The Contra Costa County legal community has changed dramatically over the last 85 years.
Our county bar has grown from a handful of pioneering attorneys in the 1934 to a major legal center of the Bay Area in 2019.
CCCBA membership now stands at more than 1,500 and includes attorneys of all experience levels and from a wide geographic area. We also have many law students, legal support staff, and business professionals who support our Bar and gain benefits from their membership.
A Taste of History
In the early years, there were two bar associations in Contra Costa County, one called the Richmond or West Contra Costa Bar Association, and one called the Contra Costa County Bar Association.
During World War II, Richmond became the city with the largest number of lawyers, since the city population doubled due to the naval shipyards.
In the early 1950s, Walnut Creek had about 3,000 people. Forrest Bailey was the only attorney in town. The Ring brothers followed soon after that. By 1952, it was estimated there were 10 to 20 attorneys in Walnut Creek.
In 1955, the small group of Walnut Creek attorneys used to get together for lunch. At one of the lunches, they decided to form a legal aid clinic.
For reasons unknown, the County Bar refused to assume sponsorship of the legal aid and referral service, and the Walnut Creek attorneys thus formed the “Central Contra Costa Bar Association” in 1956.
Unhappy at having to trek over to the Richmond Municipal Court, the Central County group filed a celebrated lawsuit that successfully established a Municipal Court in Concord, and a similar suit was filed to establish the Walnut Creek Municipal Court.
One of the burning issues in 1959 was the publication of a “Schedule of Professional Fees.” This was a booklet that contained numerous attorney tasks with associated suggested minimum fees.
Examples from the 1960 Schedule
|Office work or consultation|
$20.00 per hour (down from $25.00 in the 1957 Schedule)
Drafting Real Property Purchase Agreement
Drafting miscellaneous contract
Drafting a General Partnership
Trial Per Diem
Depositions in defense cases
$250.00 (Property Settlement Agreement $50.00 extra)
Handling Quiet Title action
$50.00 or 5% of the first-year’s rent
Handling a civil or a criminal appeal, from filing through oral argument
(There is a suggestion that some misguided court has since determined that minimum fee schedules were in restraint of trade and unenforceable. —ed.)
Bar meetings were held either at the Don Hotel or Paul’s Restaurant in Martinez, and state bar dues were $25.00.
In the mid-1960s, the active and prestigious Central Contra Costa Bar Association faded and became essentially a one-man operation. Meetings took place once or twice a year. In 1968, the name of the Association was changed to the Mt. Diablo Bar Association.
In the late 1960s, the Reference Service was overhauled and the Bar became more organized with regular monthly membership lunch meetings and regular board meetings.
Delegates were sent each year to the State Bar Convention.
In the 1970s, tremendous antagonism developed between the officers of the Mt. Diablo Bar and the Contra Costa County Bar.
The County Bar was the senior organization, but the Mt. Diablo Bar was more powerful because of the Lawyers’ Referral Panel.
Bar meetings at the time were held at restaurants and were devoted to generous portions of food and drink. There was much slamming of the rival Bar Association and a little bit of business.
In 1978 negotiating teams from each Bar sat down together and hammered out an agreement to consolidate the Bar Associations. A deal was struck that the West County Bar would be guaranteed two board positions for the first year, one board position for the second year, and then all directors would be at large following that. (That two-year “deal” has been misinterpreted ever since. It is still the subject of board debate. —ed.)
The deal further provided that the Contra Costa County Bar would be the surviving Association, since people outside the area had no idea where Mt. Diablo was.
The big issue in the 1980s was the huge backlog in the civil trial calendar. At the time, the average time from at-issue memo to trial was three years. The Bar’s major accomplishment during this era was the formation of the Bench-Bar Settlement Program. Bar members spent countless volunteer hours with the court, settling cases to try to break the logjam. The Bar even used its own funds to increase court staffing.
The Bar Association was getting larger, but it was still a social and convivial group. Monthly membership lunch meetings had large turnouts, and everyone knew almost everyone else. Large numbers turned out for the Annual Bar Party, with country hoedown and barbeque themes.
The executive director at this time had great business skills and the Bar became more formal and organized. Meetings moved from bars and restaurants to the new Bar office in Martinez.
In 1985 Suzanne Chapot was elected as the first female president of the consolidated Bar.
By the late 1980s, Walnut Creek had become the business and legal center of Contra Costa County. Many large firms from San Francisco either moved or established satellite offices in Contra Costa. The various Bar Sections flourished and caused a decentralization of the Bar Association. Attendance at monthly Bar luncheons dwindled. Some blamed this on the Sections and some blamed it on the demise of the “three-martini lunch,” which became politically incorrect.
Spearheaded by a group of Section leaders it was decided to revamp the Conference of Delegates to the State Bar. For years, the officers and directors had been the “delegates,” who went to the convention to have a wild time. (We’ve heard that mission was accomplished —ed.)
The Contra Costa delegates started to actually review and vote upon resolutions. Contra Costa became a powerful political force in the State Bar.
In 1998 there was a near collapse of the State Bar, due to Governor Pete Wilson’s veto of the Bar Dues Bill. While the State Bar executives tore their hair out trying to save the State Bar, the County Bar stepped up and was ready to provide more services if the State Bar continued to flounder.
A new Client Relations Committee and Service was formed to resolve minor problems between clients and attorneys.
In the late 1990s a Pro Bono Section and Committee were formed and a very successful Pro Bono Award Gala was held at a local country club. The Bar’s pro bono conscience was reawakened from the days of the first legal aid programs of the mid-1950s. Today the Bar Fund Benefit continues to raise funds and consciousness about the need for pro bono legal services. Learn more about current efforts here.
In the early 2000s the Bar underwent an intensive operational survey conducted by the American Bar Association in preparation for a facilitated three-year strategic planning session.
In 2002 the president, the Board and the staff worked hard to increase membership, address geographic and cultural diversity within the membership, improve the image of attorneys in the eyes of the public, improve technology (including upgrading our website and internal database), institutionalizing civil bench/bar interaction, address corporate governance issues, streamline our committees and taskforces, and developing an education outreach program for middle and high schools.
Diversity continues to be a priority issue for the Bar. In 2017 the Diversity Committee introduced a Diversity Award Checklist and presented its first set of awards in 2018. With over 100 options the checklist recognizes the diversity efforts of all sizes of law firms from sole practitioners to firms with more than 40 attorneys. In 2018 the Committee held its first Lunar New Year celebration and Minority Bar Association Networking Mixer. In 2019 the Committee put on a Racial Reconciliation Forum and updated the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, that recognizes that bar associations, law firms, and attorneys owe a duty to attempt to increase diversity in the legal community.