are many ways to expand your involvement, including the following:

 

  • Join one or more of our 6 practice-area sections (Family Law, High Technology, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment, Real Property and Women Lawyers) and consider joining the section’s executive committee.  SCCBA sections information and sign up form can be found here.
  • Join one or more of our 14 committees, which include Civil Practice, Diversity and Professionalism, to name just a few.  Information on SCCBA committees can be found here. Go to the committee page you are interested in where you can ask to join by clicking the Join this Group at the menu item at the top of the page.
  • Consider applying to be a Trustee for 2020 on the SCCBA Board of Trustees (BOT).  Following changes over the last couple of years to the SCCBA By-Laws, our 17-person BOT is now composed of (i) 4 SCCBA officers; (ii) 3 SCCBA committee chairs (Barristers, Diversity and Women Lawyers); (iii) the immediate past-President (non-voting); (iv) the Presidents or designees of Santa Clara County minority bar associations, including Asian Pacific Bar, Black Lawyers and La Raza Lawyers; and (v) 6 At-Large Trustees elected for staggered 2-year terms.  Three of the At-Large Trustee positions will be coming vacant for 2020.  If you are interested in applying for one of these Trustee positions, look for the applications online from July 15, 2019 to August 15, 2019. 
  • If qualified, consider running to be a SCCBA Officer (Secretary, Treasurer, or President-Elect); qualifications for officer positions can be found in the SCCBA By-Laws, Article IV, Section 8.

Your membership and participation (along, frankly, with your dues) is what sustains this vital organization.  Please come and join us and learn, or remind yourself, of all of the important work that is being done by the SCCBA, including the following:

 

  • Our social events and MCLE seminars and brown-bags is a great way to learn and network.
  •  Our Center for Ethics & Professionalism is a key source for ethical attorney guidelines and developments.
  • Our Judiciary Committee evaluates judicial candidates for our Governor.  Governor Newsome just released the judicial application and explains his administration’s judicial appointment process.  See the new judicial application process description and judicial application.
  • Our Fee Arbitration Program provides a trusted forum for fee disputes.
  • Our Lawyer Referral Service provides referrals on cases and matters to local vetted attorneys.

  • Our website provides informed referrals to ADR practitioners and judicial profiles.

  • We provide representatives to the ABA and California State Bar, and we review and comment on State Bar rules and opinions.

  • And we advocate for you in many other ways including taking public positions on important issues impacting our membership.

We look forward to seeing you soon! In the meantime, I wish you all a cheerful and rewarding Spring.

 

 

 

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A Spiritual Crisis In Our Legal Profession

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 7, 2019
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2019

 

By Chris Burdick                 SCCBA CEO & General Counsel

 

[Editor’s Note: This article is an adapted version of remarks by SCCBA CEO & General Counsel, Chris Burdick, at the Installation Ceremony/Reception for the 2019 SCCBA Officers & Trustees.]

I want to thank our 2019 SCCBA President, Gabe Gregg, for his generous invitation to share some thoughts about the legal profession. First, I hope you will indulge me for a momentary diversion.

As many of you know, the now Honorable Jim Towery was SCCBA President in December 1989 when the SCCBA was hiring a new, then, executive director. Jim was a significant reason for my accepting the position. I decided that if he was representative of the attorneys in leadership at the SCCBA, it would be a terrific job. As it turned out, Jim was representative of the attorney’s active in the legal community and SCCBA.

I want to publicly thank Jim for his exuberance for the SCCBA and for the many opportunities I have had as a result of his pushing some doors open, opportunities that allowed me to represent the SCCBA locally, statewide and nationally. Most importantly, Jim has been an amazing mentor and friend, who I have always counted on to tell me the unvarnished truth and give me his sound advice and he has. Thank you, Jim.

A spiritual crisis in our legal profession exists and has existed in the legal profession for a number of years. Indeed, the profession may be in danger, and many already be in the process, of losing a soul it has embraced for nearly as long as there have been lawyers in this country. I don’t mean a spiritual crisis in the religious sense. I mean “spiritual” in the sense of having a deep connection with the essence of being a lawyer as opposed to being a legal technician proficient in the everyday practice of law. That internal sense or expectation that being a lawyer is a higher calling, a higher endeavor than merely a way to earn a good living, or gain influence or advance political agendas.

