Letter from the President

by Bruce Ericson


Bruce Ericson
ABTL – Northern California Chapter President

Although we have been unable to break bread together since March, the work of our chapter goes on.

Membership: We have slightly above 1,800 members. While this represents a decline of roughly 10% off of last year—which was the highest in many years—this year’s total still compares favorably with most recent years and reflects the loyalty of our members, and member firms. We are thankful for your commitment this year and hope that it will continue next year.

Dinner Programs: We have held four programs this year (two in-person and two virtual) and will have a fifth on December 8.

First up, on February 4, was “Impeachment in the Shadow of War: Constitutional and Policy Implications of Trying a President Amidst National Security Concerns,” a lively discussion of holding an impeachment trial when the possibility of war with Iran was on everyone’s minds. How long ago that seems!

Next up, on March 3 was “Gender Bias in the Courtroom: Overcoming Challenges Facing Women Lawyers,” a panel discussion featuring five women judges and trial lawyers.

Our April 7 program fell victim to COVID-19, but on June 3, our first virtual program, “In-House, Sheltering From the Storm,” featured four in-house counsel discussing how their workloads have grown and their relations with outside law firms have changed during the pandemic.

On September 15, five judges who have presided over trials during the pandemic joined us virtually to discuss “The Medium is the Message? Trying Your Case During The Pandemic.”

While we are not ready to unveil the topic for our final program of the year, I can guarantee that it will be well worth your while. Attendance will remain free for members, and as an added benefit of the virtual format, you need not eat chicken if you would prefer something else. Time will tell when we can return to in-person meetings, but until then we promise to keep informative, lively and topical programs coming your way. I can say this with assurance because I know we already have several great programs in the works for 2021.

Annual Seminar: The bad news is that this year’s seminar had to be cancelled. The good news is that ABTL has secured the Mauna Lani, on the Big Island of Hawaii, for next year’s annual seminar. Vaccines willing, it will be held October 19-24, 2021.

ABTL Reports: This represents our third issue of the year, all upholding our tradition of bringing useful information to trial lawyers in an entertaining fashion. The shift to an all electronic format has spurred us to work toward improvements in the functionality and look of the publication, which we hope to unveil in the very near future.

Our Chapter’s Response to the Pandemic: Shortly after the pandemic closed the courts, our chapter—at the suggestion of Board member Hon. Brian Walsh (Santa Clara Superior Court)—formed a “Bay Area Complex Courts Working Group” to consider measures to help the complex civil case departments reopen. The Working Group (of 20 judges and lawyers) drafted an outline for moving complex cases forward in a social distancing environment. Most Bay Area superior courts,
or their complex case departments, issued rules or standing orders based on the outline.

The Working Group next turned to developing a template for conducting virtual bench trials. The Working Group concluded that absolute uniformity was neither desirable nor practical, as no one order would suit every case, every court or every judge. The finished product reflects input from the judges and lawyers in the Working Group. It is offered as a starting point for discussions among counsel and with courts, to be adapted as appropriate to fit the needs of particular cases. Already it has been used in a number of cases around the Bay Area and several orders reflecting it have been entered. You may find it at https://abtl.org/northerncalifornia/

While I have missed seeing all of you in person, I am grateful for the camaraderie and support I have received all year from the officers, the committee co-chairs and the Board. They, and you, make ABTL what it is—the best bar for people who do what we do, together.

Stay safe. Hope to see you soon.

Bruce Ericson