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Attorneys wanting to become State Bar president don’t often come right out and say that a dues increase isn’t only necessary, but unavoidable for the organization’s survival. Riverside, Calif., attorney James Heiting did just that May 14 in San Francisco on his way to being named the California State Bar’s 81st president. The sociable 56-year-old — who’s prone to giving hugs rather than handshakes — also spoke about diversifying the practice of law and forming partnerships with local bars. At the end of two rounds of voting by the State Bar’s Board of Governors, Heiting came out victorious over Irvine lawyer Joel Miliband and San Francisco lawyer Roderick McLeod. “A lot has been given to me, and I feel like I have a lot to give,” Heiting said during a pre-vote speech. “I feel I can be effective in giving back to people. That’s how I gauge things.” Heiting, who will succeed former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp, starts his one-year term on Sept. 10 in San Diego during the State Bar’s annual meeting. He is a partner at Riverside’s Heiting & Irwin, which specializes in medical malpractice and personal injury cases. Born in Chicago, he got his law degree at Fullerton’s Western State University College of Law in 1975. Heiting has long been involved in helping attorneys with substance abuse problems and served for five years on the board of directors of The Other Bar — an organization of attorneys and judges who offer support to lawyers with dependency problems. He was president from 1991-93. Heiting pulled no punches Saturday, saying that fees — which are going up by $5 for active members this year after holding steady at $390 for six years — will have to go higher in the next few years. He didn’t name an exact figure, but argued that the State Bar has held the line only by digging the organization into a hole through deficit spending. “Do we need a dues increase?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.” Without a raise in fees, he said, State Bar programs and services for both lawyers and the public could suffer. “We’ve been spending down our reserves over the past couple of years,” Heiting told reporters afterward, “and if we continue down that path, we’ll be $13.8 million in the hole by 2008. “My position on dues,” he added, “is that they should be set based on the needs of the members of the State Bar, and not the other way around.” During his speech, Heiting gave a lot of attention to the Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program, a fairly new service aimed at diverting attorneys with substance abuse or mental health problems into treatment and support groups rather than through the discipline system. He noted that 40 percent of the Bar’s discipline cases are now in that program. Calling it “possibly the best member benefit we’ve ever offered,” he vowed to ensure its survival by finding a way to shift funds from the overall discipline system. As the LAP grows larger, he noted, it will cut discipline costs by reducing the number of State Bar investigations and prosecutions that might have occurred otherwise. “It saves lives. It saves careers. It saves families,” he said. Heiting also told board members that he was “committed” to having a “pipeline” program in place by next year that would increase diversity “from the ground up” by trying to get minority students as young as middle school age interested in the law. He said he wants to provide “a chance, a hope” for minority students who otherwise might not believe a legal career is a realistic goal. May 14′s election went off smoothly, with neither loser storming from the room in anger or bursting into tears — as has happened in some years. During their pre-vote speeches, Miliband, a partner in Irvine’s Rus, Miliband & Smith, spoke about strengthening public protections and members’ welfare, while McLeod, a partner in Jones Day’s San Francisco office, argued for fundamental changes that could make the State Bar stronger and more effective. A couple of humorous things happened during the speeches: A cell phone went off during Heiting’s talk, drowning him out for several seconds with a musical ditty, and Miliband’s microphone went dead twice. Two years ago, a large plastic State Bar seal fell off a wall and clattered loudly to the ground just as one candidate was about to begin her speech. She lost.

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