Balch & Bingham's Cooper re-elected as ABA delegate for Alabama
By Dawn Kent
December 31, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Clark A. Cooper, a partner in Balch & Bingham's Creditors Rights & Bankruptcy and Litigation Practice Groups, has been re-elected as Alabama's State Delegate for the American Bar Association House of Delegates, the firm said.
The group, which sets ABA policy, meets twice each year. Cooper will serve a three-year term as Alabama's only ABA State Delegate and is one of 50 total state delegates. He also serves as a division director for the ABA Section of Litigation, in which he oversees multiple committees in the section.
Cooper has more than 19 years of experience as a litigator. He has represented clients in a wide variety of litigation, including creditor and lender rights matters and concerns, construction disputes, class actions, fraud claims and insurance claim cases. He has held leadership positions with the ABA since 1998.
"Clark's commitment and dedication to the legal profession is a noteworthy achievement. We congratulate him on this accomplishment and know that he will continue to serve as an exemplary representative for the State of Alabama," Alan T. Rogers, Balch & Bingham's managing partner, said in a prepared statement.
The American Bar Association has nearly 400,000 members.
- - -
Employment outlook brightens for new Alabama attorneys
By Antrenise Cole, Birmingham Business Journal
December 18, 2012
The legal employment market in Alabama for law school graduates appears to be improving, according to a recent survey conducted by the Alabama State Bar.
The Alabama State Bar recently released its survey of 111 individuals who were admitted to the bar in October 2011. Brad Carr, director of communications of the Alabama State Bar, said the results of the survey show a brighter picture for last year’s law school class.
About one in three (31.7 percent) of the respondents said they work in a small firm setting with two-to-five attorneys. The second largest group, 22.8 percent, practice at a large firm with 21 or more attorneys.
Eighty percent said they were able to find employment in a law-related field in the first six months after being admitted to the Alabama State Bar.
The largest single group of respondents (15.1 percent) indicated their starting salary was between $40,001 and $45,000 for their first legal job after admission to practice in Alabama. Groups who earned between $45,001 and $50,000 and also $55,001 and $60,000 both tied for the second largest percentage of responses at 11.8 percent.
At the time of graduation from law school, 19.8 percent said they had less than $25,000 of undergraduate, other graduate and law school debt, while almost half at 45.3 percent had more than 100,000 in educational debt.
Most (83.7 percent) used in-person networking and 69.4 percent used their law schools’ career services offices for their legal job search.
As I reported last year, the job market for the law school class of 2010 was dismal.
While they were able to find legal-related jobs quickly, most graduates reported that they didn’t get the jobs that they hoped for or the salary they expected. Both local and national surveys revealed that following the recession, the law school class of 2010 was facing the worst job market since the 1990s.
While the job market for newly graduating lawyers is showing positive signs, recruiting experienced professionals in Birmingham remains a challenge in the competitive environment.
- - -
Birmingham Bar Association elects officers for 2013
By Kent Faulk, The Birmingham News
December 17, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The Birmingham Bar Association has elected new officers for the 2013 Bar year, the association announced this morning.
The association elected the new officers at its annual meeting on Friday, according to a statement issued by the association today.
The new officers for 2013 are: Robert R. Baugh, president; Robin Burrell, president-elect; Mike Freeman, secretary-treasurer; and Kira Fonteneau, Freddy Rubio, and Phil Carroll, at-large executive committee members.
The Birmingham Bar Association is one of the oldest local bar associations in the United States, and the largest in Alabama, with more than 4,100 members in the greater Birmingham metropolitan area, according to the association statement.
Court system braces for layoffs as clock on fiscal crisis ticks
December 10, 2012
The federal court system is bracing for the possibility of thousands of layoffs or furloughs next month, marking the latest branch of government to plan for the worst in case Congress and the White House fail to avert the looming fiscal crisis.
