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Reflecting on the Year and Looking Ahead to the SCCBA’s Centennial

Posted By Mattew H. Poppe, Thursday, December 8, 2016
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2016

by Matt Poppe

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

2016 SCCBA President

 

With 2016 drawing to a close, I wanted to take this opportunity to report on the SCCBA’s accomplishments this year, thank some of the people who made them possible, and preview what’s coming next year as the SCCBA celebrates its 100th anniversary under the leadership of 2017 President Kate Wilson.

An Expression of Gratitude 

Many people contributed to keeping the Association running smoothly and helping us achieve several important goals in 2016. It’s not possible to list them all here, but following are some of those who made notable contributions.

Executive Committee: The Executive Committee meets monthly to address emergencies and give initial consideration to matters that will be ultimately decided by the Board of Trustees. This is the group I worked with most closely during the year, and I’d like to thank each of them for their hard work and support. They are:

  •  Kate Wilson (President Elect)
  •  Nicole Isger (Treasurer)
  •  Kevin Hammon (Secretary)
  •  Troy Benson
  •  Bernie Greenfield
  •  Gabriel Gregg
  •  Lauren Jones
  •  Suchitra Narayen

Board of Trustees: The Board of Trustees is the SCCBA’s ultimate policy-making body, meeting seven times during the year to address major issues facing the Association. In addition, our Trustees devoted many additional hours to serving on subcommittees tasked with reviewing governance issues (discussed below). The Trustees form a representative cross-section of our membership and proved themselves to be highly dedicated. In addition to the Executive Committee members listed above, the Trustees include:

  •  Josh Borger
  •  Hogene Choi
  •  Katie Diemer
  •  Eugene Flemate
  •  Susana Inda
  •  Michael Lee
  •  Bruce MacLeod
  •  John Mlnarik (Past President)
  •  Golnesa Monazamfar
  •  Mindy Morton
  •  Megan Ottoboni
  •  Sylvia Perez-MacDonald
  •  Richard Schramm

Committee/Section Chairs: A committed contingent of lawyers stepped up to chair or co-chair our many committees and sections.Under their leadership, the committees and sections held regular meetings, put on countless CLE programs, organized social gatherings and other events, and carried out important tasks like evaluating judicial candidates, overseeing our fee arbitration program, and running a high school mock trial competition. The committees and sections are the face of the Bar Association to many of our members, and the services they provide are critical to our mission. I’d like to thank the following individuals for serving as chairs this year:

  •  Tyler Atkinson (Civil Practice)
  •  Alison Buchanan (Professionalism)
  •  John Conway (Centennial Planning)
  •  Lori Costanzo (Women Lawyers)
  •  Henry Chuang (Judiciary)
  •  Jil Dalesandro (Fee Arbitration)
  •  Jeremy Deuel (Barristers)
  •  Katie Diemer (Women Lawyers)
  •  Melanie Griswold (LRE)
  •  Steve Haley (Centennial Planning)
  •  Audra Ibarra (Appellate)
  •  Nicole Isger (Finance)
  •  Justine Kastan (Real Property)
  •  Melissa Kiniyalocts (Judiciary)
  •  Michael Lee (Diversity)
  •  Hon. Miguel Marquez (Appellate)
  •  Colin McCarthy (Insurance)
  •  Golnesa Monazamfar (Barristers)
  •  Lisa Peck (Labor & Emp.)
  •  Britten Sessions (High Tech
  •  Shiv Shastri (Conf. of Delegates)
  •  January Stramaglia (Family)

Chris Burdick and the SCCBA Staff: Chris Burdick is CEO of the SCCBA and runs its daily operations. She is highly dedicated to her work, incredibly knowledgeable about the organization and local legal community, a great source of ideas, and an effective manager. She has also been a mentor to me for several years and a wonderful partner throughout 2016. She is joined by a friendly and professional staff consisting of Irene Cortez, Angie Loyola, Craig Melton, Brenda Metz, Judy Ruedas, and Tiffany Taubodo. The SCCBA could not function without them and I’m grateful for everything they’ve done.

SCCBA Accomplishments in 2016

The SCCBA worked hard this year to meet the needs of its members, improve the organization, and promote justice in our community and beyond. In addition to the regular work done by our committees, sections, and staff, we’ve successfully undertaken several projects and initiatives. 

One major task was to thoroughly examine the way the SCCBA is governed, develop a revised governance structure that will allow us to operate more effectively and efficiently, and prepare amendments to our By-Laws to implement those changes. I reported on the proposed amendments in detail in this space in October, and they will be presented to the membership for a vote next month.

Another important project was planning for the SCCBA’s 100th anniversary next year.  A special committee was formed for the purpose, chaired by Past Presidents John Conway and Steve Haley. The committee prepared a plan providing for the Centennial celebration to be a running theme throughout 2017. It will begin at our Installation Ceremony in January and continue through Judges’ Night in November, with many forms of commemoration during the year. 

In April, we issued a newly updated version of the Code of Professionalism that the SCCBA first created in 1992. The new Code includes many edits and modifications, many of which relate to addressing new technologies (like social media), applying the rules to attorneys who deal with self-represented litigants, and adding explanatory examples and illustrations. The Code has been widely circulated, and the Santa Clara County Superior Court recently adopted a standing order providing that the revised Code will serve as a guide in the judges’ exercise of discretion when adjudicating disputes among attorneys. Additional details about the Code and its history were covered in this space in April. 

The SCCBA also spoke out on policy issues when our leadership determined that doing so was important as a matter of principle and consistent with previously adopted policies and practices. In June, we issued a statement on judicial independence that was novel when made but was later echoed by many other legal groups and commentators.  And in October, we signed on to an amicus brief supporting a litigant who is challenging the North Carolina law that bans transgender individuals from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Each of these efforts was the product of many volunteers donating their time and working together, and it was a real pleasure to be part of it. 

A Final Note

Lastly, I’d like to thank all SCCBA members for supporting the organization and for giving me the opportunity to serve as President. On behalf of the Association, I wish everyone in our community a happy holiday season and hope the New Year brings you joy and good fortune.

