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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Lawyers reflect on 50 years of practice

More than 800 attorneys marked their half-century of membership in the State Bar of California last year. The list included two especially notable names – former Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Gov. Jerry Brown. The California Bar Journal sought the observations of these bar veterans on significant changes in the profession over the last 50 years. Here’s a selection of the more than 50 responses we received. Thanks to all who took the time to share their thoughts.

Ronald George

“A major change in the practice of law that has taken place in California during the past 50 years is the widespread recognition of a professional obligation to encourage, support, and engage in pro bono efforts on behalf of the increasing number of Californians who are unable to afford legal representation in civil matters that may affect their most vital interests. In the 1960s, when I entered the legal profession, the managing partners of most law firms would at best grudgingly tolerate such efforts undertaken by newly hired associates. But today, law firm culture has evolved to where pro bono activity is widely embraced with enthusiasm by the majority of law firms and engaged in by their most senior partners.” – retired Chief Justice Ronald M. George

Jerry Brown

"More laws and more damn lawsuits." – Gov. Jerry Brown



“I believe the most significant change is the attempt to make more free/affordable services available to those in need. This is particularly true for the elderly who feel lost in this rapidly changing, complicated world. I have experienced elderly clients who now sleep at night just because they know they have someone to protect them.” – Hugh Swanson, Newport Beach

“One word – specialization.” – Warren Conklin, Atascadero

“Lots of changes over 50 years. But, I don't think that the fundamental function of an attorney changed that much. We still give advice and recommendations based on the interpretation of cases and statutes.” – Everett F. Meiners, Sherman Oaks


“Computers, computers, computers.” – Rod Chase, Los Angeles


“When I graduated from law school in 1962, the height of technology was an IBM Selectric typewriter. And we did our research in the law library by hitting the books with a yellow pad and a pencil.” – Bill Hochman

“Technology has made the practice of law more fun for the lawyer and has allowed us to impart knowledge and guidance more easily to the client. One of the downsides to technology is that there is a loss of privacy. Also, the client expects instant gratification which has created greater stress. It makes all parties to the judicial process more agitated and allows no time for the healing process to begin.” – Stephen Solomon, Playa Del Rey

“There have been a myriad of changes, but the advent of the Internet for research and email has been the most impactful. To start out with onion skin, carbon paper, dictating machines, and “shephardizing” [consulting a now-antiquated series of case law books] and see that be transformed to scanning documents, email filing, voicemails and Internet research as the norm has been an adventure.” Robert E. Bosso

“I see the biggest innovation and change in the practice of law has been the emergence of instant transmission of correspondence and documents and the resulting blinding pace of work. I don't want to say our answers and advice are not as good today in five minutes as they were yesterday in five days, but I appreciate clients who understand when I tell them their situation needs some thought. Perhaps they even appreciate that whatever is troubling them is important enough to me for me to take my time.” –  Gary S. Vandeweghe, San Jose


“More women attorneys, thank God!” – Thomas E. Ciotti, Palo Alto


“Pretty clearly the addition and contribution of women to the profession.” – Dan Emmett, Santa Monica

“The perspective and sense of humanity, as well as the inclination toward collaborative rather than adversarial resolutions, that women bring to the profession is – to my mind – one of the most hopeful signs that our laws, the administration of justice, and our society will continue to evolve and improve.” – Jim Hoenig, Honolulu

“The most significant change I have observed in the legal profession over the last 50 years has been the increased number of women in the legal profession and with this increase the advancement of the status of women in the law and in society.” – Betty Evans Boone, San Diego

“The diversity of the bench and bar has become so more enriched with the inclusion of those who were restricted or limited in the participation of legal profession back in 1965. I am sure that those that have come into the profession over the years and those entering today can hardly imagine the legal world as it existed back then, but it did and it was not for the better. The old ‘white boys club’ took a long time to die but it did eventually happen, which reflects the gains made in civil rights in all aspects of our society that have had a positive effect on gender, ethnicity and race.” – Melvin Douglas Sacks, Los Angeles

“The membership of the bar has become far more diverse over the last half-century and promises to continue on that positive track.” – Dick Fishman, Los Angeles


“On the dark side, we have become more of a business and less of a profession, with less camaraderie and fewer long term client relationships. “On the bright side, we are much more diverse and we continue, when we are our best selves, to lead the charge for equality, fairness and the rule of law in a world where those values are challenged daily. – John F. Olson, Washington, D.C.

“I am sad to say the obvious answer is that ethics in the litigation process has deteriorated to the point some of my most capable and successful friends have either stopped practicing or gone on to something else since. I have personally observed actions which went so far as being clearly dishonest.” – Brian Corbell, Santa Monica

“The day that I was sworn in, the San Francisco bar association sponsored us for admission to the 9th Circuit. The presiding judge asked us to join the roll of those willing to represent indigents under the Criminal Justice Act. Virtually all of us lined up outside the clerk's office to sign, so eager were we to serve others. My young colleagues excepted, I don't see the same devotion to clients that we had at their age. That said, lawyers seem to be smarter and better educated than we were.” – Joel Bellows, Chicago

“When I began practicing law in 1965 in Santa Clara County, life was much simpler and so was the practice of law. Now everything has become complicated, including law practice, which is also extremely contentious. Today’s lawyers are watching too much TV. It is now win at any cost and make as much money as you can.” Frank Nicoletti, San Jose

“In my experience, there has been a notable shift from the ease of settling cases to a more rigid and doctrinaire trend to litigate them. Mitigation has been an enormous benefit in the resolution and disposition of cases, and should be much more used than it is. This shift may simply reflect the increase of greed at all levels of our culture, but it is truly sad in a profession such as ours.” – Thomas M. Burton, Salt Lake City


“The one thing I’ve noticed first is the disappearance of the small one-man and one-woman firms. There used to a lot of them. Now there are very few.” – Bob Nairin, Calabasas


“Advertising seems to me be the most significant change. In my Luddite opinion, it has greatly damaged the professional image of law.” – David Stanton, Bakersfield

“The single biggest change is the introduction of the billable hour which has changed a profession which was also a business into a business which is also a profession.” – Joe Genshlea, Sacramento

“Many clients now think legal services are too expensive, and they often seek other ways to get the work done. To me, the practice is far less exciting and enjoyable than it used to be. Of course, every generation probably says the same.” – Robert A. Buchman, Walnut Creek

“The bottom line – it’s been an amazing 50 years, and the practice today is more interesting and challenging than it’s ever been.” – Paul Grossman, Los Angeles