Pro Bono Requirement Added for Law Students
By Andy Meek, The Memphis Daily News
August 30, 2012
The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law has been making some changes to the school’s curriculum that better reflect, and help prepare students for, the changing nature of the legal profession.
One such change is a new pro bono requirement that will affect students this fall. Students entering the law school at that time will be among the first class that will have to perform a certain amount of pro bono legal work to graduate.
Students entering this fall and thereafter will be required to complete 40 hours of supervised pro bono work.
Ryan Jones, director of communications and special events for the law school, said that while the school’s students have been engaging in a significant amount of valuable pro bono work over the years, the performance of that work is now formalized as part of their overall law education.
The school has even hired a public interest counselor, Callie Caldwell, who oversees all of the school’s pro bono programs and related duties.
“It’s becoming more of a trend in the law school arena to put more emphasis on this area, and Memphis is at the forefront of the trend,” Jones said.
Additionally, starting with the class that enters in the fall, students will have more flexibility in classes they take earlier in their education.
In the fall of 2009, the law school’s curriculum committee was tasked with reviewing the curriculum and recommending changes, if necessary, according to David Romantz, associate dean for academic affairs.
Romantz said the curriculum had not been given a comprehensive review in years and that for many years, most law schools were geared toward a traditional litigation model.
“But certainly in modern practice, there’s a lot more transactional work, and even within litigation there’s a lot more alternative to litigation such as negotiation and mediation,” Romantz said. “And so this new curriculum sort of reflects modern practice much more so than our old curriculum did.”
The move toward pro bono work comes at a time when low income and needy consumers are seeing their access to legal services cut off from some channels. Memphis Area Legal Services Inc., for example, serves that population but is in the midst of a capital campaign to keep its services uninterrupted.
“The reason we decided to do (the pro bono requirement) is because, first, you’re seeing in the legal profession there’s so many people out there that need legal services,” Caldwell said. “There’s such a great demand, and funding is cut everywhere. Ethically, as lawyers, we have this obligation to provide legal service.
“What we want to do here is create this attitude and this standard of our law students that this is not only an ethical obligation, but it’s a unique and rewarding one. That was really the motivation that drove our school to start a formal program.”
Caldwell added that law students will not start tracking their hours until their second semester.
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Dothan makes list of top 5 cities where lawyers make the most money
By Amber Acker, al.com
August 23, 2012
DOTHAN, Alabama -- Alabama lawyers wanting to bring in the cash flow don't have to look too far. Business Insider recently named Dothan as one of the five U.S. cities where lawyers make the most money.
The report says attorneys in Dothan, which is ranked number five on the list, earn a median salary of $170,390. That's $57,630 more than what the average lawyer makes.
While the list doesn't give a reason for why Dothan lawyers have such higher salaries, it does point out that The National Trial Lawyers, a prominent legal trade group, is based in the city.
San Jose, Calif., was awarded the top spot on the list. The report attributes the high salaries of lawyers in the Silicon Valley to the city's 6,600 technology companies.
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Some in Alabama courts get raises amid cutbacks
By PHILLIP RAWLS, Associated Press
August 23, 2012 at 5:21 p.m.
Some administrative employees in Alabama's court system received big raises this year, including two topping 30 percent, as the court system struggled with budget cuts and fewer employees.
Alyce Spruell, director of the state Administrative Office of Courts, said she approved the raises to keep some employees who were offered higher-paying jobs elsewhere and to compensate some workers who took on extra duties due to employee cutbacks.
"It's a business decision, but it's a decision I had no qualms in making," she said in an interview.
Even with the raises, Spruell said the Administrative Office of Courts still spends less than it used to on salaries.
She cited state records showing the office's staff has dropped from 132 in 2011 to 81 this year and its projected payroll for 2012 of $3.2 million is less than it was in 2002 - a decade ago. She said she has also secured grants to help cover some of the raises.
All state employees got their last cost-of-living raise of 3.5 percent on Oct. 1, 2008. Since 2009, employees in the state merit system, which covers most state agencies but not the courts, have not received merit raises for good performance, state Personnel Director Jackie Graham said. The raises were frozen because of the state's financial problems.
Some of the employees in the Administrative Office of Courts received raises this year as the Legislature struggled with how to keep state agencies operating without drastic cuts. One way it did that was to increase the cost of going to court and getting a bail bond, which will help the court system.
The Legislature also proposed a constitutional amendment to pull more than $437 million out of a state trust fund over the next three years to help operate all of state government. Alabama voters will decide whether to approve that withdrawal Sept. 18.
The Administrative Office of Courts is based in Montgomery and is the support organization for the trial courts in each county. It does everything from computer training to informing local court officials about new laws passed by the Legislature.
State records show that two lawyers in the Administrative Office of Courts got 31 percent raises in January. Nathan Wilson's salary went from $65,690 annually to $86,390 annually. James Eric Anderson's salary rose from $69,098 to $90,724.
Three other lawyers got smaller raises. Owen Dean Hartzog's salary increased 13 percent from $90,724 to $102,782. Kyle David Sawyer's salary went from $84,276 to $92,992, a 10 percent increase. Eric Locke got a more than 7 percent increase from $82,262 to $88,543.
"They got pay increases because their jobs increased," Spruell said.
Brenda Ganey, who handles training and other duties, saw her salary rise from $80,287 to $88,543, or 10 percent. Thomas Harris, an information technology employee, got a nearly 8 percent boost from $64,077 to $69,098.
Another information technology employee, Dolli Cook, got a nearly 28 percent raise from $51,376 to $65,690 to keep her from leaving for the private sector, which would have delayed the court system's plan to move entirely from paper records to electronic records to save money, Spruell said.
Spruell, a former president of the Alabama State Bar from Tuscaloosa, started with the Administrative Office of Courts as legal director. When Chief Justice Chuck Malone of Tuscaloosa appointed her to the top job of director, her salary rose 5 percent from $134,968 to $141,784, but she also continued to perform the duties of legal director while overseeing the operation, she said.