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If you have questions or comments regarding this President’s Message, or suggestions for the SCCBA on any topic, I encourage you to contact me at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431.

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The SCCBA Website: A Cornucopia of Useful Resources

Posted By Matthew H. Poppe, Thursday, November 10, 2016

by Matt Poppe

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

2016 SCCBA President

 

In 2014, the SCCBA rolled out a new website located at www.sccba.com.  The website hosts many resources, some members-only and others available to anyone with an Internet connection, but you may not realize all of the services and information you can find there.  This month’s President’s Message provides a brief tour of our website to showcase the value it offers.


MEMBERS-ONLY RESOURCES

Casemaker:  A benefit of SCCBA membership is free online legal research using Casemaker.  Searchable materials include federal and state case law, statutes, administrative codes, attorney general opinions, secondary sources, and more.  Several premium services are available at reduced rates.  Casemaker can be accessed from the SCCBA website under the “practice development” tab, along with related FAQs and a user guide.


Judicial Profiles:  The SCCBA website includes members-only judicial profiles for federal district court and bankruptcy judges located in San Jose, Santa Clara County Superior Court judges and commissioners, and appellate justices of the Sixth District Court of Appeal.  Most profiles include biographical information and information about the judges’ courtroom practices, typically provided by the judges themselves.  The profiles are a great way to prepare for an appearance before an unfamiliar judge.  They are located under the “directories” tab.


Membership Directory:  Some members will never forgive us for discontinuing our printed membership directories years ago, but an electronic directory is available on our website.  All entries contain basic information about members and their practices and SCCBA involvement, and members can supplement their entries with additional profile information and a photo.  Our web platform also makes it possible for members to sync their directory entries with a Twitter account and post messages on other members’ profile pages.


Public Attorney Directory:  SCCBA members can subscribe to be listed in our Public Directory of Attorneys (PDA), which the public can search for free to find an attorney in a particular practice area and/or location.  Attorneys create their own profiles, allowing them to emphasize the points that will best highlight their practices.  Along with our Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) described below, the PDA is a great way to connect with potential clients.  And whereas LRS is open to any attorney with an office in Santa Clara County, the PDA is limited to SCCBA members.


Committee and Section pages:  Each of the SCCBA’s 14 committees and eight sections has a dedicated page on our website containing information about its functions and members, upcoming meetings and events, and blog posts (for those that maintain an active blog).  While some of these pages are open to all, others are accessible only to SCCBA members or to members of the applicable committee or section.  Committee and section blogs must be accessed through the corresponding committee or section web page, not through the “blogs” menu option that links to the SCCBA Legal Flash (news updates) and President’s Message archives.


Other members-only resources:  We also invite our members to submit comments or ideas to us using our Idea Box (see “submit an idea” under the “get involved” tab) and to refer new members to us in exchange for free CLE passes (a $95 credit for every three new members who join within a quarter; see the “refer a colleague” menu option under the “who we are” tab).


PUBLICLY-ACCESSIBLE RESOURCES
As an organization that serves the public at large as well as our members, the SCCBA created a website with many resources that are available to non-member attorneys and even to non-attorneys (such as potential clients).  There are too many to list them all, but here are some highlights.


Center for Ethics and Professionalism:  Under the leadership of then-President Dianne Sweeney, the SCCBA unveiled its online Center for Ethics and Professionalism in 2014.  The Center provides access to the SCCBA Code of Professionalism (updated earlier this year), links to existing and proposed State Bar ethics opinions and other resources, the SCCBA Professionalism Committee’s ethics blog, and more.  The Center can be found under the “who we are” tab.


Continuing Legal Education:  The SCCBA puts on dozens of live and webcast CLE programs every year and maintains a library of many recorded programs on its website.  Any attorney can create an online account on the SCCBA website to sign up for seminars, browse our online catalogue, keep track of progress toward meeting the State Bar’s minimum requirements, and retain certificates for completed programs.  All of this is collected under the “cle & events” tab.


Lawyer Referral Service:  Any attorney with an office in Santa Clara County can apply to join our Lawyer Referral Service (LRS), which connects potential clients to qualified lawyers.  We maintain a paid, trained, bilingual staff that fields approximately 35,000 calls per year.  Information about LRS (including minimum attorney qualifications) and an application can be found on our website under the “practice development” tab.


Career Center:  Information on legal job opportunities around the country is available in the Career Center, also located under “practice development.”  Employers and job seekers can create an account, post a job listing or resume, and search the database. Job seekers may search the database at no charge. More than 600 jobs in California are currently listed.


Judicial Assessment:  Any attorney who practices in Santa Clara County may submit information (positive or negative) about a judge, or a request for action, using a form on our website.  Submissions will be reviewed by the SCCBA’s Judicial Assessment Committee in accordance with a written policy.  Details and the form can be found at the “judicial assessment” link under the “get involved” tab, and a summary can also be found in the July President’s Message.


Room Rental:  The SCCBA maintains a spacious facility in a central location near the Downtown Courthouse in San Jose, and we offer several variously-sized conference rooms and a larger seminar area (seating up to 100) for rent for partial or full days.  Upon request we can also provide boxed lunches, beverages, and other services.  Although SCCBA members receive a favorable rate and this service is located in the “sccba member benefits” website menu (under the “who we are” tab), any attorney or organization may reserve an available space.


Information:  Not surprisingly, the SCCBA is a great place for anyone to find abundant information about our organization, upcoming seminars and other events, pro bono and volunteer activities, and more.  I encourage you to check it out for yourself and see what it has to offer.


SCCBA UPDATES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
Before closing, several recent developments merit a brief mention:

  • Our annual Judges’ Night dinner took place November 9,  at the San Jose Marriott.  We hope you were able to join us to honor our local judges, celebrate the winners of several awards, and hear a timely keynote address from FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel.  
  • The SCCBA signed on as one of 37 amici in Carcaño v. McCrory, a Fourth Circuit appeal challenging the North Carolina law that bans transgender individuals from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.  The lead amici are BALIF and the Impact Fund, and they were joined by bar associations and other organizations from across the country.  The decision to join this brief is consistent with prior SCCBA efforts supporting the LGBTQ community.
  • The SCCBA Board of Trustees selected Richard Schramm as the organization’s new ABA Delegate, replacing Bob Weeks.  Richard is both enthusiastic about the role and eminently qualified, having spent many years as an active member of both the SCCBA and the ABA while maintaining a wide-ranging legal practice.  He will serve us well and we thank him for volunteering for this position.

