June 2012 Bar Bulletin
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June 2012 Bar Bulletin

Living KCBA's Mission: Our Year in Review

By Joe Bringman

 

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
-Robert F. Kennedy
Day of Affirmation Speech
University of Cape Town (June 6, 1966)

With my term as KCBA president drawing to its close, it seems appropriate to review how we've done in carrying out our mission. Elements of the KCBA Mission Statement, adopted in 2005, appear in the headings below.

Supporting Our Diverse Membership

During the last year, KCBA launched its new Diversity Committee. In contrast to the committee that it replaced, this new committee employs a definition of "diversity" that goes beyond racial and ethnic concerns to include issues of disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

With this definition in mind, the committee spent much of its first year analyzing how to define and measure success in diversity, how to promote diversity in the legal profession and within KCBA, and KCBA's relationship with minority bar organizations. Future activities will focus on programs that address pipeline, career development, business development and community relations concerns.

In October, the Diversity Commit­tee hosted KCBA's annual Book of Business seminar, which assists newly admitted attorneys of color in private law firms to gain skills that will help them advance in their careers. Taught by some of the most well-respected and successful leaders in our region's minority bar community, the seminar teaches attendees how to market themselves and acquire new clients for their firms, and provides valuable networking contacts.

In accord with past resolutions adopted by our Board of Trustees, KCBA endorsed and supported Washington's Marriage Equality Bill. Two of the legislative leaders who guided the bill to passage, Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen, will receive KCBA's Friend of the Legal Profession Award at our annual dinner on June 19.

At its December meeting, KCBA's board endorsed an ABA initiative urging entities that administer law school admission tests to provide appropriate accommodations for test-takers with a disability, and to ensure that the application process, scoring of the test and reporting of test scores are consistent for all applicants and do not differentiate on the basis that an applicant received a disability-related accommodation.

Diversity within our bar should not be limited by the definition that guides our Diversity Committee. To be a fully diverse organization, for example, we must attract members from every area of practice. Hoping to reverse chronically low membership by government and public-sector lawyers (who, generally speaking, receive lower compensation than their private-sector counterparts and do not have an employer that pays their bar dues), in May the board approved a reduced level of dues for such lawyers.

Because geographic diversity is another area where KCBA can do better, we met this year with leading attorneys at Microsoft and with focus groups composed of lawyers from the Eastside to learn how we can improve service to our existing Eastside members and attract more Eastside lawyers as members. Our Membership Committee is working with the ideas generated at these meetings.

Most KCBA programs tend to be court/litigation-oriented. Although we long have tried to develop an active section that addresses issues important to transactional lawyers, it wasn't until this year that these efforts bore fruit. Special thanks to Madhu Singh, Shashi Vijay and Maggie Smith for their leadership in getting our new Business Law Section off the ground.

Cutting across our membership is the need for quality continuing legal education programs. We must be doing something right because, as of this writing in early May, attendance at all but two of this year's CLE programs exceeded budgeted expectations - and of those two, one missed budget by only one person. Congratulations on these outstanding results to the CLE Committee and its chair (and incoming trustee) Mary Ann Vance and to CLE Senior Manager Denise Medlock, and many thanks to all who chaired and presented at our programs.

Promoting a Just, Collegial and Accessible Legal System and Profession

About 70 high school students from minority and economically disadvantaged backgrounds participated in November's Future of the Law Institute. They received instruction from judges and attorneys concerning the legal system and legal process, participated in a mock trial, were paired with a judge or attorney in a year-long mentoring relationship and, most important, became eligible for KCBA scholarships if they attend college, and additional scholarships if they advance to law school.

January's MLK Luncheon, at which we honored the memory and teachings of Dr. King, was a roaring success. With the attraction of civil rights icon Andrew Young as keynote speaker, we smashed our old attendance record and raised $15,000 for minority student scholarships.

In February, the Board of Trustees placed KCBA on record as the first county bar in the state to oppose the referendum to reduce WSBA's licensing fee from $450 to $325. Now that the referendum has passed, we have offered to WSBA our assistance to meet certain needs that WSBA no longer can address.

Later in February, as the state budgeting process was in full bore, Executive Director Andy Prazuch and I visited Olympia to urge some of our legislators to reject proposed budget cuts to civil legal aid programs.

KCBA sponsored its semi-annual swearing-in ceremonies for newly admitted attorneys in November and May. The new admittees took what must be the world's longest oath of attorney and received words of inspiration and encouragement from a variety of speakers concerning the importance of pro bono and the value of KCBA membership.

Working with the Judiciary to Achieve Excellence in the Administration of Justice

As in 2010, we joined forces with the Superior Court and elected officials in an effort to replace the dilapidated Youth Services Center (Juvenile Court). I addressed the dire need for a new facility in my February column, and the Board of Trustees in March backed a proposal by County Executive Dow Constantine to ask the public to approve a small property-tax increase to pay for a new Children and Family Justice Center.

Since then, the King County Council unanimously voted to send this proposal to the August ballot. Now we need you to be leaders on this issue by supporting this ballot measure and by using your skills of persuasion to convince your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and anyone else you know to do the same.