State records show her annual salary is less than the $152,618 paid to her predecessor, Callie Dietz.
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Legal profession braces for turnover as half the state's lawyers say they want out
By Adam Worcester PUGET SOUND BUSINESS JOURNAL
August 24, 2012
Washington state's legal community may be on the verge of a broad-based succession crisis, as thousands of older attorneys leave the profession faster than they are replaced.
The turnover, largely driven by demographics and economics, poses challenges for firms large and small, although small firms and solo practices seem especially vulnerable.
In response, some large firms are going out of their way to recruit prospective senior leaders, and the bar association is trying to match older attorneys with young lawyers, among other things.
A recent Washington State Bar Association survey discovered that 7,200 of its members - almost a quarter of the state's practicing attorneys - are considering retirement within five years.
Another 32 percent of the bar association's members are weighing whether to leave the profession or cut back on their practices during the same time period.
Seventy-one percent of the WSBA membership is age 50 or older, with 21 percent being 61 or above.
Admissions to the state bar are not keeping pace with retirements. Between 2007 and 2011, the annual number of attorneys admitted to the state bar dropped 13 percent to 1,148, according to state bar data.
In the last five years, 5,997 applicants passed the state bar exam, for an average of just under 1,200 a year, a number that could easily be overtaken by retirements.
"The membership survey was a bit of a wake-up call," said Michael Badger, associate director of lawyer services for the WSBA.
Declining law school enrollments are only adding to the concern, because fewer law school graduates means fewer candidates for the bar. The New York Times reported in March that the number of students taking the Law School Admission Test dropped 25 percent over the past two years, the steepest decrease in more than a decade.
The problem is not limited to Washington state.
"There's a succession-planning crisis going on right now, within law firms and other professional service firms," said Allan Koltin, president and CEO of the Chicago consulting firm Koltin Consulting Group Inc.
Koltin attributes the crisis to a pair of trends that emerged in the 1990s.
First, dot-com companies lured away many potential lawyers and other professional workers. Second, an emphasis on work-life balance soured Generation Xers on following traditional career paths.
"If you worked for a law firm, there was a feeling you were signing your life away," Koltin said. "Students didn't want to be a slave to billable hours."
Today, those students could have been the attorneys preparing to take the reins from senior partners or the keys to a small law office. Instead, older attorneys have fewer younger colleagues who can take over their practices and firms.
To be sure, not all industry observers see a crisis brewing. Tammy Gibson, the Seattle division director for staffing firm Robert Half Legal, said the pool of attorney candidates remains deep.
"I've not noticed any less count of potential recruits," Gibson said. "What I am seeing is that there's becoming more competition within firms."
In sharp contrast to last year, larger firms are asking specifically for candidates they can train to become senior partners. Smaller firms, meanwhile, are expanding searches nationwide.
The result for job seekers has been multiple offers, quick placements, and increased incentives such as signing bonuses and reimbursement for moving expenses. Firms trying to retain lawyers, on the other hand, are raising salaries and offering other compensation, such as flextime and telecommuting.
Seventy percent of lawyers polled in a 2011 Robert Half Legal survey said their law firms or corporate legal departments plan to award their associates pay raises and bonuses.
Smaller firms might not be able to match these enticements, but they have other perks to offer, according to the WSBA's Badger. Among them: the chance to head their own practice.
The WSBA is trying to help by creating a clearinghouse that matches older attorneys with law school graduates and young professionals looking for entry-level positions.
By creating opportunities to link generations, the organization hopes to provide a chance for older attorneys to "exit gracefully," said WSBA President Stephen Crossland, who has a solo practice in Cashmere.
Ideally, older attorneys would mentor protégés for a few years, grooming them to take over when the boomers are ready to step down.
"We're looking at a wide range of programming focused on the over-50 cohort," Badger said of the bar's membership. "The baby boomer generation is between ages 48 and 65, so the graying of the bar is something that's going to be going on at least two more decades."
Crossland, the state bar president, admits he does not have a ready successor for his own practice, which specializes in estate planning and real estate. Nonetheless, he is optimistic.
When he was a young lawyer, he connected with an attorney in his mid-70s, J. Harold Anderson, who mentored Crossland for about seven years.
"The future of the profession is bright," Crossland said. "It's just a matter of making connections."
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Social media such as Facebook, Twitter give jurors new way to misbehave
Alison Grant, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)
August 29, 2012
One juror tried to "friend" a firefighter witness. Jurors in the embezzlement trial of former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon discussed that case on Facebook. In another trial involving Internet pharmacies, nine jurors admitted they conducted Google searches and checked Wikipedia for word definitions.
These and other lapses -- some inadvertent, others flouting judges' instructions -- are prompting courts to step up warnings about jurors' use of social media during trials.
A judicial committee on court administration has released an updated model set of instructions for federal judges aimed at deterring jurors from communicating electronically about cases.
Along with recommendations that judges make repeated reminders to jurors about staying away from social media, the instructions warn that violating the rule could unfairly affect the judicial process.
"You may not use any electronic device or media, such as the telephone, a cellphone, smartphone, iPhone, BlackBerry or computer, the Internet, any Internet service, any text or instant messaging service, any Internet chat room, blog or website such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter to communicate to anyone any information about this case or to conduct any research about this case until I accept your verdict," the model instructions say.
The use of social networking to discuss or research a case has sparked a number of mistrials across the country.
At least 90 verdicts were subject to challenge from 1999 to 2010 because of alleged Internet-related juror misconduct, a 2010 Reuters Legal survey found. More than half the cited cases occurred in 2009 and 2010. Judges granted new trials or overturned verdicts in 28 of the criminal and civil cases, the study said.
In Michigan, a juror posted a message on Facebook saying "actually excited for jury duty tomorrow. It's gonna be fun to tell the defendant they're GUILTY," according to an account of the felony resisting arrest case by Florida lawyers Michael Kiernan and Samuel Cooley in an article on juror misconduct with social media.