It’s that sense that lawyering is about the public good, about contributing to the fabric of our democracy, sustaining the rule of law and preserving individual liberties. That is the spiritual dimension to which I refer. That is what distinguishes American lawyers from lawyers in other countries and what makes our democracy unique.

It’s this sense of having a higher calling that initially motivated lawyers to organize. Attorneys as individuals cannot fully meet that expectation. But coming together as a group expands the capacity to meet that expectation, gives it intensity and emotion and helps lawyers generate ways to meet the expectation. In addition to which our unique training gives lawyers a singular kind of insight, a certain wisdom, judgment and prudence that the public has always relied on lawyers to meet.

We used to call ourselves “lawyers and Counselors at Law.” It’s an ability to counsel that comes from possessing a trait of character that is only acquired by being a person of good judgment, by being able to balance conflicting interests and needs. These are the traits that have been and remain a significant part of being an attorney. Lawyers develop these traits as we study the law and better understand the significance of being an integral part of the judicial system.

Because being an attorney is not just a job, it’s a way of life; a way of life that has a soul evidenced by the emotional and intellectual intensity that comes with being part of a higher calling. A type of soul sustained by reaching for the loftier values of acting in the public good.

And, these values must be attended to or we stand in danger of losing them. But, not nearly enough attorneys acknowledge this essential character trait openly enough or place as much value in them as we have in the past. [Click here for the full post]


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“Lawyers Are Awesome, etc.”

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 4, 2019

 

By Gabe Gregg                  2019 SCCBA President

 

 

Hello again Silicon Valley Attorneys!

 

As you may know, it is customary for the incoming president to choose a theme, project, or area of emphasis for their presidential year.  For this second Presidential Message, I would like to introduce the two presidential themes that I have chosen for 2019, and briefly discuss the path that led me to them.  For those that attended the Installation Event on January 30, the text below may seem familiar.

 

 My first presidential theme is: “lawyers are awesome.”

 

I believe this at my core.  And I am sure that I arrived at this conclusion objectively.  Since my first day as a 1L at UCLA Law School, I have been impressed and amazed by the legal mindset, and by lawyers’ unique functional roles within our society.  For me, spending a career practicing in this profession has been more fun and interesting that I could possibly have imagined.

 

Lawyers seek to find order in chaos.  They solve important problems.  They stand up to bullying.  They help people feel heard.

 

Lawyers are naturally conservative in that they work within courts and other civic structures, and use tools of advocacy and of contract, developed cautiously over centuries by honest and careful architects.  But lawyers, too, are natural mavericks, and instinctively liberal, in that they are regularly called to test the boundaries of these systems and tools through imaginative challenge.

 

The practice of law also is a fascinating mix between science and art, and good lawyers learn how to balance the two. While the court system and our other legal and civic institutions are bound by laws and rules, justice and fairness seldom occur without lawyers creatively investing their personal, intellectual and often emotional effort in representing their clients.  Judges and juries render the judgments, but it is the hard, creative work of litigators working within the justice system that shows them the path to those decisions.  Business people make business deals in concept, but it is the corporate lawyers that iron out and document the important details with an eye to the complexities of law. Without lawyers, important things simply cannot happen.

 

My favorite description of the proper mindset and role of the lawyer came from my first-year law-school contracts professor.  Fair warning – this is a little inscrutable.  But it might be the most useful thing I heard in law school.

 

A few weeks into my first semester, after a bunch of squishy Socratic classes with lots of questions and no firm answers, my professor sensed our dismay.  So he took a break and said this:  “I’m sure that most of you came into law school thinking that there is a Santa Claus.  Now many of you may be worried that there is no Santa Claus.  I hope that at least some of you leave law school realizing, wait a minute, I’m Santa Claus.”

 

It is also important to acknowledge one of the great developments of recent generations:  The value of the legal mindset to our society has clearly been strengthened by the growing diversity of our lawyer population.  While we are far from a fair equilibrium, the increase in law licenses issued to women and people from underrepresented races, cultures and communities, and the new creativity and life experience that they have brought to the entire legal system, is very good news for our profession and our nation.  And it certainly is a special pleasure to practice in a county with unusually robust diversity in its lawyer population.