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If you have questions or comments regarding this President’s Message, or suggestions for the SCCBA on any topic, I encourage you to contact me at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431.

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Update: SCCBA Leadership and Governance

Posted By Matthew H. Poppe, Wednesday, October 12, 2016

by Matt Poppe

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

2016 SCCBA President

 

The last few weeks saw the election of a new slate of SCCBA leaders, the opening of our ABA Delegate position, and the Board of Trustees’ approval of changes to our By-Laws that establish how the SCCBA is governed.  This President’s Message is devoted to these important developments.

 

The SCCBA’s Leadership for 2017

The SCCBA held its annual election of officers and trustees in September, and the results were announced last week.

Our one contested election was for President.  As I noted in my last President’s Message, there usually is no election for President because the previous year’s President-Elect automatically assumes that position.  This year’s elected President-Elect resigned, however, so an election was necessary.  The winner of the election was Kate Wilson, an in-house attorney with Extreme Networks, Inc.  Kate has been an SCCBA leader for several years, most recently having been appointed by the Board of Trustees to fill the vacant President-Elect position for the rest of 2016.  Kate deserves our warm congratulations, and I am confident she will provide effective leadership during the SCCBA’s Centennial year in 2017.

I’d also like to thank Kate’s opponent, Eugene Flemate, a real estate and estate planning attorney in San Jose and the current President of the Santa Clara County La Raza Lawyers Association.  Eugene has been a valuable and dedicated SCCBA member, serving multiple terms on the Board of Trustees and contributing in other ways as well, such as on our Finance Committee and Judiciary Committee.  I have enjoyed working with Eugene on the Board this year and hope he will continue to lend us his time and energy.

Several other SCCBA leaders were elected without opposition. They include Kevin Hammon, President-Elect; Gabriel Gregg, Treasurer; Golnesa Monazamfar, Trustee for Palo Alto; Sue Saign, Trustee for South County; and Jose Borger, Lori Costanzo, and Katie Diemer, Trustees for San Jose.  Congratulations to them all!

 

Opening for the SCCBA’s Delegate to the American Bar Association

As a bar association with at least 2,000 members, the SCCBA is entitled to appoint a delegate to the ABA House of Delegates.  The delegate attends the ABA’s annual and mid-year meetings, represents the SCCBA’s interests, votes on the SCCBA’s behalf, and reports back to the SCCBA Board of Trustees.  The delegate serves a two-year term and receives a $1,500 annual stipend to partially reimburse his or her expenses.

For the last 16 years, the ABA delegate position has been ably filled by Bob Weeks.  Faced with Bob’s decision to pass the baton, the Board of Trustees reviewed the usefulness of the position and decided to continue appointing a delegate if a suitable candidate can be found.  We would like to appoint a member who is well-regarded in the community and is enthusiastic about serving in this role.  We would also like the delegate to engage actively with the Board to plan for the ABA meetings and discuss potential initiatives and votes with us.  If you are interested in this position, please contact me or our CEO, Chris Burdick, to request an application.  Applications should be submitted by October 25.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Bob Weeks once again.  His excellent service earned him the honor of being named the first two-time winner of the SCCBA’s Salsman Award earlier this year, and the ABA showed its own appreciation for his contributions by showering him with multiple standing ovations at its most recent mid-year meeting.  His replacement will have big shoes to fill, but should also find a warm welcome at the ABA thanks to Bob’s dedicated efforts on our behalf.

 

Upcoming Amendments to the SCCBA By-Laws Regarding Governance Issues

The Board of Trustees has undertaken a yearlong review of the way the SCCBA is governed, looking at such issues as the size of the Board, the process for selecting Trustees, and the respective roles of the Board and Executive Committee.  The Board approved several high-level changes at its September 19 meeting, which will now be translated into specific proposed amendments to the SCCBA By-Laws.  Once finalized, the proposed amendments will be distributed to all SCCBA members and voted on at a special member meeting called for that purpose.  A summary of the proposed changes is provided below.

Board of Trustees:  The Board is the SCCBA’s chief policy-setting body.  It will be reduced from its current size of approximately 30 members to 16 members.  This is consistent with the modern trend among non-profit organizations and is designed to enhance Trustees’ level of engagement, improve the body’s decision making, and increase its efficiency.  Retaining Board seats will be the four officers, three minority bar association representatives, and chairs of the SCCBA Barristers Committee, Diversity Committee, and Women Lawyers Section.  The other six seats will be at-large positions, open to any member who meets minimum qualifications based on past SCCBA involvement.  Elected Board seats will no longer be allocated geographically to different regions of the County.  Representatives of certain other affiliate bar associations will no longer have a seat on the Board, and the Immediate Past President’s seat will become an emeritus, non-voting position.  Except for the officers, Board members will be limited to serving four years in any six-year period—similar to the current limit of two consecutive two-year terms.

Executive Committee:  The Executive Committee consists of a subset of the Board of Trustees that (a) meets more frequently than the Board and (b) is responsible for vetting issues to be presented to the Board and deciding emergency issues subject to later ratification by the Board.  Consistent with the smaller Board size, the Executive Committee will be reduced from nine members to seven.  Its members will be the four officers and three other Board members selected by the President and approved by the Board.  Per a new policy adopted by the Board, the Executive Committee will no longer provide recommendations on how the Board should resolve issues presented to it but instead will leave it to the Board to review the merits of issues and proposals in the first instance (except for emergencies).

Selection of Officers and Trustees:  The SCCBA will hold elections only when Officer or Trustee positions are contested.  The Board considered eliminating elections entirely in favor of an application and appointment process, but concluded that elections will be fairer and will appropriately keep power in the hands of the SCCBA’s members.

Governance Committee:  A new Governance Committee will be formed to assist with recruiting qualified candidates for leadership positions and help with the selection process (while having no authority with respect to the actual selection of SCCBA leaders).  Details regarding the Committee’s composition and procedures will be determined by a task force to be established by the 2017 President.  The By-Laws’ current provisions regarding a “Nominating Committee” will be eliminated.