Our Judiciary and Litigation Committee initiated a proposal, supported by the Superior Court, to amend Washington's court rules to permit electronic service of court papers in counties where local rules allow or require electronic filing. The KCBA board approved this proposal at its March meeting. If the Supreme Court adopts the proposal, service of papers in King County Superior Court will be similar to the practice in federal court, where service is deemed to occur simply by filing the documents with the court.

One of our biggest contributions to enhancing the administration of justice is the work of our Judicial Screening Committee. Committee members wade through tons of written and oral information to rate every judicial candidate whose name will appear on ballots in King County, from municipal courts to the Washington Supreme Court.

These ratings help voters make informed decisions as to which candidates will most enhance the quality of the bench. Before this election season is over, the committee will have evaluated dozens of judicial candidates.

We also conducted our quadrennial survey of Superior Court judges, releasing the results in April. Survey respondents assessed the strengths and weaknesses of judges before whom they appeared during the past two years. Voters can use the survey results, along with the Judicial Screening Committee's ratings, in deciding whether an incumbent judge merits reelection.

This year we resurrected the Judicial Conferencing Committee after an eight-year hiatus. Like their Judicial Screening counterparts, members of this committee review scads of written information and interview numerous practitioners to assess each participating judge's strengths and weaknesses. But rather than publicize its findings, this committee gives confidential feedback to judges to help them improve their performance. We conferred with 10 judges this year and look forward to providing this service to another 10 in the coming year.

At our annual Bench-Bar Conference in November, we spent an enjoyable and informative day with a huge contingent of judges, including Chief Justice Barbara Madsen and former Chief Justice Gerry Alexander. We received many insights from judges who served on panels, and appreciated the support and input from many of the other judges in attendance.

Striving to Benefit the Community Through KCBA's Efforts and Those of Its Foundation

One thing that sets KCBA apart from just about every other local bar in this country is our commitment to delivering pro bono legal services. For example, during 2011 approximately 1,300 volunteers provided nearly 42,000 hours of legal assistance, valued at more than $7.4 million, to over 10,600 of King County's neediest residents. Way to go!

The King County Bar Foundation (KCBF) contributed $125,000, divided evenly between the University of Washington and Seattle University law schools, to fund scholarships for outstanding minority students who otherwise might not be able to attend law school.

We could not support pro bono and diversity as we do were it not for those who help foot the bill. Although not the only source of funding, we rely heavily on our Foundation's donors to pay for our pro bono and diversity activities. Before the current fiscal year is up, KCBF and its trustees will have raised nearly $1.1 million for these purposes.

This includes more than $235,000 netted at March's Breakfast With Champions - our biggest single-day fundraiser ever. The Breakfast was a stirring event that included presentations by one of our volunteer attorneys, who spoke of the impact of KCBA's pro bono assistance on one of his clients, and by a recent University of Washington law graduate, who discussed how important his KCBF minority student scholarship was to his ability to become a lawyer.

While our primary focus is King County, we're not insular. Our joint work with LawFund on the Campaign for Equal Justice raised more than $537,000 from 122 law firms in King County to support civil legal aid programs throughout the state.

Finally, we can't ignore the contributions of our Young Lawyers Division. YLD raised funds for pro bono at its Bowling for Justice (October) and Fun Run and Walk (April) events, established and began operating a legal clinic at the King County Law Library, honored lawyers who mentor others, and organized community service projects that, among others, saw lawyers feed the poor and homeless at Union Gospel Mission and work to restore the Duwamish Green Belt.

Offering Opportunities for Public Service and Input into Matters of Public Policy

As described above, KCBA this year supported the Marriage Equality Act, the proposed Children and Family Justice Center, and the ABA initiative on testing of students with disabilities, sought legislative support to maintain state funding for civil legal aid, and opposed the referendum to roll back WSBA licensing fees. That was not all.

In response to perceptions that KCBA was no longer as "out front" on public policy issues as it once had been, we launched a new Public Policy Committee. The committee considered a variety of law-related issues before selecting three for intense study and a possible recommendation to the Board of Trustees for action by KCBA. The initial issues that the committee will study are potential reform of Washington's initiative and referendum system, new ideas for responding to the court funding crisis, and potential reform or abolition of the death penalty.

The Board of Trustees in November adopted a resolution to eliminate imposition on minors of a life sentence without possibility of release or parole. The resolution (if adopted by the Legislature) would not preclude imposition of a life sentence, nor would it mandate that minors sentenced to life imprisonment receive early release, but it would require that they be considered for release or parole after serving a minimum number of years.

Consistent with the longtime work of our Drug Policy Project and positions taken by our Board of Trustees over many years, KCBA endorsed State Initiative 502, which aims to decriminalize the possession and personal use of marijuana and regulate and tax its sale.

Coda

I am pleased with KCBA's efforts over the last year to build on the past and to reach out in new ways to support our members and our community. I am confident that, once again, KCBA and its members have sent forth some of those "tiny ripples of hope" of which Sen. Robert Kennedy spoke nearly a half-century ago.

 

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