The judge in the Michigan case did not declare a mistrial, but he removed the Facebooking juror, fined her for contempt of court and ordered her to write an essay on the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to trial by an impartial jury.
"So many people now are tied in to social media," said U.S. District Judge David Dowd Jr. in Akron. "Judges have to be so careful in instructions to jurors."
Dowd, who is overseeing the high-visibility case of the men accused of plotting to blow up a bridge over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, said he plans to be very specific and strong in his jury instructions in the case.
"I will really work on those jurors to not be involved in any kind of Internet study," he said.
Chief U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. said there have been no mistrials tied to social networking in federal courts in the Northern District of Ohio.
"But there's always room for mischief," he said.
The updated jury instructions are part of an effort to make sure trials are fair to all parties, Oliver said.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said social media can cause a "huge amount of damage," including wasted time when trials are stopped to address infractions.
Two years ago, the Ohio State Bar Association released model jury instructions that include social-media admonitions, said Chris Davey, public-information director for the Ohio Supreme Court and a member of the New Media Committee for the Conference of Court Public Information Officers.
The committee this month released its third annual poll of state court judges asking about the effect of new media on the justice system. Among judges who responded, over half said they make warnings about using social media during trials a routine part of their jury instructions.
"Each year, more judges are reporting problematic use of social media by juries, though it is still a small fraction," Davey said. "The vast majority of jurors understand that when they're told not to communicate about the case, that includes social media."
Some 8.5 percent of the judges in the national poll said they had observed a juror on Facebook, Twitter or another social media site, or using a smartphone, tablet or notebook in the courtroom.
Meanwhile, the rapid growth of social media not only has jurors sniffing out and relaying information on trials. It also has attorneys checking on jurors.
Attorney Tomasz Stasiuk in the article "Twitter in Court: Find Out Who Is Tweeting," recommended that lawyers ask potential jurors during jury selection for their Twitter handles.
Stasiuk writes that Twitter is "a huge back channel" that can be a microcosm of a person's thoughts. Moreover, the more people feel they are trapped somewhere they do not want to be, including in trial, the more likely they are to be Tweeting about it to their friends.
"And their friends are Tweeting back!" he warns. "There are entire conversations going on!"
Dale, Geneva judge receives highest state bar award, senate resolution
By Ebony Horton, Dothan Eagle.com
August 18, 2012
OZARK — Dale County Circuit Judge P.B. McLauchlin’s often quiet demeanor outside of the courtroom may never let on to his years of service throughout his community.
But his actions alone have perhaps spoken volumes, as the judge was recently awarded the Judicial Award of Merit – the Alabama Bar Association’s highest honor. A state senate resolution commending the judge for his legal and community service was also sponsored by senators Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb, and Jimmy Holley, R-Elba.
According to the bar association, an appointed three-member committee of the 17,000-member association periodically considers nominations for the Judicial Award of Merit and determines whether the award should be given in a particular year to a non-retired judge.
McLauchlin, who took office in the 33rd Judicial Circuit in 1976, is expected to retire in January.
According to the bar association, McLauchlin received the award for service in his current position and for his work on both the Alabama Sentencing Commission – which addresses sentencing standards and prison overcrowding – and as chair of the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission – which enforces the Canons of Judicial Ethics.
He was nominated for the award by Judge Randall L. Cole, the state’s longest serving judge who received the honor in 2007. In the nomination, Cole wrote that McLauchlin “epitomizes the qualities a good judge should possess” with a “demeanor, wisdom and intellectual honesty (that) have made him one of the most respected judges in the state.”
McLauchlin practiced law for 10 years before he was sworn into office 37 years ago. Since then, he has held dozens of advisory roles in his capacity locally, federally and statewide, including the Supreme Court Advisory Committee to Study Management and Collections of Court Costs, Fines and Restitution; the Alabama Judicial Study Commission on Indigent Defense; the Alabama Association of Circuit Judges; the Alabama Consortium on Racial and Ethic Fairness in Courts; and the state and federal Judicial Council.
He served in the U.S. Army Reserve between 1966 and 1972, and is a member of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and the Association of the U.S. Army.
McLauchlin has also served in the Ozark Rotary Club; Boys and Girls Club of Ozark; Flowers Center for the Performing Arts; Friends of Ozark and First United Methodist Church.
McLauchlin, who is 71, is married to Barbara Raymond McLauchlin. They have four children and five grandchildren.
When asked about retiring, he smiles.
“Not yet,” he said.
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On the move
The Birmingham News
August 17, 2012
Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP said three of the firm's attorneys -- partners Bruce P. Ely and W. Stanley Gregory and associate James E. Long Jr. -- have each received the President's Award for Exemplary Service to the Profession from the Alabama State Bar.
Ely chairs the firm's State and Local Tax team; Gregory has extensive experience in general obligation and special revenue financings for Alabama municipalities, and Long concentrates on state and local tax matters.
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Congrats to … Britni Terrell
The Anniston Daily Star
Aug 16, 2012
Britni Terrell was recently awarded $3,500 as the 2011-2012 winner of the Justice Janie L. Shores scholarship by the Alabama Law Foundation. Terrell is a juris doctor candidate for May 2014 at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa. She is in the top 20% of her class and is the junior editor for the Journal of Legal Profession. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with a degree in history and political science in May 2011. Her undergraduate accolades include participation in the University Honors program and being a recipient of a Presidential Scholarship. Terrell was recognized at the Maude McLure Kelly award luncheon during the annual State Bar meeting.
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Alabama has prostituted Lady Justice
By John Archibald, The Birmingham News
August 17, 2012
I could tell you it's wrong for a city to bust a guy for a beer can and then bleed him of so much cash he can't stagger to his feet.
But it seems ... obvious.