The cuts would force federal courts to lay off up to 2,000 employees or furlough 20,000 employees for 16 days, according to a Dec. 4 letter to federal chief judges around the country from the Judicial Conference of the United States.
David Sentelle, chairman of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, said even after cutting spending on information technology and other areas, "some local staff reductions" will be needed.
"On a national basis up to 2,000 court staff positions (10 percent of the courts' workforce) could still be lost, or alternatively, the equivalent of 16 furlough days for court staff could be required," he wrote, adding that the cuts would carry "significant adverse impacts on judiciary operations and services."
For most domestic programs, the cuts mean an 8.2 percent reduction in fiscal 2013 spending. For the federal court system, that means a $555 million cut, said Karen Redmond, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. To minimize the direct impact on employees, cuts will be spread out across the department which could mean limiting travel, promotions and spending on training.
- - -
Our view: Judicial committee not a bad idea, but must remain open to public scrutiny – [Editorial]
The St. Clair Times
December 6, 2012
Since 2008, three of the judge’s positions in St. Clair County have been filled by gubernatorial appointment. In each case, the process for the appointment was vague and undefined, and largely took place outside the public eye.
St. Clair County is fortunate. Probate Judge Mike Bowling, Circuit Judge Phil Seay and District Judge Alan Furr are all, according to every indication, quality judges who serve the county well.
The issue surrounding their appointments is the process by which it happened. That brought Jim Hill, the presiding circuit judge, to the St. Clair County Commission in November, seeking a resolution to establish a committee that would meet in the case of a vacancy. The committee would consist of five members — Hill, county commission chairman Stan Batemon and the county’s representative on the Alabama State Bar Association (currently Elizabeth Parsons), along with two at-large members, one from each respective judicial division of the county — and would take applications, then make “recommendations” to the governor’s office.
The Times takes no position regarding whether such a committee is right for St. Clair County — a resolution that would have supported it was tabled at the most recent commission meeting. It is not known at this time whether the commission will even take up the discussion again at its Dec. 11 meeting.
Our concern remains the transparency of the process.
Each time a vacancy has required a gubernatorial appointment, the governor’s office has declined to provide this newspaper with the list of candidates who applied for the job. In each case they gave no reason for doing so, except to say it was “the preference” of the appointment office in Montgomery.
These are public offices, as Hill told the commission in November, hearing important cases and rendering judicial rulings that have far-reaching impacts. The least the people of St. Clair County can ask is that the process be transparent to the public, whether it takes place at home or in Montgomery.
Our hope is that all officials involved put thought into the necessity of the committee, and how to best implement that. For the good of the public they have sworn to serve.
- - -
Females Now Constitute One-Third of Nation's Ranks of Doctors and Lawyers
By JOSH MITCHELL, The Wall Street Journal
December 4, 2012
Women account for a third of the nation's lawyers and doctors, a major shift from a generation ago when those professions were occupied almost exclusively by men, new Census figures show.
Women's share of jobs in the legal and medical fields climbed during the past decade even as their share of the overall workforce stalled at slightly less than half. Women held 33.4% of legal jobs—including lawyers, judges, magistrates and other judicial workers—in 2010, up from 29.2% in 2000. The share of female physicians and surgeons increased to 32.4% from 26.8% during that time.
In 1970, women were 9.7% of the nation's doctors and just 4.9% of its lawyers, according to Census data.
"That's very significant progress," said Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a nonprofit group in Washington. "In the midst of a lot of evidence that women's progress has plateaued, nevertheless we can see that women are still making progress in some very professional, high-wage fields."
Women's gains in these fields follow the rise in their professional school enrollments over time. Harvard Law School, for example, was closed to women until 1950, and the Washington and Lee University School of Law was the last U.S. law school to open its admissions to women in 1972, according to research by Hannah Brenner and Renee Newman Knake of Michigan State University's College of Law. Today, women graduate from law school in roughly the same numbers as men. They make up just under half—45.4%—of medical residents and fellows, or medical-school graduates in training, according to the American Medical Association.