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If you have questions or comments regarding this President’s Message, or suggestions for the SCCBA on any topic, I encourage you to contact me at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431. 

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In Search of… New SCCBA Leadership

Posted By Matthew H. Poppe, Monday, August 8, 2016

Despite summer being in full swing, the SCCBA is already looking ahead to who will lead the organization in 2017.  Many leadership opportunities are available to our members, but some require acting fast.  The rewards are great, so consider applying.  By becoming an Officer, Trustee, or Chair, you can gain a broader understanding of the structure and functioning of the SCCBA, directly affect its operations and strategy, work with lawyers from a wide range of practices and backgrounds, develop leadership and speaking skills, serve the community, and much more.

 

Officers:  President, President-Elect, Treasurer, and Secretary

The SCCBA has four officers—President, President-Elect, Treasurer, and Secretary—each of whom serves a one-year term.  Normally, only three positions are filled in a given year because the President-Elect automatically becomes President the following year.  However, this is an unusual year in which all four officer positions will be determined by an election.  Nominating petitions can be found on the SCCBA website and must be submitted by August 15, 2016.

Eligibility for an officer position requires having served in previous SCCBA leadership roles.  The specific qualifications are set forth in the By-Laws and vary from position to position.  For example, a candidate for President-Elect must have served in one of the following ways:  (a) as Secretary, Treasurer, or Executive Committee member for at least one year within the three years preceding the election, or (b) as a member of the Board of Trustees for at least one full term and as a member of the Finance Committee for at least one year immediately prior to being elected.

The qualifications limit these positions to a relatively small group, but they also provide a roadmap for those who may want to pursue these roles at a later time.

 

Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees is the SCCBA’s main policymaking body.  Each Trustee serves a two-year term, with a limit of two consecutive terms.  There are seven annual Board meetings, and Trustees may also be asked to attend special Board meetings or serve on Board committees.  The SCCBA President appoints five Trustees to serve with the four officers on the Executive Committee, which vets issues to be decided by the Board and handles emergency matters.

Any SCCBA member can serve on the Board, though each elected Board seat is specific to a particular geography.  Districts that have one or more Trustee seats open for election this year include San Jose (3), Palo Alto/Mountain View (2), Sunnyvale/Cupertino (1), Santa Clara (1), and Morgan Hill/Gilroy (1).  Nominating petitions can be found on the SCCBA website and must be submitted by August 15, 2016.



Committee/Section Chairs

The SCCBA has 14 committees that focus on issues like Diversity or Professionalism, and 8 sections with a subject matter focus such as Family Law or High Tech.  Each committee and section has a chairperson or a pair of co-chairs, each serving a one- or two-year term depending on the position.  Each committee and section has its own culture and each chair position its own set of responsibilities, but the duties generally involve leading committee/section meetings, helping to coordinate CLEs and social events, and motivating other committee/section members to get or stay involved.

Each chairperson is appointed by the President, with input from the outgoing chairperson and the SCCBA staff liaison.  If you have been active in a committee or section – and perhaps even if you have not – consider asking about serving as chair next year.

 

Membership on Special Committees

Several committees deserve special mention in that membership is limited and requires being appointed by the SCCBA President.  Service on these committees can be particularly interesting and rewarding due to the nature of the work they perform.

The Judiciary Committee conducts confidential evaluations of candidates whom the Governor is considering for appointment to the bench in Santa Clara County.  The committee usually has around 25 members appointed for one-year terms, though many members serve multiple terms subject to a term limit.  The two co-chairs serve staggered two-year terms.  Applications to join this committee will be available later in the year, but feel free to inquire now if interested.

The Judicial Assessment Committee was discussed at length in last month’s President’s Message. The committee reviews complaints and informational submissions about individual judges and oversees the implementation of a judicial assessment poll.  The committee includes four appointed attorneys, two of whom are appointed each year for a two-year term.

The Fair Election Practices Commission works to ensure that campaigns for judicial office and for district attorney are conducted in a fair and dignified manner, in accordance with the SCCBA’s Judicial Election Campaign Code of Ethics.  Whenever there is a contested election, the candidates are invited to sign a pledge to abide by the Code.  Doing so makes them eligible to be considered for endorsement by the SCCBA.  Signing the pledge includes a commitment to abide by decisions of the Commission regarding alleged Code violations, which are adjudicated in accordance with a set of written procedures.  The Commission includes ten appointed members and up to three alternative members.  They are not limited to SCCBA members but may also include judges, other lawyers, and community representatives.

 

ABA Delegate

The SCCBA is entitled to send a delegate to meetings of the American Bar Association, which typically occur twice a year.  The ABA Delegate position is coming open after being ably filled for several years by Bob Weeks, who received the SCCBA’s Salsman Award earlier this year in recognition for his outstanding service.  The ABA Delegate attends the ABA meetings, votes at the meetings on the SCCBA’s behalf, and reports back to the Board of Trustees.  The SCCBA provides a small stipend to help defray expenses.

 

New 2016 President-Elect

Due to a conflict, Nicole Isger resigned her position as President-Elect last month.  We thank Nicole for her years of valuable service to the SCCBA, and we are happy that she plans to stay involved in the SCCBA in other capacities.

The SCCBA By-Laws provide for the Board of Trustees to promptly select a replacement, and the Board carried out that responsibility last week.  Three candidates submitted their names for consideration.  After reviewing their written submissions and conducting a Q&A with each of them, the Board voted to select Kate Wilson, current Treasurer, as President-Elect for the remainder of 2016.  Per the By-Laws, because Kate was appointed, she will not automatically become President in 2017.  As noted above, the office of 2017 President will be one of the officer positions on the ballot for this year’s election.

 

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If you have comments on this President’s Message, questions about SCCBA leadership positions or the selection process, or suggestions for the SCCBA on any topic, I encourage you to contact me at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431.  Additional information is also available on the SCCBA’s website at www.sccba.com.

