Court security is hot topic after recent litigation-related attacks
By Martha Neil, ABAJournal.com
February 21, 2013
Fatal shootings at or near courthouses, law offices and an elementary school throughout the country in recent weeks and months—as well as a former Los Angeles police officer's murderous rampage targeted at his attorney and others after what he described as an unfair firing—have focused increased attention on the security of lawyers and litigants.
In addition to renewed debate about the extent to which more gun control and mental health treatment may be needed, observers are wondering about the adequacy of security measures at courthouses and in other places where lawyers and litigants may be targeted.
In Connecticut, a massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown has gotten court officials thinking about arming some of the system's marshals. the Day reports.
They have not had guns since the judicial branch took over court security in 2000, the newspaper notes. But Judge Patrick L. Carroll III, who serves as the state's deputy chief court administrator, says the Sandy Hook tragedy, as well as a more recent fatal shooting at a courthouse in Wilmington, Del., has put the issue on the table for consideration.
Even without armed court marshals to prevent them, the last court-related shooting in the state was in 2005, the article notes. A retired state trooper in the middle of a divorce fatally shot his wife and himself, but his wife's lawyer survived and continued practicing matrimonial law.
In an ideal world, the state's courthouses would have well-trained, armed marshals or former police officers on duty, Superior Court Judge Kevin P. McMahon told the Day. "Do I think it's urgent? No. But would we kick ourselves if we didn't do something and something happened? Yes."
In Washington state, where a judge was stabbed and a sheriff's deputy shot at a courthouse without armed guards last year, lawmakers have introduced bills that would make it a felony offense to attack anyone in a courthouse, the Associated Press reports.
"Courthouses by their very nature are dangerous places," said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson during testimony last week at the state house of representatives. "We believe all citizens should have equal protection as they access our courts—victims, witnesses, jurors and family members."
At last report, the suspect accused in the Grays Harbor County Courthouse attack, Steven Kravetz, had been found competent to stand trial for attempted murder in Lewis County Superior Court, according to the Daily World. However, his defense lawyer, David Arcuri, insisted at the same August 2012 hearing that Kravetz wasn't competent to assist in his own defense, saying that the client, for example, had called his office 27 times in a single day, yet refused to discuss the case.
“Do not force me to work with this man without further mental help,” Arcuri told the judge. “It is impossible right now for me to represent him in his current state.”
At smaller courthouses in semi-rural locations, where security may be minimal at best, additional safeguards also are being taken.
At Montana's Yellowstone County Courthouse, there are plans to hire a security guard to patrol courthouse halls and check restrooms and elevators before the building is locked for the evening, the Laurel Outlook reports.
At the Doddridge County Courthouse in West Virginia, visitors for the first time went through metal detectors on Tuesday, WDTV reports.
And in North Carolina, court officials in Beaufort are asking Carteret County to amp up security and install metal detectors at the courthouse there, the News-Times reports.
More than 400 acts of violence targeted against courts throughout the country since 2005, and officials are still struggling to implement optimal procedures, often in historic buildings that were not constructed with modern security issues in mind, wrote two experts affiliated with the National Center for State Courts in a recent National Law Journal opinion piece.
Critical to court safety is a strong perimeter with a well-secured entrance, they write, pointing out that even fatal attacks often began and ended at the entrance, before they could escalate further.
The authors also suggest a national registry for such incidents, so that those responsible for court security can learn from what others have, and have not, done.
While good security can prevent an armed individual from entering a courthouse, it is more difficult to protect those outside, or even entering the building, as the recent fatal shootings of two women entering a courthouse in Wilmington, Del., illustrate, a county sheriff for Chester, Pa., tells the Daily Local News.
Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, who has been in charge of security for the West Chester courthouse since 2000, points to heated family disputes as the likeliest cases to ignite violence. Her court building, which opened in 2008, is conducive to security concerns, with only one public entrance, a small public lobby that provides little room for loitering and a "crow's nest" set-up in the main lobby which allows her deputies a view from overhead of what is happening at the entrance.
However, “if someone is determined to target someone for violence outside the courthouse, it would almost be impossible to stop that," she tells the newspaper.
"Realizing the Dream: Equality for All" theme of Alabama State Bar student Law Day contest
By Kent Faulk, al.com
February 18, 2013
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The Alabama State Bar is seeking entries using social media, posters, or essays on the theme "Realizing the Dream: Equality for All" from students in grades K-12 as part of its annual May 1 Law Day celebration contest.
