100 Years Later: We've Only Just Begun!

   This Centennial Year has been exciting, and a real blast from the past. It also has provided time for reflection and soul searching.

  We have been able to extend kudos to all the leaders who have come before us, as well as recognize that those who come after us will be the ones who create the future of the OCBA. We recognize the absolute wealth that the OCBA has always had in its volunteers. We see the rich traditions developed over the years that began with the first OCBA members in 1901. They were then, the leaders in social and political change. And, so it is today. The attorneys then, were committed to the community, driven by the desire to make life better for all of the citizens of Orange County. So it is today. We appreciate the fact we inherited this strong foundation from all those who came before.

  In a real sense, the history of our OCBA and the men and women who held the reins at critical junctions, have shaped the legal profession in Orange County. To the extent that decisions have been made, we can only be thankful that the leadership rose to the occasion.

  We can look to the past to see where we need to go. On one hand we don’t need to eliminate ideas that work but, rather, complete them with new ideas. Past solutions serve as guidelines for future dilemmas. But, we must not always subscribe to the theories that: “If it isn’t broken, don't fix it.” What may have been the best approach or policy 20, or 10, years ago may not be for today or tomorrow.

  We must be ever vigilant in looking at trends, and anticipate where we want to be. OCBA programs must be leaner, quicker and more responsive to the members. The OCBA must be ready to assist and serve its membership in ways that help make the practice of law and the business of the practice of law easier. This then makes it easier to represent the client. Because, representing the client is what lawyering is all about.

  Also, the profession must re-invent itself for the 21st century. New technology has spiraled us into a new world that most of us didn’t expect nor were we prepared for. Some of us feel we have become a slave to the productivity enhancing devices that are deemed to be essential tools of the modern legal office. And, we see that what were supposed to be time saving devices have in fact increased the pace at which we are expected to produce.

  “Time” is the greatest commodity for all of us. We measure our lives as attorneys in “nanoseconds.” As we experience the emergence of this Information Age, we must decide what we want technology to do for us.

  We need to look at the structure of how we practice law, how we deliver legal services, and how we will deliver legal services in the future that we may not even know about yet.

  As a profession and as a bar, we can’t be reactionary anymore. We need to be proactive and look at the future of technology and commerce and the marketplace. As a bar, we must be of value to our members. As a profession, we need to get our heads out of the sand and acknowledge that, indeed, the practice of law is changing! We must be willing to change.

Change is Opportunity… Not a Threat

  This year the OCBA began taking a long hard look at its governance structure. The long-term health of the OCBA depends upon how it is governed. We know that a good Board of Directors is a victory, not a gift. The size of the Board is dependant upon what ever is needed to facilitate both active participation and effective decision-making. Intentional Board development must result in strategic diversity. The Board must have in place a self-assessment process that enables it to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of its own performance. Conscious Board design is an alternative to merely “inheriting” each year the Board design of the past.

  While the leadership of the OCBA changes slowly, the real future of the OCBA rests in those who will ultimately create or invent the future. Our Young Lawyers Division is a great example. As I have said before, these “kids” must learn by following us, but, then, we must learn to follow them. The old saying that “our world is not their world” rings true, even within the boundaries of the legal profession. The enthusiasm, the knowledge, the differing perspectives, the candor, and the ability to shape what will, indeed, be the future of the legal profession here in Orange County, belongs to the new lawyers and to those yet to come.

  Just as our first 10 attorneys did not fear for the future of the legal profession, we need not fear. We are fortunate to have great law schools in this County, which are concerned about the quality of legal education, and about diversity and inclusiveness within the law school classes.

  We have a rich heritage of thriving law firms of all sizes in Orange County which have the impetus to want the best for their clients. This includes the hiring of homegrown attorneys. This means promoting diversity in their hiring of young lawyers who better reflect the wonderfully diverse collage that is Orange County. This is not only good for the citizens of Orange County but also good for business.

  Many truths from 100 years ago, remain constant today. Our forefathers were extremely concerned about access to justice… for all people. And so we are today. It is painfully apparent that despite the many strengths of this justice system, it is a failure for many folks today. We know that the poor and the majority of moderate-income persons do not have the resources, or the awareness, or even the desire to use the legal system to resolve their disputes, even if there is clearly a remedy. The system is said to be cumbersome, slow, unfair, expensive, mysterious… even frightening. It seems to only work for those who can afford an attorney.