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The SCCBA Judicial Assessment Procedure: an Under-Utilized Tool

Posted By Matthew H. Poppe, Thursday, July 14, 2016

Recent events have presented the unusual case of a Superior Court judge’s performance attracting high-profile media attention.  Much more commonly, judges’ commendable or objectionable actions go unnoticed except by the directly-affected lawyers and parties.  Judges miss out on constructive feedback that could have a beneficial impact on their conduct.  The quality of justice, both actual and perceived, may suffer.

Pursuant to its mission to seek improvements in the administration of justice, the Santa Clara County Bar Association addressed this issue in 2013 by adopting its Judicial Assessment Policy and Procedures.  The policy and procedures provide an important means by which attorneys can relate their experiences and opinions, positive or negative, regarding individual judges in Santa Clara County.  The process is entirely confidential, underscoring its purpose to generate feedback for judges and help resolve tensions between judges and attorneys rather than to broadcast commentary to the public.

Unfortunately, this judicial assessment mechanism has been under-utilized since its inception.  Only a single submission has been received to date, probably because most attorneys do not know about the procedure.  This Message will try to remedy that problem by describing the Judicial Assessment Policy and Procedures and explaining how to submit feedback and what response to expect.  Some history on the SCCBA’s judicial assessment efforts is also provided.

Submitting a Judicial Assessment to the SCCBA

The SCCBA’s judicial assessment procedure is broadly available, though only to (1) attorneys who (2) practice in Santa Clara County.

The procedure involves active participation by the SCCBA’s Judicial Assessment Committee (“JAC”), a body consisting of the SCCBA President (who serves as chair); the Presiding Judge of the Santa Clara County Superior Court; the Assistant Presiding Judge or another judge appointed by the Presiding Judge; four SCCBA attorney members appointed by the SCCBA President in consultation with the Presiding Judge; and the SCCBA’s CEO.  The appointed attorney members serve staggered two-year terms.  Committee members are subject to rigorous selection criteria, and any member whose participation in the review of information concerning a particular judge would create an actual or apparent conflict of interest must either recuse himself or herself from the review or resign from the JAC.

If you are an eligible attorney who would like to submit an assessment, you begin the process by visiting the SCCBA website and selecting “judicial assessment” in the “get involved” menu.  From that web page, there are multiple “Submit an Assessment” links that will take you to a blank assessment form.  You can also access a full copy of the Judicial Assessment Policy & Procedure from that web page.

The form asks you to provide your full name, contact information, bar number, and office location; identify the judicial officer and court to whom your feedback relates; describe your feedback at whatever level of detail you prefer; and indicate whether your submission is “Informational” or a “Request for Action.”  All submissions are subject to an initial review by the SCCBA President and the CEO to determine the appropriate next steps.

If you make an Informational Submission, nobody other than the President and CEO will learn your identity without your consent.  Your submission will be reviewed by the rest of the JAC with your identifying information omitted.  You will be contacted about the submission only if the JAC determines that follow-up is needed, such as if the JAC believes the submission should be treated as a Request for Action.

If your submission is a Request for Action, your identity will be disclosed to the attorney members of the JAC, but not to the Committee’s judicial members or to anyone outside the JAC without your consent.  Within two weeks after you submit the assessment form, you will be contacted to arrange a meeting between you and the attorney members of the JAC to discuss your feedback or concern.  The attorney members of the JAC will then determine whether any action is warranted or whether your feedback will be received for informational purposes only.  Any contemplated action will be explained to you, and no action will be taken without your consent.  Any action requires approval by a majority of the attorney members of the JAC.

The SCCBA policy does not specify what the response should be to any particular submission, other than to prescribe the use of an “informal process for resolving attorney concerns.”  The ultimate response is left to the discretion of the attorney members of the JAC.  Possible responses include counseling the submitting attorney on how to address his/her concerns directly with the court; having an attorney member of the JAC or the full JAC discuss the matter with the Presiding Judge; or submitting the feedback to the affected judge with the approval of the Presiding Judge.  As noted above, any action involving judicial members of the JAC or the affected judge require prior consent from the attorney who submitted the Request for Action.

I urge all attorneys in Santa Clara County to make use of the SCCBA’s judicial assessment procedure.  If a judge handles a matter in a way you think should be commended or emulated, let us know with an Informational Submission.  Conversely, if a judge behaves improperly—particularly with regard to a matter of demeanor or ethics—consider submitting a Request for Action.  Either way, the court, the bar, and the public will be the better for it.

The SCCBA’s Judicial Assessment Efforts:  Past and Future

The Judicial Assessment Policy and Procedures adopted in 2013 mark not the beginning, but the continuation of the SCCBA’s efforts to generate meaningful feedback regarding our local judges.

From 1989 to 2011, the SCCBA conducted an annual survey that asked members to evaluate judges on a range of measures.  The SCCBA made the results publicly available and they typically were published in the local press.  Eventually, however, the SCCBA decided that the survey was ineffective and not worth the expense.  Too few attorneys completed the survey, meaning the results were not representative.  They were not helpful to the judges, and they risked being mischaracterized or misunderstood by the public.

In lieu of the annual survey, the SCCBA implemented the assessment process described above.  The goal is to generate constructive feedback and help resolve problems.  The feedback may continue to be non-representative, but we expect it will carry greater weight having gone through a review and vetting process by a committee of respected attorneys.  And the process now creates a mechanism for mediating and potentially resolving issues rather than simply passing along unfiltered opinions.

The Judicial Assessment Policy and Procedures also calls for the creation of a new judicial assessment poll, but one that will differ substantially from the earlier survey.  Instead of asking members to rate individual judges, the poll is meant to solicit more general information about attorneys’ court experiences.  The JAC is responsible for developing the questions, a task that has not yet been completed.  Once ready, the poll will be conducted electronically and the results provided to the public as well as to the federal court clerk and the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court for dissemination to individual judges.

For our courts to operate with maximum effectiveness, a meaningful feedback mechanism is needed.  The SCCBA believes it is in the best position to provide that mechanism for our local courts, and we will continue working to find the best means to do so.  We are hopeful that the judicial assessment procedure and poll described above will fit the bill.

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If you have any comments on this President’s Message, or any suggestions for the SCCBA, I encourage you to contact me at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431.