Lindsey Lazopoulos represents the generational shift in women's career aspirations. The 26-year-old Miami resident said earlier generations in her family of Greek heritage believed women were meant to stay at home and raise children. While Ms. Lazopoulos was growing up, her mother didn't work.
But her parents emphasized the importance of getting an education to achieve a middle-class lifestyle. Ms. Lazopoulos earned a bachelor's degree in American history at Columbia University. During school, she worked part-time at a Manhattan law firm, "feeding off the energy" of assisting on big cases, she said. "I really liked the environment: very intense and high-powered."
She graduated from the University of Miami School of Law last year and now is a commercial litigator. Two partners in the Florida firm where she works are mothers raising children, she said. Ms. Lazopoulos said she isn't focusing on raising a family yet. "For me, and for other women we're kind of just trying to get a start on our careers and focus on that," she said.
Despite women's greater presence in law and medicine, wage gaps between men and women persist in both fields. In 2007, the median income—the point at which half earn more and half earn less—of female lawyers was $90,000, compared with $122,000 for male lawyers, according to research by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. The median income of female physicians was $112,128, compared with $186,916 for male physicians. Those differences are largely explained by individual choices, including women taking off time to raise children or opting for less-demanding career tracks or positions that pay less, said Mr. Katz. But a small portion of the gap exists for unclear reasons, he said. Discrimination could also be a factor, though it isn't clear how much, he said.
Ms. Goldin said women's gains in medicine have coincided with the rise of corporate-owned hospitals and medical practices, in many cases making it easier for women to balance work and family. Health-care companies have bought up many small, previously male-owned independent practices and raised women's wages closer to men's, while offering more flexible work schedules, Ms. Goldin said.
"The corporate sector in some sense has been a great equalizer" for women in medicine, Ms. Goldin said.
While women have made strides in the legal profession, at law firms few are taking management positions. Some leave for jobs as counsel to corporations, where hours can be more predictable. At large law firms, women make up just 15% of equity partners, according to a survey released in October by the National Association of Women Lawyers. Of the 200 firms surveyed, just 4% had a woman at the helm in the role of firm-wide managing partner.
Ida Abbott, 65, a lawyer in Oakland, Calif., said biases against women were "overt" in 1975, when she graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law and started looking for jobs.
"People would say directly, 'You can't be a lawyer because you're a woman, women are too emotional, their voices are too high,... they aren't tough enough,' " said Ms. Abbott, who advises law firms on talent development..She She said women still face barriers to leadership jobs at firms, because advancement is largely based on hours worked. "You're really trying to break into an established network, coming at it from the perspective of the woman, when most of the structures are designed by men," she said.
Ms. Knake, a Michigan State University associate law professor, said while women graduate from law school in roughly the same numbers as men, many women leave the field for careers that offer more flexibility in hours and location, she said.
"As much as it's good to see the progress," Ms. Knake said, "I still remain troubled that we don't see a lot of our law graduates staying in the profession."
- - -
Arizona Supreme Court to allow 3Ls to sit for the bar
Zoe Tillman, The National Law Journal
The Arizona Supreme Court gave the green light December 10 to an experimental proposal allowing third-year law students to take the bar exam before they graduate, a move law school officials hope will give students a leg up in the job market.
Under the revised rule, 3Ls who meet eligibility requirements can take the bar exam offered in February, several months before graduation. The proposal was approved as a temporary pilot project from January 2013 until the end of December 2015. Law school officials and other stakeholders will have to file a report with the court by November 1, 2015.
"It addresses several criticisms of legal education: it's too expensive, the third-year students are unfocused and students have to wait so long after graduation until they can take the bar and be ready to practice," said University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law associate dean Sally Rider. "It addresses all those concerns."
