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The Bar Association of San Francisco’s new president is passionate about legal services for children. “We are willing to spend the very least amount of our time and money to keep a kid safe and educated in a home with their family,” said Jeffrey Bleich, 41, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson. “We’ll pay far more to put him through a series of foster homes and dependency services.” To decrease the number of kids using the city’s dependency services, Bleich, who officially takes office Jan. 1, said he wants to strengthen the bar’s existing youth outreach efforts and welfare-to-work programs for poor parents. In addition, he will help implement new programs, working with San Francisco Presiding Judge Donna Hitchens and Judge Katherine Feinstein to train a referral panel to provide judges fast access to attorneys who can address custody, housing or educational problems faced by juvenile offenders. In addition, BASF’s Volunteer Legal Services Program is putting together the Responsible Parenting Project, which is designed to help parents who have lost child custody become part of their child’s life again. The project will also help families set up guardianships. Deputy City Attorney Kamala Harris, who served on BASF’s board of directors, said Bleich’s “vision and plan reinforced what should be everyone’s concern and responsibility for the role of law in improving conditions of children in the community. Jeff has the ability to make the programs take shape.” But no one expects it to be easy. Like most organizations, BASF has laid off staff and seen donations falter in a down economy. “So much of the bar’s revenue comes from gifts, foundations and endowments — and these things are in the tank right now because of the economy,” said Peter Keane, dean of Golden Gate University School of Law. Keane, who was BASF president in the late 1980s, added, “Jeff’s got a lot of challenges in regards to making sure BASF stays a high-quality bar — it’s going to be tough.” Bleich comes to the office with an impressive list of achievements — especially in the crucial area of raising funds from the private sector. In 1999 and 2000, he headed President Bill Clinton’s White House Commission on Youth Violence, which was born in the wake of the Columbine shootings. There, he enlisted corporate sponsors like AOL and Tommy Hilfiger to fund youth programs in Memphis, Tenn. and St. Louis. And they haven’t heard the last of him. “I’ll be reaching out to some former corporate supporters to help San Francisco,” Bleich said. Laurie Simonson, an outgoing member of BASF’s board of directors, said Bleich is “a shining star in the Bay Area and national legal community. He is a good leader, and with the economy and everything, we need someone who is devoted to the bar.” Bleich also plans to carry on work BASF has already started, like supporting a proposal to ban judges from belonging to groups that discriminate against gays and lesbians, such as the Boy Scouts of America. Outgoing BASF President Angela Bradstreet said her replacement is “wise beyond his years. And he can laugh at himself, which is a great quality in a leader.” Bleich appointed Bradstreet as chair of the bar’s “No Glass Ceiling” committee, which will focus on helping advance more women to positions of leadership in the legal profession. He will also be working with the mayor’s office on building the new San Francisco Law Library. “It’s not a sexy-sounding topic, but it’s about putting resources into the hands of people unfamiliar to the law,” Bleich said. Bleich said he sees BASF — which will host the 2003 convention for the American Bar Association — as a model for other bar associations in the state and country. “Many local and state bars view their role as getting cell phone discounts and group malpractice discounts,” he said. “They have small budgets and even smaller visions.”

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