I could question how a woman could be jailed for 48 days because of her inability to pay an over-the-mountain traffic ticket, but it seems like common sense.
When courts try to balance their books on the backs of the poor, they point us down a path to peonage.
It's not just Harpersville or Childersburg. It's not just cities that sell their probation offices to private heavies. Court systems across Alabama -- both municipal and state courts, in different ways -- have quietly veered into the wrong lane in recent years.
You don't have to listen to me. People who run courts for a living, the Conference of State Court Administrators, published a paper recently that lays out a series of principles all courts should stick to as they balance solvency with justice.
According to that non-partisan group, courts should largely be funded from general government money, and should not be dependent on proceeds from fees and charges.
Lack of money should never bar access to the courts, nor should it stand in the way of a person's right to justice. Courts should not be in the business of collecting money for other divisions of government, and judges should not profit from the cases they decide.
It is a scholarly work.
And Alabama fails on almost every principle.
Because the more you look, the more you see how the state has let its courts be sold. Again.
When the Legislature does not adequately fund state courts, as it is required to do by the constitution, we have failed. When state courts count on rising fees to fund everything from the general fund to random departments, we have forgotten what justice means.
And then there are the problematic municipal courts that rely on local funding. When they -- or the private companies who more frequently represent them -- throw poor people in jail because they can't pay mounting fees because they are poor, we have prostituted Lady Justice.
In the name of pinching pennies.
And that is where we most obviously fail. It takes us screaming back through history. Back-back-back-back, past the Civil Rights Movement and beyond Jim Crow to post-Civil War Alabama and the infamy of the convict lease system.
Back then the state made no bones about it. It rented convicts to private businesses, who bought and sold them like slaves for work in the coal mines and lumber yards.
The rich got richer on the backs of the poor and the criminal class. And the poor stayed poor -- and even criminal -- because they were more valuable to the rich that way.
Things are more subtle now. Cities and courts use high and arbitrary fees and fines to indenture petty offenders. These lesser lawbreakers become mortgaged to those cities, strung along with so many fees and fines that they can't break free of the threat of jail.
So they never have a chance to put their mistakes behind them.
The more we change the more we don't.
Yes, it is true that Alabama fails to meet the principles of justice. It is more important, though, that Alabama has failed Alabamians.
Some things are supposed to be more important than money. Justice is one of those things.
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Balch and Bingham hosts "boot camp" for minority law students
Martin Swant, The Birmingham News
August 20, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Thirty law students from schools across the Southeast met with young and veteran attorneys at a "boot camp" in Birmingham this weekend before beginning classes on Monday.
The program -- organized and held at Birmingham-based law firm Balch & Bingham on Friday and Saturday -- focused on explaining legal careers and opportunities available for minorities, disadvantaged and underrepresented groups from seven law schools in four states: the University of Alabama, Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Mississippi College, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt University, Emory University and the University of Georgia.
Topics included diversity in the legal profession, developing professional skills, how to get the most out of law school and improving academic study skills.
Steven McKinney, a partner at Balch & Bingham, organized the event with Balch attorney Susan Livingston and others at the firm to help students make the transition into their first or second year of law school.
"It was a way we could think of that maybe we could help students who can increase the diversity in our profession," he said. "All of us have been through law school. We know how difficult it can be and if you don't have someone to give you tips or answer questions, it's even more difficult."
McKinney said the focus on diversity is broader than minority students. It also includes socio-economic, geographic and gender diversity. He said diversity in a law firm makes it stronger, and diversity in the legal profession gives a better representation of the population.
"We're serving the public, and the public is diverse in all characteristics," he said. "We as lawyers want the public to have confidence and faith in our legal system and lawyers from diverse backgrounds help convince people that our legal system is a great one and it can be trusted to deal fairly with all people."
Jennifer Sims, assistant dean for admissions and diversity at Cumberland School of Law, participated in a boot camp roundtable discussion with Balch attorney Lisa Sharp; Julia Dolan, managing attorney of legal services at Southern Co.; and John Hudson of the Alabama Power Foundation. The four listened to students' concerns and interests about the legal profession.
The challenges minority law school students face are not unlike challenges faced by other students, she said. But it's good for students coming from an array of backgrounds to meet with established attorneys and law school grads who've had similar experiences.
"It's really important to connect with leaders, faculty and others who have had a similar experience so they can understand what their unique challenges might be and how they can become the attorney they want to be," Sims said.
Boot camp attendee Darius Crayton, a first-year law student at the University of Alabama, said the information he received exceeded expectations. When Crayton, who doubled majored in political science and economics at Mississippi State, decided on law school, he planned on pursuing entertainment or intellectual property law. But after hearing attorneys on the panels and talking with them one-on-one, he's going into the first year with a wider radar of what he might pursue.
"As a minority, it kind of gave me more of a drive to study hard since there are few of us in the industry," he said. "Seeing other minorities in a space where I would like to be one day puts a fire under me to work hard my first year."
Amy Gonzalez, a first-year law student at Cumberland pursuing a law degree and a master's of business administration, said she enjoyed the academic studies session the most. She said she hopes the program will continue for future classes of law school students.
"I guess I was surprised to hear how much emphasis law firms put on diversity and inclusion," she said. "I always knew it was important and should be looked at, but listening to all the speakers, I was so impressed on the emphasis. It's not just something that people talk about. Businesses and law firms really do put it into action."
McKinney said he and his colleagues will meet in the coming weeks to start planning the boot camp's third year.
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Most Americans Can’t Name a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Survey Says
By Steve Eder, Associated Press
August 19, 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark rulings on health care and immigration have made the nation’s highest court a topic at kitchen tables, coffee shops, and water coolers across the country.
But even with all that debate over the Supreme Court and its rulings, two-thirds of Americans can’t name any justices, according to a survey released Monday by FindLaw.com, a legal information Web site.
The most well-known member of the court was Chief Justice John Roberts, the survey showed. But even Justice Roberts could only be named by 20% of the respondents.
