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LACBA
 
 

This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Los Angeles Lawyer magazine.

 
Ronald F. Brot
President, LACBA

My term as president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association ends on June 30, and I am nearly incredulous that my year of stewardship of our beloved bar association will soon be complete. Quite a term it has been. I began with a set of goals formed over years of service in the practice sections, on the board of trustees, and then as president-elect. Among these goals were achieving financial stability, ending the membership decline, and developing a strategic plan for the future. I was also determined to demonstrate that LACBA remains a vital and relevant organization meeting the needs of the lawyers of Los Angeles County, regardless of the nature of practice, size of practice, or location of practice.

As the year began, I was thrilled by the palpable new energy and enthusiasm evident at the installation dinner last June, which set an attendance record. Two task forces were formed and charged with missions to insure our future: the President’s Task Force on Financial Stability and Sustainability and the President’s Task Force on Membership. I also appointed a Strategic Planning Committee charged with developing a strategic plan to help guide LACBA to a thriving future.

We also faced the dilemma of support­ing the exemplary work of our pro bono organization, Counsel for Justice (CFJ), while recognizing the need for financial self-sufficiency. I visited each of the projects before my term began. I witnessed firsthand the deep commitment of the directors of our pro bono legal services projects: the Dom­estic Violence Legal Services Project, Vet­erans Legal Services Project, Immigration Legal Assistance Project, and AIDS Legal Services Project. The great benefits these pro bono projects provide to our community must be sustained and perhaps even enlarged. This year, our members and law firms throughout the county joined in supporting the projects.

Practice Groups

Our practice sections and committees began the year with a robust slate of planned activities and programs. The newly formed Privacy and Cybersecur­ity Section promptly launched a year of activities and events. Soon after, LACBA was one of the first major bar associations in the country to welcome a Cannabis Section. From the onset, the LACBA Cannabis Section has been active and prominent, gathering rave reviews throughout our community and beyond. Likewise, the revitalized LACBA Small Firm and Sole Practitioner Section continued its remarkable resurgence with strong activities and events fueled by seemingly endless energy and commitment.

We also began a Lawyer Well-Being Project to assist lawyers facing alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or mental and emotional issues. At the same time, in response to the State Bar Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS), LACBA formed a committee that polled our membership and voiced a strong response, giving the individual members of LACBA the strength of a united presence from one of the largest local bar associations in the country. Our Section Leaders Retreat helped launch what I believe can become one of our most significant membership benefits, our Structured Networking Project which will operate networking hubs throughout Los Angeles County at no or low cost to LACBA members.

COVID-19 Pandemic

LACBA committees were in full swing. LACBA sections hummed with activity. The task forces and the Strategic Planning Committee were fully engaged, ultimately reporting with substantial recommendations. We were exhilarated by the level of energy and activity. The future seemed more promising than it had in years. Then, COVID-19 arrived. 

As the pandemic struck, we re­stricted public access to our headquarters to protect our staff, then restricted member access, and, then, transferred the entire LACBA staff to remote working status. Seamlessly, our extraordinary staff relocated to their homes and were up and running, ready to serve. But who would they serve? And how? Our members largely left their offices and began working from home. The flow of justice in our court system was reduced to a trickle as our courtrooms were available only to the most urgent matters. What would LACBA do?

True to its long history of serving the lawyers of Los Angeles County, LACBA responded to the pandemic in numerous ways. We began publishing the LACBA Weekly Response Newsletter designed to provide updates from our courts and legal organizations. We reached out to our members to assure them LACBA would be here for them during this critical time. I invited our members to reach out to LACBA, and to me directly, if there was anything we could do to help.

Partnership with the Court

The Los Angeles Superior Court has long recognized LACBA as a vital justice partner. Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile selected LACBA to communicate the voice of the court to the lawyers of Los Angeles County and to the many affiliate, affinity, and other bar associations throughout the county. LACBA was quickly recognized as the place to learn the latest announcements from the LASC presiding judge, the California Judicial Council, and the Chief Justice of the Calif­ornia Supreme Court.

LACBA was also asked for input on how the court would operate with minimal personnel and how the court should resume operations when restrictions are lifted. The presiding judge appointed the LACBA president to the LASC Working Group, and the supervising judge of the Civil Division ap­pointed the LACBA president to the court’s COVID-19 Advisory Council. LACBA is honored and privileged to participate in these groups on behalf of our members.

