State Bar Furthers Initiatives for Accountability, Transparency and Access

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At a meeting earlier this year, the state bar board of trustees discussed updates on key state bar initiatives. The board received a status update on efforts to reduce disparities in the discipline system and discussed the state bar’s agencywide performance metrics.

“Accountability, transparency, efficiency, and access are the key pillars that support our mission and guide all of our efforts,” said Interim Executive Director Donna Hershkowitz. “They are reflected in our strategic plan, in how we prioritize initiatives and measure agency performance, and in how we report that performance to our oversight bodies and the public.”

Among the many reforms and initiatives for accountability and transparency instituted by the State Bar in recent years, the agency adopted performance metrics in 2019. These metrics set targets with the goal of quantifying the value the agency delivers for its customers and other stakeholders. State Bar staff leadership has reported regularly to the Board on these performance metrics.

At its January 2021 meeting, the Board approved a plan to revise the State Bar’s metrics for 2021. The March 2021 metrics report covers year-end metrics for 2020. Among 52 metrics reported in March, nearly two-thirds met their targets, while 19 metrics fell short of targets. In some instances, this was due to staffing issues and the disruption and delay the pandemic has caused.

Among other actions at the March 19 meeting, the Board:

• Approved an addition to the State Bar’s legislative priorities in support of a proposal to increase funding for the Equal Access Fund. The Assembly Judiciary Committee is proposing a one-time increase of $20 million to the fund to address the need for legal services created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Allocation of Equal Access Fund money is overseen by the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission and directly relevant to the State Bar’s mission of supporting access to legal services for low- and moderate-income Californians.

• Accepted a five-year financial projection as a framework for future financial decision-making. Because licensing fee increases have been rare in the State Bar’s history, the projection does not contemplate any increase in mandatory licensing fees during the five-year period. However, due to inflation, expenses are expected to grow faster than revenues, increasing by approximately 2% per year, resulting in an increase in the General Fund’s deficit of approximately $2 million annually. This recurring pattern of projected deficits indicates that the State Bar has a structural deficit of about $15 million per year.

• Approved implementation plans for improvements to the State Bar website’s Attorney Search and Attorney Profiles. In January 2020, the Board approved changes to the rules detailing what information is required and optional for licensees to report to the State Bar. These rules were consolidated as Rule 2.2, which became effective in December 2020. When the rule was approved, the Board directed staff to return with a more detailed implementation plan for which elements of attorney information on file would be displayed and made searchable on the State Bar website. The Board approved changes that include optional self-reported practice areas and display of professional websites. The changes are expected to be implemented by the end of 2021.