The most anonymous member of the court, according to the survey, was Stephen Breyer, with 3% of respondents naming him. Justices Anthony Kennedy (10%), Samuel Alito (5%) and Elena Kagan (4%) each were named by 10% or fewer of the people surveyed.
The survey showed that others–even those in much the media spotlight– were somewhere between little-known and obscure:
- Antonin Scalia (16%)
- Clarence Thomas (16%)
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg (13%)
- Sonia Sotomayor (13%)
The study polled 1,000 American adults by telephone, according to FindLaw.com, a division of Thomson Reuters. The survey had a margin of error of plus-or-minus-three percent.
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Judicial Elections and the Bottom Line – [Editorial]
The New York Times
August 19, 2012
This year, 32 states will be holding contested elections or retention votes for judges on their highest courts. An ideological battle in Florida, an expensive and partisan one in North Carolina and others are providing uncomfortable lessons about why judges on the highest courts should be appointed rather than elected. Elections turn judges into politicians, and the need to raise money to finance ever more expensive campaigns makes the judiciary more vulnerable to improper influence by donors.
Special interests, like the casino, energy and hospital industries and others, have been heavily involved and sometimes find their ways around disclosure rules and exert their influence through independent expenditures, reducing race after race into a contest of slogans.
In six states where spending has been especially heavy — Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — the harm to justice is well documented. A new report by the Center for American Progress has shown that in those states, impartiality appears diminished. It noted, “The high courts that have seen the most campaign spending are much more likely to rule in favor of big businesses and against individuals who have been injured, scammed, or subjected to discrimination.”
The center found that in 403 cases between 2000 and 2010, the courts in those states ruled in favor of corporations 71 percent of the time, notably more often than the odds would predict. From Karl Rove in Alabama to the Tea Party and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin, some of the most aggressive conservative shapers of American politics today have helped push state courts to the right.
While individual judges may not sell their votes outright, political donors have an interest in electing judges who support their point of view. Businesses and their surrogates have deep pockets to contribute to campaigns, giving them tremendous sway in the elections.
With almost 40 percent of the spending in elections for top state courts in 2009-10 coming from lawyers, lobbyists and business interests, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, it is not surprising that candidates who favor business are getting elected as top-court judges or that they are taking legal positions that businesses favor.
State courts decide 95 percent of the country’s legal cases. They are damaged by money-soaked elections. The evidence mounts that top state judges should be picked and appointed through merit selection, not elected.
Lawyers Using Social Media More, Says ABA Tech Survey
By Stephanie Francis Ward
August 16, 2012
In the past year there’s been an increase in lawyers' social media use, according to the 2012 ABA Legal Technology survey.
Out of 823 respondents, 22 percent indicated that their firm had a blog, Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites blog reports. Last year that number was 15 percent. The survey also asked respondents if they maintained a personal, lawyer-related blog, and 9 percent said yes. In 2011 and 2010 surveys, only 5 percent indicated that they maintained personal, law-related blogs.
Additionally, 88 percent of the respondents’ firms have a LinkedIn presence, Ambrogi writes, 55 percent use Facebook and 13 percent can be found on Twitter. Regarding Twitter, 11 percent of the respondents said they use it personally for professional reasons, which is up from 6 percent in 2011.
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Free-speech fight costs Kentucky Bar Association $191,000
Written by Andrew Wolfson, The Courier-Journal (Lousiville, KY)
August 22, 2012
The Kentucky Bar Association’s violation of the free-speech rights of one of its members has turned out to be costly.
A federal judge has ordered the bar to pay $191,588 to the attorneys for Henry County lawyer John M. Berry Jr.
The awarding of attorneys’ fees and costs comes after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the bar association violated Berry’s First Amendment rights when it threatened to sanction an attorney for criticizing the state Legislative Ethics Commission.
The amount doesn’t include what the KBA will have to pay to its own outside lawyers, Stites & Harbison, on the case.
In an email, Doug Myers, the KBA’s president, said those costs and those of the ACLU’s attorneys will be covered by the bar association’s litigation insurance policy.
The appeals court held that the bar association chilled Berry’s free-speech rights when it warned him he could be punished for challenging the integrity of a ruling dismissing an ethics complaint against Senate President David Williams.
The appeals court said a rule barring lawyers from making reckless or false statements regarding the integrity of judges or legal officers was unconstitutionally applied against Berry because everything he had said about the Ethics Commission was true or protected opinion.
Berry said after the ruling that “the bar association probably shouldn't have gotten involved with this in the first place.”
In a post this week on his blog, LawReader.com, retired judge Stan Billingsley predicted the case will cost the KBA $400,000. He also said the case against Berry for making “truthful statements” about a legislative body “raised the eyebrows of many Kentucky attorneys.”
Myers noted in an email that the KBA’s board of governors has no control over whether the Inquiry Commission issues a warning letter or charge, and that commission’s members are appointed by the state Supreme Court.
The Kentucky Supreme Court voted in April to raise annual dues for experienced lawyers from $270 to $310.
The free speech controversy arose after the Legislative Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint that Williams had violated legislative ethics rules in 2007 by asking 40 lobbyists to raise money for Republican candidates at a luncheon at the Muhammad Ali Center.
Berry, a retired state senator who practices in New Castle, wrote a letter to the Ethics Commission in 2007 saying that its findings exonerating Williams were "contrary to the undisputed evidence that was presented” and suspect because the inquiry was conducted "entirely behind closed doors."
Unhappy with Berry's comments, ethics commission member Paul Gudgel, a retired Court of Appeals judge, brought them to the attention of the bar association, which filed a disciplinary complaint against Berry.
The KBA’s inquiry commission dismissed the complaint but said he violated the rule "by publicly implying that the Legislative Ethics Commission did not conduct its review appropriately" and advised him "in the future to conform your conduct to the requirement of the rules of professional conduct."