As our community was largely sent home and gatherings were unsafe, LACBA activities and events came to an abrupt halt. Section executive committee and other committee meetings could not take place. Larger programs and events were postponed indefinitely or outright cancelled. Among the casualties was LACBA’s first Outstanding Service Awards Luncheon where we intended to present well-deserved honors to those individuals and entities who provided exemplary service to LACBA and to our pro bono projects during the past year. Also to be recognized were law firms throughout the county who have supported LACBA by enrolling all of their Los Angeles lawyers as LACBA members.

Zoom Technology

LACBA responded to the limitations imposed by local and state government with creativity and determination. Staff was promptly instructed on Zoom videoconferencing technology acquired by LACBA, which hosted the first public appearance by Presiding Judge Brazile, Assistant Presiding Judge Eric C. Taylor, and LASC Executive Officer Sherri R. Carter on the state of the court during COVID-19. More than 1,200 lawyers attended the program on the Zoom platform. Our board of trustees and executive committee meetings also moved to Zoom. Not a single meeting was missed as we learned that we could utilize technology to conduct our regular business. It was not business as usual, but we managed to conduct all of our usual business.

The sections soon followed. Executive committees began to meet using the technology of their choice. Most use Zoom. Some choose Webex. Programming using Zoom technology has expanded and is now offered using online technology, with CLE credit available. While our sections have the autonomy to set pricing, as president I have encouraged LACBA sections to provide free programming to our members while we remain in the throes of the pandemic. Particularly notable is the Structured Networking Program’s remote programming. The networking hub concept was intended to be a face-to-face experience, but the program quickly switched to an online format. The Virtual Networking Program is generating rave reviews.

The operation of our legal services projects was significantly hampered by the distancing limitations required in response to COVID-19, but each of the CFJ projects found a way to continue. The needs of our community did not stop with the onset of the coronavirus and neither has the response from CFJ.

Membership Response

One need only look at the way LACBA responded to the pandemic to appreciate the strength of LACBA’s greatest resource—our members. The dedicated response by LACBA members has been resilient, resurgent, and remarkable. I have every confidence that LACBA’s future will be well supported by our members, who will i­n­creasingly come from all parts of our county. As we have assumed a stronger presence using technology, I expect that more and more members from the heartland of Los Angeles County will be attracted to the substantial benefits of membership without traveling to attend in person when it may not be convenient to do so.

Our programming has become more accessible as a result of our new web-based experiences. I anticipate a more robust slate of online programming by LACBA and its sections, including simulcasts where some members may attend in person while others attend online. Our new networking hubs will be in full operation in the coming year, with some operating in person and others meeting virtually. We expect to have 10 to 20 hubs  in the next 12 months.

As LACBA continues to demonstrate its leadership and service to the lawyers of Los Angeles County, the courts, and our community, I also anticipate that an increasing number of firms will support LACBA membership and involvement in our activities and legal services projects.

Looking Ahead

LACBA embarks upon the new year with a stable membership base, a realistically balanced budget, and a long-term strategic plan. Our sections and committees are thriving. Our pro bono legal services projects are serving the needs of our community. LACBA has regained its position of prominence within the legal community and the community at large.

 For more than 140 years, LACBA has stood as an organization of lawyers, by lawyers, and for lawyers. Our most important asset has always been, and always will be, our members who find in LACBA the place where we make important personal relationships, professional relationships, and business relationships. I am pleased to report LACBA’s membership has again become passionate and committed for all that LACBA has been and yet will be.

Passing the gavel to our new president Tamila Jensen will be bittersweet for me. I have truly loved every minute of my presidency. It is comforting to know that LACBA will be led by such an experienced and capable successor. Yet, I will miss the challenges of each new day, and the satisfaction of working with our staff, officers, and trustees to find solutions to each situation as it arises. I am grateful for the opportunity to add my legacy to the contributions of our extraordinary leaders of the past. It has been an experience I will always cherish. In the end, we were interrupted by an unexpected storm of unprecedented magnitude. I am grateful to have faced the storm and held the wheel as we maintained our course and charted a path for a successful future. We will be the better for it.

As I am so fond of saying, it is a great time to be a member of LACBA, and it was a great time to be your president.