This year's them celebrates the 50th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
"Rev. King's inspirational words continue to challenge us to live up to the ideal of equality under the law. Alabama lawyers are united and committed to upholding the rule of law to ensure that our citizens have the opportunity to realize the dream," State Bar President Phillip W. McCallum of Birmingham said in a prepared statement.
For information and entry forms, call 800-354-6154, extension 2126. The deadline is March 29, 2013. Tuscaloosa attorney David Rains is chair of the Law Day Committee.
Poster and essay entries will be presented in two classifications - grades K-3 and 4-6 for posters; grades 7-9 and 10-12 for essays and the social media category. A total of $2,400 in cash prizes will be awarded to winners. Teachers also receive a monetary gift for use in the classroom.
Law Day was established in 1958 by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to the state bar, "to strengthen our heritage of liberty, justice and equality under law."
"This is a national day set aside to celebrate the rule of law and to underscore how law and the legal process contribute to the freedoms we share," according to the Alabama State Bar press release.
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Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore: Budget plan would further endanger court system
By The Associated Press
February 17, 2013
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama's new chief justice, Roy Moore, said the state judicial system is in danger and conditions will worsen if the Legislature approves a budget recommended by the governor.
Moore said the system already is understaffed because of long-standing budget problems, and the governor's plan could mean more layoffs.
"We are basically being cut out of existence," Moore said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed a state General Fund budget that would give the court system $100.3 million for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That's down from $102.8 million this fiscal year.
The current budget is nearly a $23 million cut from the prior year's plan. To make up for the cut, the Legislature voted last year to raise the fees on all types of court cases ranging from traffic tickets to felonies. That was supposed to generate $25 million for the state's trial and appellate courts and $5 million for county circuit clerk's offices.
But Moore, who took office in January, said the fees are coming in at slightly less than half of what officials predicted last year, and the courts will end the year $13 million short of what they expected.
In addition, the governor's proposed budget doesn't account for a $6 million increase in mandated costs, primarily rising health insurance premiums for employees, he said.
Moore figures he would go into the new budget year behind by $19 million. "That could result in losing 25 percent of the people we have left," he said.
Moore wrote the governor Feb. 8 about his concerns. The governor's spokesman, Jeremy King, said Friday that they are not commenting.
The Alabama Constitution says the judicial system shall receive "adequate and reasonable funding." Moore faced budget problems when he began his first term as chief justice in January 2001. The General Fund appropriation back then was $120.1 million, which was more than the courts are getting 12 years later.
On the other hand, the Legislature has raised court fees and created other revenue-raising measures during that time to try to increase the court system's money from outside the General Fund.
Moore's first term as chief justice ended in 2003, when a state judicial court removed him from office for not following a federal court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building. He ran again for chief justice last year and defeated Bentley's former chief of staff, Chuck Malone, in the Republican primary.
Moore said court system employees haven't had a cost-of-living raise since 2008, and the court system has cut 261 positions, mostly court clerks and juvenile probation officers. That leaves 1,818 employees, he said.
"Our judges and judicial employees continue to make herculean efforts to maintain the justice system with every decreasing funds and staff," he said.
In Moore's view, Bentley created a morale problem for those employees Feb. 5 when he proposed a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise for education employees who are paid from the state education budget, but no increase for employees of state government programs, including the courts, who are paid from the General Fund.
"It is very difficult to explain to the many hardworking and dedicated court employees and officials of this State why your budget proposes more money for new programs and certain employee salary raises, while court employees have not received salary increase since 2008 and may well be faced with losing their jobs," Moore said in his letter to the governor.
When Bentley unveiled his budget proposals Feb. 6, his state finance director, Marquita Davis, said he was able to propose a raise for educators because the income and sales taxes that flow into the education budget have started recovering from the recession. But she said he could not propose one for employees of state agencies and departments because the taxes that flow in the General Fund remain flat.
The Legislature has not yet acted on Bentley's budget proposal or pay raise recommendation. Lawmakers have until mid-May to do that.
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Attorney follows God's plan, serves community
By Matt Elofson, Dothan Eagle
February 14, 2013
A Houston County woman hugged Tracie Melvin-Wilson on Thursday morning.