 

Now, to get a little more topical, I also believe that lawyers are particularly important at this moment in history.  Each year, the dictionary publisher, Miriam Webster, announces a “word of the year” based on website searches and other reported “signs of the times.”  The word of the year for 2018 was “JUSTICE.”

 

Almost every day, we are reminded by breaking news of the work being performed by lawyers:  Working within this nation’s civil and criminal systems to achieve results of often momentous significance – frequently both classically conservative and liberal at the same time.  It is not a stretch to say that this is the era of the vital lawyer.  It is certainly fun to have special insight into front-page issues and processes.  And to have family and friends want to talk to us about typically obscure legal matters. 

 

While not every recent high-profile action by lawyers has been a model of ethical conduct, I hope that you, like me, have taken a special pride in the central and crucial role lawyers are playing in the significant issues of our times.  Lawyers finding order in chaos.  Solving important problems.  Standing up to bullying.

 

My second presidential theme is: “lawyers should be freed to be lawyers.”

 

A corollary to my first theme is that lawyers should be freed, as much as possible, to use their unique skill-sets for the benefit of their clients.

 

Luckily, the last few years have seen an explosion of tools, technology and ingenious law firm platforms and innovations to release lawyers from many of the administrative tasks and other drudgery historically involved in the practice of law.  Online research and reference services have eliminated law firm libraries and created the opportunity for expansive hyper-speed research.  Leading vendors and boutique start-ups have brought new thinking and automation to document review and production and law-firm file organization and work-product sharing.  Time entry and invoicing is more speedy and seamless.  Artificial intelligence is allowing lawyers and law firm administrators to unburden legal practices and let lawyers concentrate on the core work of lawyering.  And, following the lead of the Federal Courts, almost all California courts, including our own local Santa Clara County Superior Court, have now adopted e-filing – radically freeing litigators from the paperwork and assembly hassle of routine court filings.

 

In 2019, with the help of the chairpersons of our sections and committees, the SCCBA intends to focus on providing tips, tricks and insights into such new developments and technologies to our membership.  Our aim is to help the lawyers in this county learn how to better free themselves to be lawyers, and to pursue more streamlined professional lives.

 

This presidential theme draws heavily on my own personal experience, which is a prime example of the freeing power of new legal tools and law firm models.  Two years ago, I joined Rimon P.C., which is a leader in law firm innovation.  My firm is semi-virtual.  This means that while we have brick and mortar offices across the globe—including locally in both Palo Alto and Menlo Park—most of our almost 90 attorneys, including me, do most of their work from home.  When I need space for depositions, client meetings, document productions or other such intensive tasks, I have access to top-quality hard resources.  But on a regular day, I can get up, exercise, and start work in sweatpants and a hoodie without leaving my house and without battling traffic.

 

Notably, other law firms have also started experimenting with such models.  Larger and midsize firms are now allowing associates to work from home on a regular basis.  And, of course, many of our local smaller law firms and solo attorneys are finding that their practices no longer require a full-spectrum brick-and-mortar footprint.

 

Again, as an example, my particular law firm has developed its structures to accommodate this streamlined model.  Our HR, marketing, accounting and other personnel are efficiently scattered across the country.  My legal secretary works from home in Sacramento.  I work with partners, associates and paralegals all over the world and communicate and collaborate using video, email, phone, and other law firm tools.  We have regular all-firm and practice-area video conferences, and the lawyers physically meet up multiple times a year for retreats and get-togethers.  We even have a new AI robot that helps keep our meetings, files and other legal product organized and harmonized.

 

Models like this are obviously not for everyone and for every practice area.  But for lawyers and law firms looking to simplify, I can vouch that these kind of modern streamlined platforms can bring striking efficiencies and increased enjoyment to daily work.  And it is authentically freeing:  Last Summer, I was able to spend five weeks with my family in Greece and, to my surprise and joy, was able to effectively run my litigation practice remotely from my laptop and phone (with help from trusted partners and associates on the ground locally).  Such an opportunity would be almost unheard of even five years ago.  It is a pretty good time to be a lawyer.

 

So, these are my presidential themes.  I look forward continuing to promote them in 2019.

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