Berry sued in federal court, alleging that the warning curtailed his right to engage in future criticism of the legislative panel. U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves dismissed the suit, but the appellate panel reversed him.
Reeves on Aug. 21 ordered the KBA to pay $185,251 in fees to Berry’s attorneys and $6,337 in costs. Berry was represented by Bill Sharp, staff attorney for the ACLU of Kentucky, and lawyers David Tachau and Katherine McKune.
Survey: Judges Are Less Freaked Out By Facebook, Twitter
By Joe Palazzolo, The Wall Street Journal
August 9, 2012
The Conference of Court Public Information Officers surveyed state judges around country about their use of profile sites such as Facebook and microblogging sites such as Twitter. Fewer of them hate the idea of incorporating new media in their professional lives, and more of them are convinced they can use such tools in their personal lives without ethical issues.
Asked to react to the statement, “Judges can use social media profile sites, such as Facebook, in their professional lives without compromising professional conduct codes of ethics,” 45.4% disagreed or strongly disagreed, down from 47.6% in 2010.
Meanwhile, number of judges on social media profile sites rose to 46.1% from 40.2% in 2010, the first year of the survey. (The vast majority had Facebook profiles.)
According to the report:
In 2010, 7.5 percent of judges strongly agreed that judges could use social media profile sites in their personal lives without compromising ethics; in 2012, the figure rose to 19.0 percent (Q3).
As previously mentioned, in 2010, 3.5 percent strongly agreed that use of the sites in their professional lives posed no ethical threat; in 2012, 11.3 percent strongly agreed with the suggestion (Q4).
Similarly, 6.7 percent of judges in 2010 strongly agreed that judges could use microblogging websites in their personal lives without compromising ethics; in 2012, 16.2 percent strongly agreed (Q5).
Likewise, In 2010, 3.1 percent of judges strongly agreed that use of the technology in judges’ professional lives did not compromise ethics; the figure rose to 8.8 percent in 2012 (Q6).
The survey included the responses from 623 participants, down from 810 in 2010.
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One more task force on the legal profession's problems
Karen Sloan, The National Law Journal
August 08, 2012
The American Bar Association is the latest organization to launch a task force examining the changes roiling the law profession and legal education.
The 18-member Task Force on the Future of Legal Education plans to spend two years examining how well law schools are meeting the needs of the profession.
"The growing public attention to the cost of a law school education, the uncertain job prospects for law school graduates and the delivery of legal services in a changing market warrant substantial examination and analysis by the ABA and the legal profession," outgoing ABA President William Robinson III said in announcing its formation. "Legal education must be evaluated in the context of the marketplace and the nation's and world's unprecedented challenges in an ever-more complex global economy."
The ABA is hardly the first organization to examine the legal landscape, although its effort appears more focused on legal education than some of its predecessors.
The New York State Bar Association convened a Task Force of the Future of the Legal Profession, which issued a report in April 2011 on the training and education of new lawyers; law firm structure and billing; technology; and work-life balance.
The New York City Bar Association last month announced a Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession with a special eye to job opportunities for new lawyers.
"Too many law graduates face diminished opportunities to launch their careers and fear they will never get on track," city bar president Carey Dunne said when that task force was formed. "Even those who are employed are justifiably worried about their longer-term prospects for a productive and satisfying career in the law."
The Massachusetts Bar Association in 2011 convened a task force on law graduate unemployment. The 14-member panel in May recommended increased mentoring for young attorneys and law students; the addition of law school-funded clerk positions within the state trial court system; establishment of post-graduate clinics; and law school-controlled teaching firms.
Additional bar associations around the country have delved into the problems facing young attorneys. While these efforts have identified problems, no dramatic changes in career development have resulted. It remains to be seen whether the ABA's task force, which will be national in scope, will solve the problem of high unemployment for law graduates.
Former Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard, now an executive in residence at Indiana University's Public Policy Institute, will chair the panel, which counts lawyers, judges, law professors and general counsel among its members.
"The task force will solicit views in the widest way possible to help us identify how the bench, bar and legal education community can work together to provide meaningful opportunities for law students and graduates that benefit clients and the public at large," Shepard said.
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State judges decry corporate interest spending in judicial elections
Zoe Tillman, The National Law Journal
August 13, 2012
Speaking at an August 13 panel on corporate spending in judicial elections, Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson and former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. warned that the growth of corporate interest spending is hurting public confidence in the courts, scaring lawyers away from seeking judgeships and raising the specter of corruption.
Nelson and Diaz spoke as part of an event in Washington in which two new studies by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, were released on campaign contributions in state judicial elections.
Diaz disputed the line of thinking that an appointed judiciary is always better than an elected judiciary – appointments can be political, he said – but noted that too many people inside and outside of the courts believe that campaign dollars influence judicial outcomes. "That's a sad state of affairs," he said.
He said that in 1990, a winning state supreme court justice candidate in Mississippi spent about $25,000. By 2000, he said, a winning campaign could cost $1 million. He said corporations and special interest groups "saw the opportunity there and started putting money into the judicial elections."
Nelson said the difference between judicial elections and other elections is that unlike legislative or executive candidates, judges often don't have the same name recognition. "The opportunity is there to define a judge," he said. If an outside group has the money to run ads that define a judge in a certain way and the candidate doesn't have the money to respond, he said, "it's easy to pick off a judge."
Both men cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as opening the door to corporate spending in judicial elections in the same way it did for legislative and executive elections.
Diaz, who lost his seat in 2008, spoke about the role of ads funded by outside groups in that election. He said some ads used certain issues to "inflame" the public, such as his reversal of criminal convictions, instead of highlighting the issues that a particular interest group wanted to pursue after the election.
He said that lawyers are increasingly shying away from pursuing judgeships and trial judges are pausing before pursuing appellate seats for fear of being tied up in a big-money negative campaign.
Nelson said corruption of the judiciary was a real risk. He warned that as long as there is a free market economy, "I don't think anything is sacrosanct." He called for more public disclosure of campaign spending and contributions. "Get the facts out, get the truth out, make it prominent," he said.