Melvin-Wilson helped the woman settle her divorce by serving as her attorney at the Houston County Courthouse.
“My client got everything she needed,” Melvin-Wilson said. “As a matter of fact, she said it was the best Valentine’s Day she’s ever had because now she’s free.”
Melvin-Wilson said it was her grandmother, Juanita Crawford, who inspired her to work in legal services. She’s worked most of her nearly nine-year career as an attorney at Legal Services Alabama, where she now serves as a managing attorney.
Melvin-Wilson said among the many services they provide is representation for divorces involving spousal abuse.
Her grandmother raised her after her mother, Lozene, became a victim of domestic violence. As a child, Melvin-Wilson’s mother was fatally shot by her father.
“I represent them the way I would’ve wanted someone to represent my mother,” she said. “Had my mother had someone in legal services to turn to, she could’ve gotten help. I wouldn’t want any child to grow up without a parent due to domestic violence because I lost mine to domestic violence.”
Melvin-Wilson started serving the community at the early age of 3 years old with her grandmother by reading to seniors and delivering canned goods in the community.
“I grew up in poverty, yet my grandmother instilled in me the importance of giving back to the community,” she said. “I exist today because of her.”
Under her grandmother’s tutelage, Melvin-Wilson grew up reading books about African Americans, including George Washington Carver, who taught at Tuskegee University where her grandmother attended school.
“She worked on our writing skills and speaking skills every week, not just in February,” Melvin-Wilson said of the reports and speeches she grew up preparing. “She always said it’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re going.”
Melvin-Wilson recalled a key motivational phrase she learned going up which went like “good better best, never let it rest until your good is better, and your best is best.”
Melvin-Wilson, who was the first African American valedictorian at Dothan High School, earned her undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University. She earned her law degree from the University of Iowa.
“My grandmother really believed Vanderbilt was the Harvard of the south,” she said.
Melvin-Wilson returned to Dothan in 2004 to care for her grandmother, who’d suffered a stroke. She passed away a short while later. Melvin-Wilson is married to Lawrence Wilson Jr. She has a 3-year-old daughter, Adiah Lonita Wilson.
“God always has a divine plan,” she said. “I think God’s plan was always for me to come back to Dothan and serve the community.
Melvin Wilson said she and the lawyers at Legal Services Alabama provide help to residents of seven counties across the Wiregrass. She said those services include debt collection defense, mortgage counseling, wills and simple estate planning and defense for people being evicted. She said people have to meet certain requirements to benefit from the legal services.
“My goal is to provide quality legal services to low-income citizens of the Wiregrass,” she said. “In honor of Martin Luther King and Black History Month, he always used to say ‘serving is the price for living,’ and I honestly believe it.”
Melvin-Wilson currently serves as the president of the Houston County Bar Association. She has several goals while serving as president of the local bar, which include bringing in speakers to enlighten and inspire members and to encourage local lawyers to serve pro-bono.
She also plans to offer a pro-bono clinic in the fall for area residents to get free legal advice.
“I think African American history is American history, and anytime we can recognize those who have overcome adversity to achieve success that’s inspiring,” she said. “I truly believe a little black girl from the projects who’s able to become president of the Houston County Bar Association is a testament to how great America is and how God is.”
Mitchell Dobbs, an attorney with Legal Services Alabama, referred to Melvin-Wilson as a “great mentor.”
“She’s an excellent writer, and she’s very smart. She does such a good job advocating for our clients,” Dobbs said. “She knows so much about the type of law we practice, helping low-income clients, which makes her a valuable asset to the community as well.”
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Work begins on new home for Birmingham School of Law
By Stan Diel, al.com
February 18, 2013
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - The new Birmingham School of Law "campus" in an 84-year-old, renovated building on the Southside will include a large reading room, moot courtrooms, a 114-seat lecture hall with stadium seating, and a rooftop patio big enough to host classes, the school's owner and the project's architect said today.
"It's going to be a different atmosphere," said David Fleenor, a managing partner in Hugh Locke Investments LLC and a grandson of school founder Judge Hugh A. Locke.
Work began today on the $3.5 million to $4 million project, which will convert what originally was a 1920s-era Chrysler and Plymouth dealership into a law school. The new facility will replace the offices the school now uses in the Frank Nelson Building, giving it its first dedicated home in its nearly 100-year history. Since its 1915 founding the law school has held classes in the Jefferson County Courthouse, the YMCA, the Nelson Building, and on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College, where its founder was a trustee.
