July 1998

Profile - Planning for the Future Don Bivens Becomes State Bar President

by Patty Gannon

Don Bivens is a partner in the Phoenix firm of Meyer Hendricks Bivens & Moyes, P.A. He specializes in complex litigation.

Education B.A., Yale University; J.D., University of Texas

Legal and Professional Organizations State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors since 1993; President, Maricopa County Bar Association, 1991-92, and Board of Directors 1985-93; Founding President, Thurgood Marshall Inn of Court, 1992-93; American Bar Association (ABA) Litigation Section Council, 1995-98; ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems, 1997-; ABA Coordinating Commission on Legal Technology, 1990-97; Chair, Computer Litigation Committee, ABA Litigation Section, 1989-92; Arizona State University College of Law, Law Society Board of Directors, 1992-96; Community Legal Services, Board of Directors 1990-91; Chair, City of Phoenix Public Defender Review Committee, 1984-89; Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, Board of Directors, 1984-86.

Civic Organizations Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, Board of Directors; Phoenix Symphony, Board of Directors; Scottsdale Arts Center Association, Board of Directors; Valley Leadership; President, Men's League of Scottsdale Center for the Arts; Co-chair, Scottsdale Culinary Festival.

Personal Don Bivens is married to Patricia Lee Refo, a litigation partner with Snell and Wilmer, and has two teenage daughters.

Arizona Attorney: Last year, the State Bar of Arizona hired Ed Lazarus to conduct focus groups with bar members and members of the public. The information obtained from this research was the nucleus of the Lazarus Report. The Board of Governors used this information to compile the Strategic Plan 2000, a planning document for the association. What are your goals in this area for your year as President?

Don Bivens: The Lazarus Report is the seed crystal for the State Bar's long-term strategic plan, particularly in the area of communications. It tells us that, if we are going to make serious improvements in our communications with our members and with the public, we need to do a host of things. The Lazarus Report identifies numerous ways for us to improve. Now we must compare that list with our available resources and see what we can accomplish.

My vision is to act on what the Lazarus Report tells us our members want from the State Bar, and what the public wants from the legal profession. I am going to be as vigorous as I can be, as President, both in communicating with our members, and communicating on behalf of the State Bar with the public, to enhance the public's perception of lawyers, judges and our system of justice.

I am going to ask the other members of the Board of Governors to do the same. As outlined in the Bar's Strategic Plan 2000, the Bar needs to communicate with civic and government leaders about the important roles that lawyers play in our communities. We also need to offer government and community leaders the resources of the Bar in dealing with legal issues.

That is my game plan for communications this year. Of course, our efforts won't be completed in one year - this will be the first year in a continuing effort by the State Bar to act on what our members, and the public, have told us they expect from the State Bar.

Arizona Attorney: Another goal set for the State Bar of Arizona by the Arizona Supreme Court is to help the profession, as a whole, by requiring every lawyer to participate in the Professionalism Course. The public may see this as a positive step, but will the lawyers be in agreement?

Don Bivens: As it is envisioned, the Professionalism Course will be a very high-quality, non-talking-head approach to teaching important topics in professionalism. If we can deliver a top-notch program, I believe lawyers will appreciate the final product, whether or not the program is mandated by the Supreme Court. If the Bar delivers a quality professionalism course, I believe that lawyers who may be skeptical about anything mandatory will come to view the course as worthwhile.

Arizona Attorney: Can you mandate professional behavior through a course?

Don Bivens: I can't even mandate behavior to my teenagers, but I would like to think I can inspire, motivate and lead by example, and I believe the same principles apply elsewhere in life. Many lawyers were motivated to join the profession because being a lawyer carries with it an element of public trust that demands more of lawyers, from a moral and personal-service perspective, than is required of other citizens. I think it is entirely appropriate that we, as a self-regulated profession, nurture and motivate lawyers to give their best. Lawyers who are more junior in the profession can learn from more seasoned peers, and the reverse is also true. I think we can make a difference with a professionalism course designed to motivate and to remind us why we became lawyers in the first place. Both lawyers, and the public we serve, will benefit.

Arizona Attorney:You have a laptop on your desk, and numerous plaques on the wall from various American Bar Association technology committees, does that mean you're technically astute?

Don Bivens: Among lawyers, I can pass for someone who is technically astute. Among true techies, I am just a lawyer. I have been involved in technology-related issues as they affect the practice of law. I have been very involved with the creation of the Web site at the American Bar Association. And now, I am excited about improving the Web site at the State Bar.

Arizona Attorney: Can you give us a "sales pitch" on why members should use the State Bar's Web site?

Don Bivens: I think the Web site is the most exciting communications leap forward that the State Bar is going to take in the foreseeable future. In a very short time lawyers who do not utilize the Bar's Web site may find themselves behind the curve in receiving low-cost services from the Bar, in delivering services to their clients, and in maximizing their own free time.