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Giving Back: How to Find a Great Pro Bono Opportunity

Posted By Matthew H. Poppe, Wednesday, May 11, 2016

An attorney’s life is a busy one:  it can be a struggle to balance the competing obligations of representing clients, developing business, keeping up on the law, improving one’s skills, handling administrative duties, mentoring others, and more, not to mention meeting family obligations and having some fun now and then.

Nevertheless, in the midst of these many other responsibilities, it is a lawyer’s duty to give of one’s time to those who need legal representation but cannot afford it.  The recently revised SCCBA Code of Professionalism emphasizes this point:  “A lawyer should donate legal services to individuals unable to afford those services.  The SCCBA encourages all attorneys to provide at least 60 hours a year in direct legal assistance to the indigent.”  SCCBA members can pledge to meet this goal in their online profiles on the SCCBA website.

Some attorneys are not inclined to do pro bono work, or feel they lack the time for it.  That’s unfortunate.  But more tragic is when attorneys who want to do pro bono work miss out because they don’t know how to get connected to clients in an area of interest, or worry that they won’t be able to tailor their involvement to the time they have available.  Here I will identify some options and resources to help such attorneys get past those roadblocks.

It’s important to remember that not every pro bono engagement means a long-term commitment to grueling litigation.  There are ways to provide service that can fit the schedule, temperament, and interests of just about any attorney.  Moreover, many legal services agencies provide training on the relevant substantive law and procedure and have staff attorneys and other resources to help you along the way if you’re working in an unfamiliar area.

A great way to get started on your quest for a pro bono assignment is the “Pro Bono Opportunities” page on the SCCBA website (select “volunteer opportunities” from the “get involved” menu, then click on “Pro Bono Opportunities”).  There you will see a wide range of options.

For example, clicking on the “SCCBA Pro Bono & Low Bono Opportunities” link will take you to a page that discusses, among other things, the SCCBA’s partnership with the Pro Bono Project of Silicon Valley on an initiative called “Virtual Legal Services.”  That program allows you to consult with pro bono clients over the Internet from the comfort of your office or home.  Pro Bono Project sets up computers at locations like libraries, community centers, or the SCCBA headquarters to make it easier for clients to communicate with you over the Internet.  This is a great program for attorneys who may want to help needy clients while limiting their time commitment.

Another link on the SCCBA pro bono web page will connect you to “Opportunities with Other Silicon Valley Legal Service Agencies.”  Here we list ten local legal services agencies, including Asian Law Alliance, Bay Area Legal Aid, Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Pro Bono Project, and Senior Adults Legal Assistance.  As the names indicate, these agencies provide services in many areas of law, to many different client groups, in diverse parts of the county (and some neighboring counties).

Of course, the sheer number of available options can be daunting for someone who wants to identify a pro bono opportunity quickly and without hassle.  Here are a few descriptions and tips that may help.

The Law Foundation, which was founded by a group of SCCBA leaders in 1974, has grown into a robust and prominent organization.  They can quickly connect you to a pro bono opportunity in a variety of areas that mostly relate to helping needy youth.  The Law Foundation also hosts a weekly eviction assistance clinic that may be perfect for attorneys who want a bite-size project, or who prefer counseling to litigation.  Similar considerations may make the Law Foundation’s Nonprofit Legal Assistance Project an attractive option.

Two other areas in which attorneys can provide crucial assistance on matters that typically have a relatively short duration are domestic violence and eviction cases.  Both involve summary proceedings that often have little or no discovery.  Several agencies can connect you to victims of domestic violence who need help obtaining temporary restraining orders against their abusers, or who already have TROs but need assistance getting permanent orders.  Such agencies include Bay Area Legal Aid, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, and Pro Bono Project.  If helping a tenant with an eviction case sounds more appealing, you might try Bay Area Legal Aid, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, or Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto.

Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto also partners with attorneys on pro bono immigration matters.  They help clients obtain permission to stay in the U.S. based on asylum, the Violence Against Women Act, and other grounds.  For a different angle on immigration work, the Ninth Circuit has a program through which clients get pro bono representation in appeals involving immigration and other issues.  This program may be of particular interest to attorneys seeking appellate argument experience, as “[t]he court has committed to hearing oral argument in all cases in which pro bono counsel is appointed through the program.”

An agency I have not yet mentioned is the Family Violence Appellate Project, based in Oakland but working with attorneys throughout the Bay Area.  As their name suggests, they focus on appeals in domestic violence cases.  Their goal is to develop a more robust body of case law to provide guidance to trial courts handling such matters, preferably in a way that will benefit victims of domestic violence.  Attorneys who take on these pro bono appeals can gain oral argument experience and often make new law.  FVAP also seeks moot court participants, who provide valuable assistance with a much smaller time commitment.

Yet another form of pro bono work involves providing translation services, either in court or during attorney-client consultations.  The need here is great, in every language imaginable.  Importantly, this opportunity is open not only to attorneys but to anyone in a law office (or elsewhere) who would like to donate time for a good cause.  Agencies that solicit pro bono translation services include Bay Area Legal Aid and Pro Bono Project.

Hopefully I have persuaded you that you can easily find a pro bono opportunity in an area of interest that will fit the time you have available.  And I have only scratched the surface:  I would encourage you to check out these agencies’ websites—most of them accessible through the SCCBA web page mentioned above—to learn more about their pro bono programs.  Among other things, they offer many other clinics beyond those I have mentioned here that will allow you to contribute even if you only have a single afternoon available.

I’d like to make two final points.  First, as yet another way to control your time commitment, consider teaming up with another attorney who can share the load with you.  You might even have a client who would appreciate the chance to work with you on such a matter.  Second, if you decide that you just can’t afford the time (or even if you can), consider donating money.  Any of the agencies I’ve mentioned here would be happy to have your financial support.  Or you can give to the Campaign for Legal Services (www.svcls.org), which will spread the wealth among eight different local agencies.

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If you have any comments on this President’s Message, or any suggestions for the SCCBA, I encourage you to contact me at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431.