Some of the character that is unique to an auto dealership building will remain, said Jay Pigford, a partner in the firm Architecture Works. The ramp that once carried pre-World War II cars to the upper floors will be the foundation for the lecture hall's stadium seating. Exposed brick and the original columns and windows will remain, and the warehouse-like design will allow for 14-foot ceilings. The rooftop patio, which was not in the original plans, likely will be a popular amenity, Pigford said.
"It's going to have unobstructed views of the skyline," he said.
The building, at the intersection of 22nd Street South and Third Avenue South, originally was the J.F. Oates Buildling, but most recently was home to the Tom Williams Porsche and BMW dealership and is known to many as the German Auto Building.
With about 540 students, the law school has long been the area's alternative to traditional, more expensive law schools. It's not accredited by the American Bar Association, but its graduates can sit for the bar exam in Alabama, and its alumni include personal injury attorneys Lanny Vines and Alexander Shunnarah; U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Anniston; and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.
Architecture Works is the architect on the project, and Golden Construction is the general contractor.
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The quandary of courthouse security
William E. Raftery and Timothy F. Fautsko, The National Law Journal
State courts handle more than 103 million cases every year, affecting every aspect of our life. Their universal accessibility has been at the cornerstone of our understanding of the rule of law for nearly 800 years, since the Magna Carta promised that courts would be openly held in the towns and villages of England. That transparency has always required a balance between free and open access and the need to ensure that the proceedings, the litigants and court staff are safe and secure.
According to the Center for Judicial and Executive Security in St. Paul, Minn., there have been 406 court-targeted acts-of-violence incidents against courts including shootings, bombings, arson attacks and incidents of knifings, assaults, murder-for-hire and bomb plots, suicides and other violence since 2005. While this figure reflects the most current data available, it is quite certain that a relatively high number of other incidents have occurred — but were not reported or have not been documented.
What we have learned in these past years, and appears to have been borne out in the February 11 shooting in Delaware — and in another only two days later in the parking lot of a South Carolina courthouse — is the critical nature that security at the entrance plays. Stopping a potential assailant at the courthouse doors is the easiest way to minimize tragedy. Consider the case of Crawford County, Ark., in 2011, where a heavily armed individual walked unopposed into the courthouse in the small town of Van Buren, firing as he progressed. The first action after the shooting was to reduce the six entrances in the building to one. The second was to put a screening checkpoint at the remaining entryway.
Court security has traditionally rested with localities that provide sheriffs and deputies or hire personnel to secure courts. This means a reliance on presiding judges, sheriffs, court clerks and administrators, and others involved daily with courthouses. Among the "Ten Essential Elements for Court Security and Emergency Preparedness" promoted by the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators was a focus on partnerships: "Strong and effective partnerships among state courts, law enforcement, and county commissioners must be developed to ensure successful security operations." In the words of Pennsylvania State Court Administrator Zygmont A. Pines, "We need to build a culture of collaboration that will create a mutually supportive network of information and assistance."
Many states have statewide court-security coordinators hired by the judiciary to help localities in this area. Others, such as Massachusetts and New York, have established their own court-security officers that are independent of local sheriffs and are specifically focused on the needs of the courts.
Although there are lessons learned, and reforms put into action, after courthouse tragedies over the past decade, many challenges remain. There is no national reporting system for state court security incidents. Although some states have created effective strategies for reporting and recording incidents, the fact remains that even the definition of an "incident" varies. Courts that are built and constructed in the future may have the latest in technologies and design features to deter attack, but many state courts are historic buildings that do not lend themselves to easy retrofitting. Moreover, a trend toward multiuse buildings presents additional challenges. For instance, perimeter security for a building with a courthouse on the third floor may be essential — but a considerable inconvenience to members of the public who are coming to pay their property taxes at a county office on the second floor. Concerns over multiuse buildings have also confronted various states and localities on the issue of possessing a weapon: Although every state is in agreement that guns should be generally banned in courtrooms, there is no such universal agreement when it comes to courthouses.