The Democratic-led Senate Appropriations Committee approved the full amount of President Barack Obama's 2013 budget request for the LSC at $402 million. That would be a 16 percent increase from the 2012 budget of $348 million, and would return funding to 2011 levels.
The two chambers are expected to hash out a deal sometime before the end of the year.
Survey Indicates the Public Is Unconvinced That State Courts Need More Money
By James Podgers, ABAJournal.com
August 4, 2012
The American Bar Association and its allies, in their efforts to stem the tide of funding cuts that are sweeping over state courts across the country, face a serious challenge in crafting messages about the issue that will resonate effectively with the public, according to results of a survey that was conducted earlier this year.
The survey results were presented at the ABA Annual Meeting and focused on the status of work by the association's Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System, which is ending its official existence after two years of work on the court-funding crisis.
The issue will continue to be a priority for the ABA, however, and incoming President Laurel G. Bellows has announced that the association's efforts in the area will be led by her two predecessors: Stephen N. Zack of Miami, who appointed the task force when he became president in August 2010; and Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III of Florence, Ky., whose term ends at the close of the annual meeting on Tuesday.
The results of the survey of residents of Milwaukee, Phoenix and Richmond, Va., indicate that the public does not fully recognize the plight that state courts—and those who use those courts—are facing as a result of budget cuts imposed by legislatures, said Mike Bocian, a principal at Washington, D.C.-based GBA Strategies, which conducted the survey. The survey was commissioned by the National Center for State Courts and the Justice at Stake Campaign. The center estimates that 47 states have experienced funding reductions since 2010.
Only 13 percent of the survey respondents said they have great confidence in their state court systems, although 67 percent said they have some confidence in the courts, Bocian said. Just over half of the respondents said they believe their state courts are fair and impartial and provide equal justice for all. And only 17 percent of the respondents said they believe state courts are underfunded, placing them behind other state institutions like schools and law enforcement.
"The bones are showing in the budgets of the state courts," Bocian said, "but most people don't see that, and that's the message we must give them."
The survey results indicate, however, that not every message resonates with the public. Appeals based on arguments that the courts must remain an independent branch that is separate and co-equal with the executive and legislative branches, for instance, aren't convincing to the public, Bocian said. He also cautioned against using case backlogs and the need for more staff as arguments for increased funding.
Instead, advocates of the courts should emphasize that the courts have been careful in how they use public funds, that delayed justice costs money for those who use the courts and that access to justice is vital to the public, Bocian said.
David Boies, one of the task force's original co-chairs, acknowledged that public opinion about the courts won't be changed overnight, and that the court-funding issue must be dealt with over the long term. "We didn't get into this problem in two years, and we're not going to get out of it in two years, but we have turned the corner," said Boies, a partner in the Armonk, N.Y., office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. The task force's other original co-chair is Theodore B. Olson, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C.
Boies also urged lawyers to continue to actively work for adequate funding for the state courts. "It's remarkable how few lawyers are actually engaged in this effort," he said. "We need lawyers to be energized. If lawyers aren't going to defend the justice system, no one else will."
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Legal DIY websites are no match for a pro - They provide services for a fraction of what you’d pay a lawyer
Consumer Reports magazine
For a fraction of what you’d pay a lawyer, websites such as LegalZoom, Nolo, and Rocket Lawyer can help you create your own will, power of attorney, and other important legal documents. But can they really save you a visit to a lawyer?
We recently evaluated those three services. Using their online worksheets or downloads, we created a will, a car bill of sale for a seller, a home lease for a small landlord, and a promissory note. We then asked three law professors—Gerry W. Beyer of Texas Tech University School of Law, who specializes in estates and trusts; Richard K. Neumann of Hofstra University, a contract specialist; and Norman Silber, an expert in consumer and commercial law at Hofstra and Yale—to review in a blind test the processes and resulting documents.
The verdict. Using any of the three services is generally better than drafting the documents yourself without legal training or not having them at all. But unless your needs are simple—say, you want to leave your entire estate to your spouse—none of the will-writing products is likely to entirely meet your needs. And in some cases, the other documents aren’t specific enough or contain language that could lead to “an unintended result,” in Silber’s words.
A test of wills
Rocket Lawyer provides online, guided interviews for all four of the drafted documents. LegalZoom similarly steers users through will and lease questionnaires, and offers static instructions for the other documents. Nolo’s will-writing software, Quicken WillMaker Plus (available as a Windows-only download and CD-ROM), includes an interactive interview. Nolo’s other documents are downloaded forms with static instructions.
Beyer found WillMaker Plus to be the best of the three—competent, though far from ideal, for drawing up a simple will. Rocket Lawyer also makes a good simple will. But Beyer advises consulting a lawyer for more complex situations.
In some cases, the services aren’t very flexible. WillMaker Plus, for instance, won’t let a child’s trust go beyond age 35, though the law puts no upper age limits on when a trust must dissolve. In other instances, they are too flexible; after we finished the Rocket Lawyer interview, the program allowed us to edit the completed will. LegalZoom let us put anything we liked in the special-directives section, the part of the will where you can include issues not addressed in the interview. Both features could lead a user to add clauses that contradict other parts of the will.
Our reviewers weren’t completely satisfied with the other documents, though they preferred Rocket Lawyer’s and LegalZoom’s materials to Nolo’s. The lack of a federal lead-paint disclosure in the Nolo fixed-term lease instructions is a black mark, Neumann says. (Nolo told us it sells other, less “bare bones” leases that include or link to the disclosure.)
Need to lawyer up?
The Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom documents didn’t always appear tailored to our jurisdiction, Westchester County, N.Y. The LegalZoom lease advises conflicting parties to “go to the presiding judge of the county,” an office that doesn’t exist.