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SCCBA Code of Professionalism 3.0

Posted By Matthew H. Poppe, Thursday, April 14, 2016

by Matt Poppe

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

2016 SCCBA President

 

Toward the end of this month, the Santa Clara County Bar Association will roll out an update of its vaunted Code of Professionalism – version 3.0 – by posting it on the SCCBA website and mailing a hard copy to all current members and other select recipients.

The new version of the Code is the product of a sustained effort by a working group from our Professionalism Committee, chaired by Alison Buchanan of Hoge Fenton and including Judges Julie Emede, Lori Pegg, Jim Towery, and Brian Walsh of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, SCCBA Past President Clark Stone, and SCCBA CEO Chris Burdick.  We are grateful to the working group, as well as to the sponsors who funded the reprinting of the Code:  Fenwick & West, Greenfield Draa & Harrington, Hoge Fenton, The Mlnarik Law Group, and Pillsbury Winthrop.

 

 SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism:  A Brief History

The SCCBA Code of Professionalism was first published in 1992, and since then has been revised once before in 2007.  The Code was the brainchild of then-President Brian Walsh, a current judge and recent Presiding Judge of the Santa Clara County Superior Court.  (On Saturday, Judge Walsh was recognized by the State Bar of California as “a pioneer for promoting civility and professionalism” when it awarded him the 2016 Harry B. Sondheim California Professional Responsibility Award, due in large part to his role in creating the Code.)


The Code of Professionalism was a novel idea for a county bar association when it was adopted.  Statewide Rules of Professional Conduct approved by the California Supreme Court have existed since 1928, and many other states have adopted the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, but Judge Walsh perceived that the existing rules did not go far enough in promoting not just ethics and professionalism but also civility.

In that vein, the Preamble explains that the Code is meant to embody “a level of professionalism that goes well beyond” the requirements of the statewide rules.  Duties emphasized in the Preamble include “civility, professional integrity, personal dignity, candor, diligence, respect, courtesy, cooperation, and competence.” The SCCBA viewed the heightened expectations reflected in the Code as already being the norm within our county, but there was a belief that codifying them would help them endure and become even more widely practiced.

The SCCBA’s effort was greatly helped by the wholehearted support of the local bench.  Copies of the Code can be found throughout the courthouses in Santa Clara County, and its provisions are widely applied.  The Code got additional boosts in 2007, when it was used as the starting point for the State Bar’s Guidelines of Civility and Professionalism; in 2014, when the United States District Court for the Northern District of California adopted Guidelines for Professional Conduct that relied heavily on the SCCBA Code; and in 2015, when it was adopted by the Monterey County Bar Association.  The SCCBA welcomes the Code’s adoption by other courts and bar associations, requesting only attribution in return.

 

Summary of Key Changes From Version 2.0

The new version of the Code includes edits and modifications throughout, but most revolve around three key themes:

1. Advances in technology.  The new Code accounts for technological advances in several ways, including encouraging the use of electronic service and email communications, addressing the need to preserve relevant electronically-stored information and produce it in an appropriate format, and regulating the use of social media.

2. Self-represented litigants.  The new Code makes express what previously was present only in spirit by extending an attorney’s duties of courtesy and fair play to apply not only to opposing “counsel” but also to opposing self-represented litigants.  These include, for example, the duty to be courteous and fair in settlement negotiations and the duty to grant reasonable requests by an opponent during litigation that do not prejudice the rights of the attorney’s own client.

3. Examples and illustrations.  The new Code adds a number of examples designed to illustrate how previously-stated rules and principles should apply in particular situations.  For example, the section on discovery now includes explicit provisions stating that attorneys should engage in good faith efforts to resolve discovery disputes amicably before commencing motion practice and should avoid argumentative and speaking objections during depositions.

Upcoming Developments

In addition to distributing and publicizing the new version of the Code toward the end of this month, the SCCBA will further promote its use by conducting training sessions on the Code for local Superior Court judges.  Preparations for the training are underway, and we are grateful to court leaders for their interest in working with us on this educational effort.

We encourage you to read your copy (or the online version) of the new Code carefully and commit to implementing it in your practice, in both letter and spirit.  If you have suggestions for further improvements to the Code, or for other ways that the SCCBA can advance the cause of professionalism and civility in our county, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

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If you have any comments on this President’s Message, or any suggestions for the SCCBA, I encourage you to contact me at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431.

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2016 Installation Event Highlights Our Ties to the Courts and the ABA

Posted By Matthew H. Poppe, Monday, February 8, 2016


by Matt Poppe

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

2016 SCCBA President

 

On January 20, the Santa Clara County Bar Association held its annual Installation Ceremony, at which this year’s officers and trustees took oaths to uphold their duties as representatives of the SCCBA and its members.

Consistent with this year’s President’s theme of “Outreach and Collaboration,” the event served as a reminder of our important ties to the local bench and to the American Bar Association.  We also took time to recognize the contributions of last year’s SCCBA president, John Mlnarik.

 

 A Strong Showing by Our Local Judges at Installation 2016

The Installation Ceremony is one of our regular events that most clearly demonstrates the thriving nature of the bench/bar relationship in our County.  We were honored that Santa Clara County Superior Court Presiding Judge Risë Pichon administered the oaths; retired Superior Court Judge Jack Komar (now with JAMS) provided a keynote speech; and many other judges were in attendance to show their support.

C:\Users\MHP\Desktop\Komar-Jack-900x1080.jpgJudge Komar addressed the bench/bar relationship in his remarks, including how a bar association and its members can support the courts and judicial system.  He noted that lawyers are often reminded of their duty to their clients—in the words of Lord Brougham, a lawyer’s “first and only duty.”  He also observed that self-interest can motivate, quoting Judge Thurman Arnold’s statement that “If someone has to go to jail, be sure it’s the client.”  But he urged us to stand up not only for our clients and ourselves, but for justice and the judicial system.  As an example, he urged us to “go to bat” for judges who unfairly come under attack during elections—a device that can threaten not only the position of individual judges, but judicial independence itself.  One can easily think of other examples where the judicial system needs our help, such as the ongoing funding crisis that is harming the courts’ ability to dispense justice promptly and provide access to all who need it.