In recent years, several state legislatures have taken action to expand the list of people who are authorized to carry firearms into courthouses and courtrooms. Since 2011, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin adopted such measures. With the exception of Mississippi, whose legislation applied to private citizens, in all instances the legislation allowed certain public officials to carry weapons into a courthouse or courtroom. Many other states continue to entertain similar bills.
With the advent of courthouse security awareness, heightened security measures, refined policies and procedures, specialized training and site-specific security measures, one might expect that the number of incidents in recent years would have decreased rather than increased. As the Delaware and South Carolina incidents highlight, judges and court administrators continue to struggle with how to best protect their staff and the public.
In 2006, a year after a shooting rampage in an Atlanta courthouse left three dead, then Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears noted in her state of the judiciary address that "the incident underscored the need to improve safety and security for judges and judicial employees, both within and outside courthouses. Hard-working, decent court officials, litigants and their families should never face violent attack." The statement remains as true today as when it was spoken.
William E. Raftery is a knowledge and information services analyst at the National Center for State Courts. Timothy F. Fautsko is principal court management consultant at the center.
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To Practice Law, Apprentice First
By JOHN J. FARMER Jr., The New York Times
February 17, 2013
THE American Bar Association, which sets the standards for accrediting law schools, met recently in Dallas at a time of existential crisis for legal education. The job market for law school graduates is collapsing; some schools have been misleading, or even fraudulent, in reporting admissions and employment data; tuition and student debt have reached record levels. Some question legal education itself: What is its mission? What value does it add?
Those are legitimate questions. But to answer them for legal education, we also need to ask them of the profession.
Consider this: Nearly half of those who graduated from law school in 2011 did not quickly find full-time, long-term work as lawyers. Yet the need for legal representation has never been greater. In New Jersey, where I teach law, 99 percent of the 172,000 defendants in landlord-tenant disputes last year lacked legal counsel.
Nationwide, judges decry not a surplus of lawyers, but a lack of competent representation for those who aren’t rich individuals and corporations.
Lawyers cost too much in part because of rates established during the economic bubbles of the past 15 years. No less than in the dot-com or real-estate or derivatives markets, the cost of legal services became unsustainable. The recession worsened, but did not cause, the predicament now: a mountain of student debt and dearth of legal jobs, even as there is a crying need for legal services.
Legal education has not so much failed the profession as mirrored it. Law schools have trained students for a profession that has left a huge part of the public unable to afford representation — especially the middle class — and at a cost that perpetuates the problem.
There is a way out. Law schools and the legal profession could restore a vibrant job market by making representation easier to obtain. In doing so, they would revive their historic commitment to the balance between acquiring wealth and promoting civic virtue.
The New York State courts took a step in that direction recently by requiring pro bono service as a condition for admission to the bar. That is laudable, but many law schools already encourage or require pro bono service. That proposal doesn’t address the deeper problem: the disconnect between cost and need.
That disconnect relates to how lawyers are hired. Big firms have been hiring a few graduates from a few select schools, and paying them exorbitantly. The result: These law-firm associates provide services, like document review or memo drafting, at rates that their competence and experience don’t merit. In a recession, clients resist paying the rates; now, firms resist hiring new lawyers.
Let’s scrap this system. We need, at its entry level, the equivalent of a medical residency. Law school graduates would practice for two years or so, under experienced supervision, at reduced hourly rates; repaying their debts could be suspended, as it is for medical residents.
Law firms would be able to hire more lawyers, at the lower rates, and give talented graduates of less prestigious institutions a chance to shine. The firms, at the end of the residencies, could then select whom to keep. Even for those who don’t make the cut, the residency will have provided valuable experience. The law firms should be required, under this proposal, to offer stipends to help those residents who don’t make the cut but have debt burdens.
In theory, there would be no restriction on the types of matters residents could undertake. At Rutgers, where I teach, students in clinics work on commercial transactions as well as criminal cases. Many states restrict the activities of law students; but residents, as new lawyers, would be able to litigate and give legal advice without restriction.
This scheme would reduce the cost of legal services; rates would vary according to the attorneys’ experience levels and the clients’ abilities to pay.
Every form of legal practice could benefit, not just pro bono work. The largest firms would use the legal residents on large institutional matters and use the savings to lower hourly rates for clients. Large and small firms could afford to serve people who can’t afford legal services but don’t qualify for pro bono aid: the middle class. (Many of the indigent already qualify for free representation.)
