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Now that he's president

Richard Layon is ready to lead the North County bar association to better things

Richard Layon is a busy man, legally speaking. A trial attorney, Layon spends much of his time in court and meeting with clients. As president of the Bar Association of Northern San Diego County, he helps run the second largest bar association in San Diego County.

Layon moved to Escondido from Brawley, Calif., with his parents and siblings in the early 1970s. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Layon's parents emphasized to him the importance of education.

"My dad didn't even finish high school," Layon said.

Layton put his children through college as the owner of several liquor stores. At San Diego State University, he majored in biology with an emphasis in human physiology. He anticipated a career in medicine, but an environmental law course taken in his senior year changed all that. He later earned his law degree at Willamette University.

Proving the value of networking, Layon came to the Vista-based bar association through connections he made as an employee at the local grocery store while earning his bachelor's degree.

"When I was working my way through undergrad, I was working at Alpha Beta," Layon said. "One of my regular customers was Debbie Tish, who was then president of the Bar Association. When I graduated from law school, she suggested I join."

That decision has brought him far in the organization.

Founded in 1956, the Bar Association of Northern San Diego County has a membership of approximately 750 attorneys, second only to the San Diego Bar Association, whose membership exceeds 7,000.

"We are considered a small-to-medium bar," said Mary Cervantes, the organization's executive director. "We started with a part-time director and one typewriter in someone's law office, and we kept expanding and expanding, and here we are at about 750."

A 13-member board oversees the operations of the organization, consisting of a president, four vice presidents, a secretary, a treasurer and six directors. Each year, a class of four new board members is elected to serve a three-year term. If elected president, a fourth year is served.

As president, Layon has hopes of growing the bar association to an all-time high of 1,000 attorneys, and offering more membership benefits. The primary source of income for the bar is membership dues, with all excess profits turned back to the members through subsidies for out-of-pocket expenses that attorneys may incur and things to help them provide better services to their clients.

"There's a cornucopia of benefits we offer to our membership, in terms of making their practice of law easier and better in some measurable ways," Layon said.

This year, the association is using some of its additional dollars to purchase several Powerpoint projection systems, equipment that will be available to members for presentations. Such a benefit is particularly important for smaller law firms, for whom a large expense for equipment hits hard.

"It makes them able to compete with larger firms, and in some cases, the district attorney, in the services they offer to their clients," he said.

Another benefit to members that Layon wishes to expand is the Bar Association's Expert Deposition Brief Bank. This "bank" will be a repository of depositions given by expert witnesses. Attorneys will be able to reference the testimonies of experts in various fields in their own searches for qualified individuals. Layon foresees the "bank" as a valuable asset to attorneys and, in the long run, their clients.

As part of its service to the community, the Bar Association sponsors a nonprofit supporting organization, the Lawyer Referral Service of the Bar Association of Northern San Diego County. On a monthly basis, the Referral Service helps about 700 to 800 people in the community. Those it cannot serve are referred to other sources of information. Layon has served on the seven-member board of this organization since 1997.

"We view operation of the Lawyer Referral Service as how we can best serve our customers," Cervantes says.

A husband and, recently, a father to a baby girl, Layon has no reservations when asked what his biggest obstacle has been as an attorney. "This is one of the few professions that we are expected to, and do, 'eat our own,'" he said. "In other professions, you don't see this competition. We testify against each other and go up against each other every day. ... For me, that's the most troubling aspect about the profession."

Desjean is a free-lance writer based in Encinitas.

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