The SCCBA will find many opportunities this year to look to our local judges for support.  Judge Komar’s words were a helpful reminder of our need to reciprocate.

 

Salsman Award Winner Bob Weeks:  Our Link to the ABA

Among other things, the Installation Ceremony is the occasion each year when we name the winner of the SCCBA’s Salsman Award.  Named after the late Justice Bryl R. Salsman, the award is given to a member of the SCCBA who is judged to have contributed the most to the Association over some particular time period (not necessarily a single calendar year) without having received public accolades for doing so.

cid:d65f2510-e7e8-443a-b592-f93a2586d042@orrick.comThis year we were pleased to present the award to Bob Weeks, who has served as the SCCBA’s ABA delegate for 16 consecutive years.  Bob becomes the first two-time recipient, having previously been selected in 1996.

Bob has filled the role of ABA delegate enthusiastically and selflessly, incurring substantial time and expense to prepare for and travel to two ABA meetings each year.  Bob has also educated us about his activities, submitting a detailed written preview ahead of each meeting and a detailed written report afterwards and attending Board of Trustees meetings to provide summaries and answer questions.

As I write this, Bob is preparing to attend the ABA Midyear Meeting in San Diego where he will represent our interests at gatherings of the House of Delegates, Women’s Caucus, Minority Caucus, Solo/Small Firm Caucus, and more.  Bob is an active participant at the meetings and has become well-respected there.  His reputation reflects well on us all.

Bob’s current two-year term as ABA delegate expires this year, and we will take the opportunity to include the position in our comprehensive review of how the SCCBA is governed.  Should we continue to send a delegate to the ABA meetings each year, as we are permitted to do as a bar association with 2,000+ members?  If so, what qualities should we look for in a delegate and what selection process should we use?  How should we fund the position?  How should we work with the delegate before and after ABA meetings to ensure optimal representation there?  One thing we know:  we cannot hope to do better than Bob Weeks.

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If you have any comments on this President’s Message, or any suggestions for the SCCBA, I encourage you to contact me at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431.

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Working Hard for You in 2016

Posted By Matthew H. Poppe, Thursday, January 14, 2016

 

by Matt Poppe

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

2016 SCCBA President

 

I’m honored to be serving as President of the Santa Clara County Bar Association in 2016 and am looking forward to a busy year.

This year we will pursue several initiatives that we hope will provide new value to our members and strengthen the legal profession in our County.  Following are some of the highlights.  We will also, of course, continue the many benefits and services the SCCBA has traditionally offered.

 

Incubator Project for Virtual Law Practices

Many new lawyers in our County face the daunting task of hanging out a shingle and starting up a law practice from scratch.  To help these brave souls with the business side of that challenge, the SCCBA  is developing an incubator for solo practitioners.  Further, in recognition of the ever-increasing pervasiveness of technology in all aspects of the practice of law, our incubator will be the first to help participants set up a virtual law practice with a substantial online component.  The effort will be led by 2015 SCCBA President John Mlnarik, who was instrumental in the initial planning stages last year.

 

Training for Judges on Code of Professionalism

Under the leadership of 2014 SCCBA President Dianne Sweeney, and with the strong support of the local Superior Court bench, the SCCBA sponsored a Bench-Bar Professionalism Summit in late 2014 to discuss ways to further the cause of professionalism in our County.  One idea that emerged was for the SCCBA to offer training for new Superior Court judges on the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism, which was first adopted in 1992 and is currently being updated.  The Code, with its emphasis on civility, has been highly influential both locally and beyond.  Preparations for the training program are being undertaken by the Professionalism Committee under the leadership of its Chair, Alison Buchanan.

 

Revamped Judicial Election Procedures

2016 is an election year, not only for federal and state offices but also for some Superior Court judges in our County.  Should any of the local judicial races be contested, the SCCBA will seek to foster a campaign atmosphere that befits an election for judicial office.  Candidates who pledge to abide by the SCCBA Judicial Election Campaign Code of Ethics will be eligible for endorsement by the SCCBA.  Compliance will be policed by the Santa Clara County Fair Judicial Election Practices Commission, which is co-chaired by the SCCBA President and the Presiding Judge of the Santa Clara County Superior Court and is governed by a detailed set of Rules and Procedures.  This year, before any campaigns get underway, we will take a fresh look at our rules for conducting plebiscites (the process we use to determine which candidate to endorse) to ensure that they are clear and even-handed and promote a fair, civil, and dignified electoral process.

 

SCCBA Strategic Plan

This is a challenging time for professional organizations like the SCCBA, which have to change with the times in order to satisfy their mandates and meet their members’ needs.  Mindful of this reality, the SCCBA has been working on a new strategic plan:  a three-year process of which we are entering the final year.  Having refined our understanding of the market we seek to serve, we completed a thorough vetting of the services we offer and are now going to examine how we are governed from top to bottom.  The result will hopefully be a Bar Association that is even more efficient, energetic, and representative than it is today.

 

Planning for SCCBA Centennial Celebration

Next year will be the SCCBA’s centennial, so we have a big celebration to plan.

 

President’s Theme for 2016:  Outreach and Collaboration

The SCCBA traditionally gives its President the privilege of choosing a project or theme to pursue during his or her year in that position.  The theme I have selected is “outreach and collaboration.”  The SCCBA is just one of many organizations serving our legal community, and I believe the interests of our members and the public will be served if we strengthen our existing ties with other local and neighboring bar associations, law schools, civic leaders, and the like.  Accordingly, I will personally engage in outreach efforts and encourage others in the SCCBA leadership to do so as well, in the hope and expectation that we will find common ground and opportunities to collaborate with others.

 

This list is hardly exhaustive, but it will give you an idea of our intended focus for 2016.  I am grateful to be serving with an outstanding leadership team that includes CEO Chris Burdick; fellow officers Nicole Isger (President-Elect), Kate Wilson (Treasurer), and Kevin Hammon (Secretary); our 2016 Board of Trustees and Executive Committee; the volunteers who will chair our sections and committees; and our dedicated and highly professional staff.

If you have any comments on our plans for 2016, or any other suggestions on how to improve what we do, I would love to hear from you at mpoppe@orrick.com or (650) 614-7431.

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