Schools are already experimenting: Mine is about to start a postgraduate, nonprofit law clinic/firm staffed by recent graduates, under supervision, to represent lower-middle-class clients.
The greatest benefit, however, would be the recovery of an ethic of legal practice that has been greatly diminished. At its best, law protects the vulnerable, safeguards liberty and serves the public. By embracing a residency model, the profession can rebalance the tension between profit and service.
John J. Farmer Jr., a former attorney general of New Jersey and senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, is the dean of Rutgers School of Law in Newark.
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From Stay-at-Home Moms to Back-to-Work Lawyers
By MICHAEL WINERIP, The New York Times
February 18, 2013
Since 2007, the Pace University School of Law in White Plains has been running a program aimed at helping lawyers who had left the field — typically stay-at-home mothers — re-enter the legal profession. Called New Directions, the course consists of 11 weeks of classroom refresher training and then an 11-week internship working as a lawyer in any of a number of settings, including law firms, government and nonprofit agencies and corporate offices. Pace offers two sessions a year, typically of 12 to 18 lawyers each. About 95 percent are women, and the average age is about 50. To date, 150 people have completed the training, with about half going on to paying jobs as lawyers.
The cost is $7,000; participants may qualify for retraining grants of up to $3,000 from the United States Department of Labor. Other schools offering similar programs include the American University Washington College of Law Lawyer Re-Entry Program. That course is six days, spread over three weeks, and costs about $1,500; there are no internships. The University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco also has a program.
Following are interviews with three women who completed the Pace New Directions program.
CHERYL SCHACHT, 54, Pound Ridge, N.Y.
Current Position Litigation counsel for an international bank.
Law school Cleveland Marshall, class of 1984.
Positions before leaving law In-house counsel for a real estate developer, 1984 to 1988; prosecutor, United States attorney, Madison, Wis., 1988 to 1998.
Reason for leaving Stay-at-home mom for two children, now 15 and 18.
How long were you at home? Fifteen years.
Husband’s job? Lawyer for a nonprofit organization.
Did he consider being the stay-at-home parent? No, he’s a great dad, but I don’t think that’s something in his makeup.
Why did you want to return to law? I’d been taking care of everyone else, now I wanted to take care of me.
Had you applied for legal jobs? I sent off all these résumés. They disappeared into a black hole. I met with a recruiter in White Plains; she didn’t give me a very favorable response. She said there are so many people just out of law school with great credentials who can’t get jobs, maybe you should try a new career.
How did you feel the Pace program could help you? I was very concerned about the whole technology issue. When I last worked at the U.S. attorney’s office in the 1990s, I dictated letters and briefs that support staff typed. E-mail was just beginning.
What about that 15-year gap in your résumé? I thought to myself, “I’m not confident enough to put myself out there.” They said don’t ignore that period, don’t be ashamed, you need to say you were a full-time caregiver for two children. You were a class parent, a fund-raiser, on the hiring committees for the school district, you worked at church, you’re still a vibrant person.
Did the internship help? The sponsor organization knew that our skills were probably rusty and the internships allowed us an opportunity to practice working again with more training and mentoring than would be available if you were starting a real job cold turkey. People there were very interested in making sure we had a good experience. I was able to get my foot in the door of an organization, and they were able to observe me.
Your internships? I spent 11 weeks at a bank that ended last June. It went well, but they didn’t have anything. Then I did a second internship, an in-house position for a tech company, but they didn’t have anything either. In September, I was talking with the people at the bank, and they offered me the job I have now.
Salary? Less than my husband’s but more than when I left the U.S. attorney.
JEANNETTE ROSSOFF, 56, Manhattan
Current position In-house counsel, New York eHealth Collaborative, a nonprofit organization.
Law school Boston University class of 1983.
Position before leaving law Corporate attorney, Shearman Sterling, 1983 to 1985.
Reason for leaving Stay-at-home mom for four children, now ages 21 to 28.
How long were you at home? 20 years.
Husband’s occupation? Investment banker.
Did he consider being the stay-at-home parent? No. He was very ambitious.
Relevant work experience during the 20-year gap? A small, part-time law practice out of the home. I also did fund-raising for schools and a community park. And I was the president of our co-op board for five years. I oversaw the installation of a new gym — it needed two-thirds to pass. I was always dealing with irate shareholders.