The State Bar of Arizona will become the first state bar association to provide free e-mail addresses to its members. The e-mail address will make it easy for the courts, lawyers and members of the public to contact individual attorneys. I anticipate that eventually all court communications, such as minute orders, will be transmitted by e-mail. Bar members will be able to check their e-mail and get their minute orders faster, better and cheaper.

E-mail is just one example of the improved electronic communications that will take place on the State Bar's Web site. Relatively soon, members can look to the Web site to register for CLE courses. They will be able to update their own address and phone information in their membership records, so the Bar does not have to spend dues dollars hiring people to enter the thousands of changes we receive each year as lawyers move their offices. Members will be able to purchase State Bar publications on the Web site, and join in discussion groups on topics of interest to them. Ultimately, the State Bar's Web site will be the largest meeting place for lawyers in Arizona.

I have seen, through my role on the ABA's Standing Committee on Technology and Information Services, how successful the ABA's Web site has become. I believe the lawyers of Arizona will be well-served, and well-pleased, by the improved services available through the State Bar's Web site.

Arizona Attorney: In previous years, the relationship between the legislature and legal community has been tenuous. Do you have any predictions for this coming year?

Don Bivens: Last year, with the new Governor and with our efforts to improve communications with legislators (which I, personally, spent some significant time on), we had one of the most peaceful and cooperative years that I can remember between the Bar, the Legislature and the Executive Branch. I am very pleased with the current climate of cooperation. We have worked very hard at the Bar, on behalf of our members, to improve those relationships.

I anticipate that we will give a presentation this year to all of the legislators regarding the role of lawyers in this state. In my discussions with legislative leaders, it became apparent that they would appreciate knowing more broadly what the State Bar does, and what it does not do. I have asked Rae Bivin, our Government Relations Coordinator, to propose a strategic plan for the Bar's legislative relations for 1998-99. The goals of that plan will be to increase and to improve communications between Board members and legislators, and between section leaders and corresponding legislative committees.

The Bar should serve as a resource to the Legislature when legislators need nonpartisan, competent advice on legal issues affecting their job as lawmakers. This year, I personally fielded more than a dozen calls from legislators, on behalf of the Bar, regarding how certain bills might impact the law and the public. The Bar should be perceived as a resource for those types of questions from legislators. I think we are making significant progress in this area.

Arizona Attorney: The State Bar of Arizona has gone almost eight years without a dues increase. The State Bar has done a great job with maintaining the level of services provided to members over these past years, but there is the possibility of a dues increase in the near future. How do you feel about that possibly occurring during your year as President?

Don Bivens: Lawyers understand that we have stretched the Bar's resources by going eight years without a dues increase. That's quite a fiscal accomplishment, doing more with less. The Board of Governors is mindful that we serve as custodians for other people's money, and we operate the Bar leanly and cost- efficiently with that responsibility in mind.

However, the Bar exists to serve its members and the public, and both groups deserve excellence in return. When we surveyed Arizona's lawyers and the public in the Lazarus Report about the Bar's top priorities, we got the same response. Lawyers and the people we serve see the State Bar's chief responsibility as providing a top-quality system of self-regulation that deals quickly and fairly with client complaints and, where necessary, with lawyer discipline.

Arizona's explosive population growth has placed increasing burdens on the Bar's resources devoted to self-regulation. Many people feel our current system for handling bar complaints has become too slow, due to sheer volume. The Board of Governors, assisted ably by John Berry, the Bar's General Counsel, is studying whether the time has come to revamp our discipline process, with the goals of increasing the speed with which we handle bar complaints, and resolving comparatively minor complaints without driving the lawyers and clients involved into a long-term, expensive adversarial process.

During the June Bar Convention in Tucson, the Board will schedule an open session to describe and discuss with our members potential improvements to Arizona's discipline system. I encourage every lawyer to attend this session, and to provide the Board with input and reactions. The Board of Governors needs to hear from lawyers as we decide how best to discharge our responsibility for self-regulation into the next century.

If we decide the time has come to improve our self-regulation, we will need to pay for it. Thus, a dues increase might be required, after we have done everything reasonable, of course, to reduce expenses and to maximize non-dues revenues. (The Web site, by the way, looks to be a new source of non-dues revenue for the State Bar.) After eight years of level dues, however, I believe lawyers will appreciate that the growth of Arizona requires a growth in the organized Bar, and the periodic need to fund that growth.

Arizona Attorney: Do you have any additional messages for the membership?

Don Bivens: I hope that Arizona lawyers will share my high expectations that the State Bar, over this next year, will take action on the issues our members have identified as most important to them. Based on what the members have told us, the Bar will be looking to enhance the public perception of lawyers, to enhance our discipline system, and to increase and improve the ways that the Bar communicates with lawyers and with the public. I would ask members to volunteer, and to act when called upon, to further these goals. I am excited about the process, and confident about our continuing success.