Arizona is now the only state to allow law students to take the bar exam in the middle of their final year of law school. Other states experimented with the idea in the past but went back to the old system after finding that it proved too distracting for students, as the state Supreme Court's Attorney Regulation Advisory Committee noted in its opposition to the proposal earlier this year.
But Judy Stinson, associate dean for academic affairs at Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, said the proposal included provisions aimed at addressing those concerns. The revised rule requires students to have no more than eight semester hours left to finish after the exam and restricts their course load leading up to the exam.
"It's a nice step by the Supreme Court to allow us to really help our students," Stinson said. She noted that a number of public employers and small firms in the state won't interview applicants until they're licensed to practice, so the revised rule means students won't have to wait in limbo before applying for those jobs. The status quo "really does delay the amount of time before they start offsetting the cost of their education," she said.
After they take the exam, Rider said law schools can help students design a curriculum aimed at helping them prepare for the workplace, from on-the-ground training to classes on serving clients' needs and the economics of practicing law. She added that another plus is that students will have greater flexibility to take a bar exam in another state the summer after they graduate.
"Students have supported it, they're very excited," Rider said. At least 45 current students at the University of Arizona, or a third of the 2L class, had expressed interest in taking advantage of the new system, she said.
- - -
S.C. Bar Pro Bono Program launches website offering free legal advice
From staff reports, Spartanburg Herald Journal (South Carolina)
December 5, 2012
People can get legal help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from a new interactive website.
The S.C. Bar Pro Bono Program launched www.sclawanswers.org this week. Those who qualify can post legal questions that will be answered by attorneys.
Cindy Coker, public services director for the S.C. Bar, said to qualify, a person must be at least 16 years old, cannot be incarcerated and has an income between 125 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
The site only offers assistance for civil issues, including family, health care and benefits. Legal questions about criminal issues will be referred to public defenders, according to a written statement from the S.C. Bar Association.
Coker said around 30 attorneys have volunteered to answer questions and she expects more attorneys will volunteer. Legal questions will be sorted by topics, from consumer law to work-related issues.
Coker said the website will be monitored to ensure questions are answered, but said the site is not “real time,” and that attorneys will respond when they are available.
If someone has a fast-approaching court date and under a time crunch, Coker advised they get an attorney rather than rely on the website for legal guidance.
Attorneys will know the name of the person asking a question to “check for conflicts prohibited by the S.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, but the ‘client’ will not know the identity of the attorney. The client is fully informed that the lawyer is only answering the questions posted to the site and does not represent the client in any action,” according to the statement.
“We are excited about the launch of SCLawAnswers.org and thrilled to be providing this much-needed resource to the citizens of South Carolina. The website provides convenient access to legal help and allows the public another avenue to the legal system in a simplified and non-intimidating manner,” Coker is quoted in the statement.
- - -
Rivalry Grows Among No-Frill Legal Services
By JENNIFER SMITH, The Wall Street Journal
December 3, 2012
Competition is heating up in the market for no-frills online legal services.
One sign: a lawsuit filed last month by online document company LegalZoom.com Inc. against an up-and-coming rival, Rocket Lawyer Inc., as both look to expand their reach with new ventures in the U.K. Both companies provide customers with documents for routine transactions such as wills or incorporating a business, as well as legal-subscription plans that provide access to local attorneys for between $10 and $50 a month.
LegalZoom's suit accuses Rocket Lawyer of false advertising by labeling some of its offerings as "free" when users must pay state filing fees or subscribe to a plan to access the services. It also alleges trademark infringement related to Rocket Lawyer's use of domain names, such as www.legalzoomer.com, and says the company is trying to divert customers by buying up "LegalZoom" and other search terms, triggering sponsored links to Rocket Lawyer's website.
"That kind of siphoning of the brand terms we don't appreciate," said LegalZoom's chief executive, John Suh. He said Rocket Lawyer's "fake free" tactics could taint consumers' perceptions of the wider industry.
