California Young Lawyers Get by with a Little Help from Their Friends
By Timothy R. White and Matthew Butler
Timothy R. White is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices in Austin, Texas. Matthew Butler is the ABA YLD Committee Director and a founding partner in the San Diego firm of Nicholas & Butler LLP.
One would think that the nation’s largest young lawyer bar association would be immune to dissolution. One would think that this forty-three year old organization, which enlists countless new members every year at no cost, would be beyond a threatened existence. Right? Not so fast.
As members of the California Young Lawyers Association (CYLA) started planning their 2006–2007 bar year, they heard that California’s State Bar Board of Governors intended to focus its January 2007 planning retreat on the state’s young lawyers. Many, particularly members of CYLA, weren’t sure what that meant exactly. Perhaps the retreat was intended to focus on how to attract more young lawyers to actively participate in CYLA, or to show appreciation for CYLA’s hard work and persistence. Not exactly.
The year kicked off with a well-attended reception in the young lawyer hospitality suite for young lawyers, bar leaders, and State Bar staff. The bar leadership solicited ideas about how to revitalize young lawyer involvement. Many young lawyers expressed a desire to see CYLA revitalized to the level of success it shared before the bar shut it down in 1997, when the governor of California vetoed the bar’s fee bill. The 1997 veto meant that cuts needed to be made and belts needed to be tightened. As a result, CYLA lost most, if not all, of its funding and has not been fully funded since 1997.
In preparation for the 2006–2007 bar year, the State Bar staff requested that CYLA conduct a survey of its membership to determine what young lawyers wanted from the State Bar. The State Bar staff also hired a consultant named Dede Perlov from Consensus Management Group to conduct a study and interpret results of a previous survey of the state’s young lawyers. At the January 2007 planning session, Perlov moderated some brainstorming sessions that focused on bridging generational differences and determining what young lawyers want and need to succeed. Graciously, the Board of Governors invited leaders of CYLA’s board of directors to attend. Many of CYLA’s leaders contributed to the discussion—analyzing the needs of young lawyers as well as offering ideas for meeting those needs. The young lawyers left the session optimistic that the year would result in more support for the young lawyers from the State Bar, both from a leadership perspective and a funding perspective.
At the conclusion of the January planning session, the State Bar staff asked Dede Perlov to devise a report based on her research. Simultaneously, the State Bar staff submitted a proposal to the Board of Governors to hold a Spring Summit with the young lawyers to address these issues, with invitees to be determined later. CYLA proposed a friendly amendment that the entire CYLA board be invited to the summit. The Board of Governors passed the proposal.
A short time before the Spring Summit, Perlov released a report analyzing generational differences and recommending several ways to get young lawyers committed to the State Bar. One recommendation was to disband CYLA, place young lawyers directly into sections of the State Bar, and create a Council of Young Lawyers to assist in managing the appointment of young lawyers into the sections. The California Young Lawyers were surprised at the recommendation and realized that the Spring Summit in June 2007 would be quite possibly one of CYLA’s last opportunities to prove its value to the big bar.
CYLA summoned the help of other young lawyer leaders from across the nation. And, young lawyer leaders were quick to offer their assistance—joining the CYLA Board of Governors and numerous California young lawyers at the Summit were ABA YLD Affiliate Assistance Director Ryan Reed; Texas Young Lawyers Association President Karin Crump; ABA YLD Staff Director Jill Eckert McCall; members of the Council of State Bar Sections; Executive Directors of several state bars, including Arizona and Oregon; young lawyers from specialty bars; young lawyers from other states such as Kentucky; Executive Staff of the State Bar of California; and several members of the State Bar Board of Governors. The young lawyers presented a united voice in favor of maintaining a state association committed to young lawyers and providing more support to the organization.
Thanks For Your Support
The CYLA would like to thank all those who supported it through this process, in particular Maralee MacDonald and Matthew Butler for innumerable contributions to CYLA; Danny Van Horn from Tennessee, who wrote a letter in support of CYLA; Ryan Reed, who was undeterred in expressing his opinions at the Spring Summit; Karin Crump, who portrayed the impact on a young lawyers division of adequate support from the State Bar; Jill McCall, who bravely expressed her opinions on young lawyer divisions from a staff perspective; and, of course, Justin Goldstein, for putting this issue at the forefront of the ABA YLD 2007–2008 bar year. Finally, thanks to the many members of the ABA YLD Council who supported CYLA during this time and provided invaluable research on nationwide structures for young lawyers.
All who attended on behalf of CYLA contributed sound ideas on how to revitalize the young lawyers. Karin Crump from Texas presented an insightful presentation on the structure of the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA). She detailed the staff support and financial assistance provided by the Texas Bar and emphasized the success of TYLA’s many projects, including the “Ten Minute Mentoring Project,” all of which would have been impossible without the support of the Texas Bar. The voices and ideas of supporters like Crump impressed the State Bar Board of Governors.
At the conclusion of the Spring Summit, the State Bar staff asked Perlov to compile a final report and recommendation, incorporating the ideas of the Spring Summit and the planning session. The final report was released in December 2007 and reviewed by the State Bar Board of Governors at its January 2008 Planning Retreat. Perlov’s final report varied significantly from the one released before the Summit and included a recommendation to retain a state young lawyers group in California, with minor structural changes such as creating a president-elect. Most important, Perlov also recommended that a full-time staff person be dedicated to the organization and that the funding be increased from its current level (approximately $45,000 excluding staff salaries) to $150,000 (presumably excluding staff salaries). In a proposal to the State Bar Board of Governors set to be considered in May 2008, CYLA will be charged with amending its bylaws to incorporate some of Perlov’s recommendations. CYLA will also formally request increased funding and staff support.
Regardless of the outcome, CYLA knows that its existence may have been saved by the support of the ABA YLD and its affiliates. What once was a bleak outlook for the CYLA is now more likely a recommendation for an improved structure and additional financial support from the California State Bar.
If other affiliate leaders are faced with similar situations, tremendous support is available to you through the ABA YLD. We hope that CYLA’s story will have a happy ending. The lesson we can all learn, however, is that no young lawyer association is immune to hard times—not even the largest association of young lawyers in the nation. CYLA is pleased with the State Bar’s commitment to maintaining a young lawyers division and looks forward to continuing its contributions as an affiliate of the ABA YLD.