Silber calls Nolo’s promissory note instructions and glossary “perfunctory.” Rocket Lawyer’s promissory note and interview are “the best of a fair-to-average bunch,” he says.
Bottom line. The sites offer basic legal advice that might help save you money spent on a lawyer. If you use them for document prep, at minimum get all needed signatures to preserve your rights and prevent disputes, Silber says.
But many consumers are better off consulting a lawyer. The websites let you search for one and provide such information as education, background, and licenses. LegalZoom’s subscription legal service (see box below) includes customer reviews of lawyers, and Rocket Lawyer’s details pricing. We recommend checking with your state bar association for any disciplinary actions.
Websites offer legal forms and more
LegalZoom: Advantage Standard plan: $8 a month. Access to downloadable legal documents and instructions; members get a 10 percent discount on interview-based forms (such as wills). Legal Advantage Plus plan ($15 for one month, $40.50 for three months, and $72 for six months) adds 30-minute consultations on separate legal topics with a lawyer licensed in your state. Wills, sold separately, start at $69.
Nolo: At nolo.com, Quicken WillMaker Plus 2012 costs $43 as a download and $52 as a CD-ROM. Other downloadable forms and instructions generally range from $8 to $21. Free info and lawyer database.
Rocket Lawyer: Basic Legal Plan: free for one week, then $20 monthly or $120 annually. Access to documents and instructions, and other legal information. After three months, you get 30-minute consultations with a lawyer licensed in your state for each new legal topic.
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Poll shows public confidence in Alabama's churches, doctors, small businesses
By Jeremy Gray, The Birmingham News
August 3, 2012
Alabama voters have the highest levels of confidence -- 80 percent or more -- in the state's churches, doctors, small businesses, police, and colleges.
Those voters also have the lowest levels of confidence -- 50 percent or less -- in the state Legislature and political parties, statewide newspapers, the state school board, the Alabama Christian Coalition, lawyers and unions.
That's according to a survey done by the Capital Survey Research Center, the polling arm of the Alabama Education Association, conducted over five days in June and July. The survey included 537 registered voters and has a margin of error of 4.1 percent.
The statewide confidence survey, first conducted in 1999, also showed double digit drops in voter confidence in 15 of the 20 institutions included in surveys in the last 13 years.
The other five had decreases of 3 to 9 percent.
Between 1999 and 2012, the Alabama Christian Coalition saw the largest confidence decline -- 23 percent -- of those 20 institutions. Efforts to reach coalition officials this evening were unsuccessful.
Unions and daycare centers saw the next largest decline in those years, both with 19 percent drops.
Doctors and medical professionals saw the least decline in voter confidence -- 3 percent -- in those years, followed by nursing homes, 4 percent, and churches, 5 percent.
Overall, churches enjoy the most public confidence with 87 percent of respondents saying they have a great deal confidence in churches. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said they have a great deal of confidence in medical professionals and 84 percent said the same of small businesses.
They were least confident in unions, with only 25 percent of those surveyed saying they had a great deal of confidence in unions and 21 percent saying they had no confidence in unions.
Lawyers had the next lowest confidence level, with 41 percent of respondents saying they had a great deal of confidence in attorneys and 20 percent saying they had no confidence.
The Christian Coalition was third from last, with 43 percent saying they had a great deal of confidence in that organization and 10 percent saying they had no confidence in the coalition.
Of the 537 registered voters surveyed, 48 percent said they were Republican, 34 percent Democrat and 13 percent independent. The survey found 49 percent had a great deal of confidence in state GOP versus 45 percent for the state's Democratic party.
Most surveyed were women, 56 percent, and 72 percent were white. Another 26 percent were black and 2 percent were identified as "other."
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Despite Warnings, Lawyers Still Fall for Collection Scam
By Jennifer Smith, The Wall Street Journal
August 6, 2012
Lawyers who warn clients against risky transactions are not supposed to get drawn in themselves.
But some are turning out to be easy prey for email swindlers using a sophisticated Internet scam that has bilked millions from law firms across North America, as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The scheme isn’t new — essentially, scammers posing as would-be clients living abroad convince lawyers to cash counterfeit “settlement” checks, take a cut as attorney fees, then wire the balance to overseas bank accounts. The money is gone by the time the law firm’s bank figures out the check was fake.
Sounds pretty transparent, right?
But federal investigators say the scams are so elaborate — and targeted to mimic the way many lawyers now get online client referrals — that attorneys continue to fall for them.
In a first here in the U.S., an alleged ringleader of one such scam is set to go on trial this fall in U.S. district court in Pennsylvania. Federal prosecutors say Emmanuel Ekhator, a Nigerian national, bilked firms of at least $32 million that way. Mr. Ekhator, who prosecutors said was living in Canada at the time of the alleged frauds, has plead not guilty. His lawyer declined to comment.
Despite the publicity surrounding the Ekhator case — and numerous warnings over the years from law enforcement and bar associations — the victims continue to pile up.
“We have this wide-ranging scam that continues even though we have made these arrests,” said Christy H. Fawcett, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Harrisburg who is prosecuting the case. “We continue to have victims, both here and in Canada.”
Internet swindlers can reap much as $100,000 to $400,000 each time a law firm is duped, according to court records and federal law enforcement officials.
The schemes span the globe, authorities say. Scammers set up pop-up bank accounts in Asia that open and are closed before lawyers realize they’ve been had. Others blast out solicitation emails from Internet cafés in Nigeria and elsewhere that function as “boiler rooms” for the scam. Much of the activity is coordinated by scammers living in West African expatriate communities in Canada, Ms. Fawcett said.
“Many of them belong to a particular social club in Toronto,” Ms. Fawcett said. “They’ll hear this has been a good scam, this is a good bank account number in Asia.”
More indictments are pending for suspected co-conspirators of Mr. Ekhator who are currently in Canada and elsewhere. “There are a number of other individuals that are going to be indicted,” she said. “We are working with law enforcement in Nigeria and in Japan, and in Korea.”