Rocket Lawyer's executive chairman, Charley Moore, called the claims "frivolous" and said the company plans to fight them in court. He also said LegalZoom had copied Rocket Lawyer's attorney plan and was now "relying on litigation rather than innovation to compete."
Dozens of other technology startups are also racing to meet the legal needs of small-business owners and middle-class households.
A number of companies provide free or low-cost legal forms. Others have launched websites that let consumers sort local lawyers by price, location and user rating and serve as online matchmakers between clients and local attorneys.
"There is massive demand for reasonably priced, reliable, good-quality legal assistance," said Gillian Hadfield, a professor of law and economics at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law who serves as an adviser to several online legal companies, including LegalZoom.
That gap, Ms. Hadfield said, creates "tremendous opportunity" for companies that can use Web-based platforms to deliver legal services at a much lower cost than a bricks-and-mortar law office, where attorneys might charge consumers $150 to $500 an hour.
Big law firms that handle pricey corporate and government work still command much of the lucrative U.S. legal-services market, which generated $269.6 billion in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
But demand for high-end legal services fell after the recession, as deals slowed and big companies pushed back on legal bills, and it has yet to recover.
Meanwhile, some legal entrepreneurs are looking for gold in a largely untapped vein: ordinary people seeking affordable alternatives to traditional lawyers. The idea is to provide access to legal services online, the same way many now look for jobs, pick restaurants and shop.
When Guillermo Velez of Vallejo, Calif., needed to update his elderly mother's health-care directive and power of attorney recently, he hopped on the computer and started searching Google. He ended up using Rocket Lawyer, which he said appealed to him because it was simple and cheap.
"Lawyers are expensive," said Mr. Velez, a 49-year-old landlord and retired businessman. He said that in the past he has spent thousands of dollars to have lawyers draft documents. Some were virtually identical to the ones he found online, he said, adding that this way, "you cut out the middleman."
LegalZoom estimates that small businesses and consumers spent $97 billion on legal services last year, according to a study it commissioned from L.E.K. Consulting. In May the company filed for an IPO that it said could raise as much as $120 million, although Mr. Suh said plans to take the company public have been on hold since August because of market conditions.
The sector has drawn the attention of deep-pocketed investors. Last year Rocket Lawyer, which was founded in 2008, announced an $18.5 million round of financing from a group led by August Capital that included Google Ventures, the tech giant's investment arm.
Before the online boom, do-it-yourself types had few options beyond how-to guides from publishers such as Nolo Press. A handful of companies, including LegalZoom, staked online claims in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the field has become increasingly crowded ever since.
"In the last two years it has picked up enormously," said Stephanie Kimbro, a North Carolina lawyer with a Web-based practice and a member of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services.
Even some law firms have hopped on the bandwagon. In October consumer law firm Jacoby & Meyers LLC, which pioneered legal advertising on television decades ago, began selling online legal forms.
Legal startups in the U.S. face a significant hurdle: they aren't law firms and thus are barred from dispensing legal advice.
Some lawyers and bar associations have pushed back against changes that challenge the traditional delivery of legal services. LegalZoom has been sued for the unauthorized practice of law in a number of class actions, most of which have been settled.
To get around such restrictions, many companies work in tandem with solo attorneys and small law firms that field customer questions in hopes of drumming up more business. Rocket Lawyer makes its money through prepaid legal subscription plans, a service LegalZoom began offering in 2010.
Such arrangements allow lawyers to piggyback on the marketing power of online brands such as LawZam LLC, whose videoconferencing site allows people to get free initial consultations with lawyers. The downside? Lawyers can end up giving away too much of their time free, Ms. Kimbro said.
But the low cost, and the convenience, of the services is a big selling point for consumers such as Jane Coffman of San Luis Obispo, Calif., who used LegalZoom to revise her will last year after she and her husband divorced.
"There was a whole list of attorneys," said Ms. Coffman, 67 years old. "You choose, pick a time, and they call you right back…For a person of low to moderate means, this is a great way to go."
- - -