Even in the best of times, leading the State Bar of California is a daunting task. With more than 270,000 members and varied concerns facing the state’s legal profession, meaningful progress demands boundless energy and patience.
Becoming the organization’s chair amid a raging pandemic — like Sean SeLegue ’91 did in September — requires an even deeper commitment to the issues that affect California’s prosecutors and public defenders, litigators and transactional attorneys, in-house counsel and solo practitioners.
SeLegue served many State Bar roles before assuming its top position. But COVID-19’s jarring impact presented new challenges — including administering California’s bar exam online for the first time and creating a provisional licensing system.
“Thanks to the hard work of Bar staff and board members, we’ve also maintained focus on other policy and reform initiatives during the pandemic, including working to close the justice gap and studying the effectiveness and fairness of California’s bar exam and discipline system,” SeLegue says. “We want to take a fresh look at these core State Bar functions.”
A partner in Arnold & Porter’s San Francisco office, SeLegue has carved out two highly successful practice areas.
As an appellate specialist, he handles appeals in areas such as real estate, partnership disputes, and securities law. As an attorney liability and ethics lawyer, he advises and represents lawyers and firms in matters such as disqualification motions and mal-practice and malicious prosecution actions.
Eager to confront the stubbornly subpar diversity among California’s lawyers, the State Bar under SeLegue’s leadership is helping to gather data and to convene key participants each year at a diversity summit. The State Bar sponsored two such summits in 2020, one focused on private practice and the other on public interest law.
“It’s important to listen to our colleagues, take to heart their experiences, and reconsider standard practices that can impede diversity in the profession,” he says. “It’s also critical to be intentional and focused on this issue, which will not solve itself.”
The State Bar’s second openly LGBTQ chair, joining fellow alumnus Michael Colantuono ’88, SeLegue is a steadfast Berkeley Law supporter and actively engaged with the school — calling it “a special community that prizes excellence and public service.” Having attended when tuition was dramatically lower thanks to significant state funding that has since eroded, he cites “a feeling of responsibility to support the institution.”
As for the State Bar’s prodigious to-do list, SeLegue remains unbowed.
“I’ve enjoyed the reform-minded focus of the board in the years I’ve served,” he says. “Leading the organization provides further opportunity to effectuate positive change and maintain the integrity of the institution.”
— Andrew Cohen