Internship? New York State attorney general, charity bureau enforcement.
Did they offer a position? Several higher-ups said they wanted to, but there was a job freeze.
Did you consider returning to corporate law? No, I would have been competing with young people right out of law school willing to stay up all night working, and I didn’t have that kind of energy.
How did you find your current job? Networking. I must have talked to 50 people about jobs. I did a small pro bono case for one, which eventually led to the in-house counsel position. It also helped that I was able to talk with the people at Pace about what kind of salary and title to ask for — those are hard things to know.
Salary? Less than when I left Shearman Sterling in 1985.
Hours? 9 to 5 or 6.
Do you think your age hurt you? I actually think it helped. As a general counsel, a lot of what I do is giving advice. I’m not just some young bright kid, I can make judgments based on a lifetime of experiences.
CYNTHIA WELLS, 53, Rye, N.Y.
Current Position Staff attorney, Sidley Austin, securities law.
Law school Vanderbilt, class of 1984.
Position before leaving law Associate attorney, securities law, Brown and Wood, 1984 to 1989.
Reason for leaving Stay-at-home mom for six children, now ages 14 to 24.
Husband’s occupation? He owns a couple of businesses.
Did he consider being the stay-at-home parent? No.
Relevant experience while at home? Community volunteer work, my church — and six kids kept me plenty busy.
Your internship? Two days a week as an in-house counsel for the Juilliard School and three days a week at the law firm, Sidley Austin.
How did you get your job? Sidley Austin is the same firm I’d worked for before my children — it was renamed. I’d known the woman doing the hiring, and she was willing to give me the chance for an internship, which led to the job.
Was returning hard? When I came back, the Dodd-Frank Act was just being implemented and they needed lawyers with expertise in Dodd-Frank. So the law was new and I was new, and I learned the law as it evolved.
Hours? 50 or more.
Salary? Low six figures.
The young women who were your colleagues at the firm when you left are partners now, your bosses. Do you feel left behind? I’m definitely an ambitious person, I want to go as far as I can. But I am just so happy to be back practicing law. I do not consider myself limited. I think my own abilities will determine how far I can go.
No savings yet from Alabama's reform of its indigent defense payment system
by Tim Lockette, Anniston Star
MONTGOMERY — The cost of providing legal defense for impoverished criminal defendants is expected to rise significantly in 2013, despite the creation of a statewide office to rein in costs.
Alabama is on track to pay $75.6 million on indigent defense in the 2013 fiscal year, state budget documents indicate. That’s compared to $59.6 million in fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30, and $61.2 million in 2011.
The boost comes despite the creation in 2011 of a state Office of Indigent Defense Services to monitor how much the state spends on providing representation for people too poor to afford a lawyer. But supporters of that reform say the new system is just clearing out the deadwood and setting the stage for savings.
“Once we finish closing out contracts with lawyers under the old system, this should clear up,” said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who sponsored the law that created the new office. “You should finally start seeing some savings.”
But some are not yet convinced that changing the system was a good idea — saying that savings, when they come, will come by hiring lawyers on the cheap.
A basic right
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
It’s a phrase almost everyone has heard on television cop shows, and it’s something Americans have long expected of the court system. And rightly so, lawyers and judges say.
“Protecting my right to a fair trial is protecting your right, too,” said Calhoun County Circuit Judge Bud Turner. “It’s the most basic right there is.”
It’s also a right with a long, painful legal history. In 1932, when an Alabama court convicted nine innocent black men of rape in Scottsboro, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defendants have to be provided an adequate defense in capital cases. Rape was a capital crime in Alabama at the time.
Three decades later, a Florida inmate, Clarence Earl Gideon, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn his larceny conviction because he hadn’t been provided legal counsel. The ensuing case, Gideon v. Wainright, established that every defendant has the right to a lawyer, whether they can afford it or not.
Whether Alabama has lived up to the promise of providing adequate counsel is still a matter of debate. When lawmakers held a press conference Monday to announce an effort to exonerate the Scottsboro Boys, lawyers at the event noted that if the state doesn’t do a better job of providing counsel, an event like the 1930s Scottsboro rape trial could easily happen again.
“We still have loopholes, we still have racial discrimination in jury selection, and we still have problems providing effective assistance of counsel,” said Richard Jaffe, a Birmingham lawyer, at the Monday event.