  We know that the people with the least amount of money have the least ability to control their environment and, are most vulnerable to it and in it.

  Most of us were inspired to go to law school because we thought lawyers were standing up for what is right, not simply because they were making a good living. We need to recommit ourselves to pro-bono work. To all law firms… allow your associates pro-bono hours… the opportunity for these young lawyers to act on their idealism and charity and compassion and passion.

  We must dedicate ourselves to help the less fortunate find answers to their questions and solutions to their problems. We were given the tools and opportunities to become lawyers. It is not only our responsibility, but it is our privilege.

A Fabulous Year to Remember

  Our Centennial Celebration had, oh, so many wonderful moments. The following are only just a few. We held our traditional Law Day Lunch at The Old Courthouse. Our Senior Lawyers Section honored those terrific attorneys who have been practicing law for 50 years or more. OCBA was the “host-bar” to the State Bar Convention in Anaheim. And, the most extraordinary climax to the Centennial was the visit from the California Supreme Court in September. The Court graciously accepted our invitation to hold oral arguments in Orange County, for the very first time, ever. The Court heard four cases, while sitting in Department One of the old Courthouse, the very room where our 10 attorneys met 100 years ago to form the OCBA. Then the Justices attended a festive reception sponsored by the OCBA, at the beautiful home of First American Corporation.

  To thank every member who helped make this year a success is impossible. The depth of the dedication and the volume to hours that went into each Committee, each program and each event is beyond anyone’s true understanding. Our Committees and their Chairs continued to be the backbone of the OCBA and the workhorses, which without, the OCBA could not function. Many of these Committees work tirelessly without applause and appreciation simply because of the very nature of what they are charged to do.

  Again, I wish I could list every chair and every member of every Committee, but, for certain, some would be left out, and that would be extremely unfortunate.

  A special salute to the Board of the OCBA’s charitable giving arm… the OCBA Charitable Fund. These folks gave countless hours and much emotion and energy to raising funds for the various legal charities, capping the year and the Centennial Celebration off with the annual Crystal Casino, this year held at the Bowers Museum. The Fund continues to assist OCBA members in their outreach to those who are the recipients of the great services that the legal charities provide.

Now, a Moment of Personal Privilege

  I thank you all for the opportunity to serve this year as President. It has been an honor to serve the OCBA. In the scheme of things, one year is hardly significant in our 100 years of existence. And, I suspect, 100 years from now, a President will be saying the same about 200 years of OCBA history. Every President tries to accomplish things that will leave the OCBA a better association and will make it a more relevant trade organization. But, the true essence of this OCBA is all about its members.

  I am very fortunate to have had Joel and Dick on either side of me, as Immediate Past-President and as President-Elect. Their counsel, and their knowledge were invaluable and they are very appreciated. I know they realize that. And, Robert and Kim, our other two officers, are a credit and huge asset to the OCBA. Thanks to each of you. The OCBA is in good hands.

  The Directors worked very hard in Task Forces and Committees, and dealt with several important, and some very difficult issues, with a high degree of a sense of responsibility to all the members of the OCBA. I thank them for that.

  Many thanks to the Sections for their support and participation over the year. And, we are grateful to our Affiliate Bars for enriching the OCBA with so many great new members.

  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our past OCBA leaders and members who have carefully laid each stone in the foundation upon which we continue to build. Sadly, we lost several of our most long-standing and valued members this year. But, we also gained many folks who will, in turn, become the “best of the best” in the future.

  And, finally, sitting where I am today, I know that the OCBA would not be the success it is without Donna, and Trudy and their entire staff. The time, the sacrifices and the work from each one of these people, on our behalf, everyday, countless nights and over many weekends are immeasurable. I can tell you, after talking to folks from local bars all over the country, as well as the state, OCBA is the best!

  The best way to predict the future is to invent the future. The vision is here… the means will follow. Here’s to another 100 years!

Happy Birthday, Orange County Bar Association!  

Danni Murphy is a senior attorney with the Orange County Public Defender.