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2010: The New Beginning

Posted By Mark Shem, Sunday, January 10, 2010
Updated: Friday, April 25, 2014

[reprinted from the January 12, 2010, Daily Journal, SCCBA Monthly Newsletter]          

I am honored to serve as the 2010 Santa Clara County Bar Association President at the start of the second decade of the new millennium.  After serving in leadership positions over the last ten years, I know our Association is well poised to handle the challenges of the new decade.  The Santa Clara County Bar Association is not the same one I joined back in 1991.  

I cannot help but observe the monumental changes that have occurred in our profession and our society.  Take my grandfather for instance.  When he and my grandmother wanted to buy a home in the country in the early 1960s, many San Jose neighborhoods would not sell to them merely because they were Chinese.  Back then, our Bar Association was predominantly, if not exclusively, comprised of white men.  Members communicated with each other primarily through the mail or phone.  Today, our Association is becoming as diverse and multi-cultural as the county’s population.  We no longer tolerate exclusion based upon race, gender, or sexual orientation.  We now communicate through email, twitter, Facebook, text messages, MySpace, Lawlink, the telephone, and yes, still via snail mail.  Our law practices are no longer confined to the county or town where we are based.  Things have changed in the fifty years since my grandparents searched for a home, and for the better. Our Bar Association reflects the changes in the diversity of its members, practice areas and experiences.  But, the onus is on us, to continue to perfect these changes.  There are still many challenges that face our profession and society.  

It is no secret that our fellow citizens and colleagues are still hurting from the Great Recession.  You read in the papers about home foreclosures, people in severe legal distress, many who cannot afford basic legal representation, and lawyers who are out of work.  Our Bar Association and our members are in the best possible position to help.  One of our founding goals is to "serve the general welfare of the people of Santa Clara County, including the members of the legal profession."  From Association programs such as Probonomatch.org, the Lawyer Referral Service, Fee Arbitration, continuing legal education, and many more, the Santa Clara County Bar Association offers tools to help.

This year, I challenge our members to help our community by participating in one of three ways--a trifecta if you will-- by doing one of the following.

First, volunteer to provide pro bono services.  Throughout the year, we offer training in various substantive areas for pro bono work, as well as a "boot camp", free of charge to give you the tools and knowledge to help the neediest of our citizens.  The SCCBA Pro Bono Initiative: Helping Lawyers Help Others offers a web site, www.probonomatch.org, providing the names and addresses of legal service agencies seeking volunteers as well as information on the training.   For those attorneys who contribute pro bono hours through this initiative, we recognize your efforts at the annual Pro Bono Recognition Reception in the Fall.   I challenge all of you to contribute at least 60 hours of direct pro bono representation called for in the SCCBA Pro Bono pledge.  In 2009, our members report nearly 30,000 hours of pro bono work.  I challenge you to increase those hours by 25%.  

Those who have participated have reported the joy of helping someone in need.  Providing pro bono services is a way of giving back to the community and serving our community.  Even if  you just help one person’s life to become brighter, isn’t that worth it?

Second, if being immersed in the law 24/7 is not enough, try volunteering in the community.  There are many worthwhile community projects.  If you are looking for a project, may I suggest the high school mock trial program?  Every year in February, budding high school attorneys from various high schools across our county come to the downtown superior court to learn about our judicial system by role playing attorneys and witnesses in a hypothetical criminal case.  The program needs attorneys to come, watch, listen and critique their performance.   And, no one goes to jail at the end of the day. 

On a personal level, after coaching at a local high school for 17 years, I cannot count the number of students who described to me the positive impact the program has had on their lives and career paths.   In particular, one student, who was raised in the shadows of Chernobyl,  participated in mock trial, attended law school, and later clerked for Justice David Souter.  He attributes his career path in part to his experiences in the mock trial program.  He is currently working in the Obama Administration as a legal counsel.   Others still are now individuals whom I am proud to call "colleagues."  To become involved in the mock trial program, contact Law Related Education Chair Kevin Hammon at 408-491-4221 or email at kevin.hammon@cco.sccgov.org for more information.

In the third week of March, high school students from across California will descend upon San Jose for the State Finals to earn the right to represent the State of California at the National Mock Trials in May.  The Santa Clara County Bar Association is hosting our future colleagues, judges and taxpayers as they continue to learn about our judicial system.  They will need your support so please volunteer for that to become a scorer for the State Finals as well.  Contact Angela Storey at angela.storey@farmersins.com for more information.

Third, if you cannot afford the time, please donate money to legal services including the Silicon Valley Campaign for Legal Services.  Unfortunately in this economic downturn, the big corporate donors have been unable to continue to make their generous contributions.  Legal service organizations across the county are suffering from budget shortfalls as the usual sources have dried up.  I challenge our members to fill the gap and make a donation today.  The equivalent of one billable hour will do.  

I realize we cannot fix all that ails us over night.  But if we can save one mother from domestic violence or help another obtain visitation rights or influence a high school senior to be the first in his/her family to go to college, we will have succeeded.  

As the year progresses, I will periodically report on your efforts to meet these challenges and goals.  

At the Bar Association, we will continue to improve our ongoing programs.  This year, we will upgrade our internal database application.  This upgrade will allow us to upgrade the functionality and design of our website and membership directory, among other improvements.  Implementing this upgrade will continue to place our bar association at the forefront in the use of technology to serve our members.   

You may have noticed you did not receive the annual hard copy of the 2010 Membership Directory.    Unfortunately, the cost of publication has become prohibitive.  An improved database will allow us to make our online membership directory more useful to you.  

We also plan to hire a marketing director to help us more effectively communicate with you and the public about the Association’s many excellent services and programs, including our continuing legal education programs.

 We will continue to offer the CLE programs that you want and need for your practice.  And, we will offer CLE programs that are two or three hours for the incredibly low price of $65.  We will also continue to evaluate ways to keep our Lawyer Referral Service relevant to our members and community.  

In short, we will continue to provide the services and programs to remain your bar association of choice.
 
We have many challenges ahead and a full agenda on our plate for 2010. But every journey starts with the first step.  Along with the other officers and the Board of Trustees, I look forward to taking those 
first steps with you. 

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