It’s not just criminal defendants who get representation from the state’s indigent defense system. The state also pays for guardians ad litem— lawyers who represent kids who need a representative in custody cases, or older people, low on funds, who are facing commitment hearings.
Lawyers have never given Alabama good marks on its ability or willingness to provide defendants a legal defense. But about 10 years ago, the state started spending more — a lot more — on defense lawyers for the poor. Alabama paid $30 million for indigent defense in 2005, and twice as much in 2012.
It wasn’t by design. In 2006, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the state had to pay lawyers for overhead costs, such as maintaining an office. An American Bar Association study, conducted a few years later, cited that ruling as the reason for the surge.
‘Not a good way to do justice’
It didn’t help that the state lacked a central office to coordinate the state’s indigent defense lawyers, something many other states had. Across the state’s 41 judicial circuits, there’s a hodgepodge of systems. Some counties have public defenders, hired full-time to do criminal defense. Others let judges appoint lawyers on a case-by-case basis. Still others hire defense attorneys on contract often assigning a defender to a single courtroom and requiring them to take all the indigent cases that come to that courtroom.
In 2011 the Legislature finally set up a central state agency — the Office of Indigent Defense Services, or OIDS — to bring order to the chaos. The office set up a statewide, online system for lawyers to file requests for payment and it began reviewing those requests from Montgomery.
A central agency for public defense was something that legal and anti-poverty groups had been advocating for years. But the passage of a bill creating OIDS in 2011, a slim budget year, had some worried that the state would push all districts toward the contract system.
“That’s just not a good way to do justice,” said John Pickens, of the anti-poverty group Alabama Appleseed. He said studies by Appleseed and other groups found that lawyers in a contract system tend to become overloaded with cases.
“The level of representation is not as good, and the zeal of representation was not as good,” he said. Those are problems that can emerge with other systems, he said, but not as often as in contract arrangements.
Pickens said the general consensus among “anybody who cares about indigent defense” is that the public defender system provides the best service.
So far, the new system has fostered more of both public defender and contract systems, while chipping away at the number of appointment systems.
According to figures provided by the OIDS, 26 of the state’s 41 circuit courts have contract systems, and six have public defenders’ offices. The rest use the appointment system.
The number of contract systems grew by just one, Lauderdale County, though three other counties expanded existing contract systems. Two counties adopted the public defender approach.
One of those was Jefferson County, the state’s largest circuit, which made the switch from an appointed system to a public defender system. According to The Birmingham News, state officials expected the cost of Jefferson County’s $12.5 million system to drop by about $3.5 million.
Ward, the senator who helped create the OIDS, said the goal was always to shift courts toward the public defender model. Ward said he prefers the public defender approach, and he claims it’s actually cheaper than the contract model. The Star requested estimates from OIDS to show whether public defender or contract models were cheaper, but those numbers weren’t available by Friday.
But in the short term, the change hasn’t been cheap at all — yet. Assistant state Finance Director Clinton Carter said the $15 million increase expected in 2013 is actually the result of the state eliminating payments for overhead costs, and warning lawyers that the change was coming. Lawyers rushed in to file any outstanding requests for payment before the deadline, Carter said.
“We knew this would come out of the woodwork,” Carter said.
Those payments actually came out of the woodwork in the 2012 fiscal year, not this year, Carter said. It was a tight budget year, with the state ultimately raiding a state trust fund for $437 million to make ends meet. The state simply couldn’t afford to pay all the lawyers. So it didn’t — holding off payment until this budget year.
Carter said things really should be better in 2014. Per-case costs, he said, are already down.
The state Department of Finance projects that the cost of the system will drop again, to $58.7 million in 2014, once the old contracts are worked out.
Still, it’s a projection, noted Finance Director Marquita Davis. The actual numbers for 2014 could be higher — or lower.
“It’s what we consider an open-ended appropriation,” she said. “We don’t decide how many people get arrested, but we pay for their defense.”
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A Call for Drastic Changes in Educating New Lawyers
By ETHAN BRONNER
February 10, 2013
DALLAS — Faced with profound and seemingly irreversible shifts, the legal profession is contemplating radical changes to its educational system, including cutting the curriculum, requiring far more on-the-ground training and licensing technicians who are not full lawyers.
The proposals are a result of numerous factors, including a sharp drop in law school applications, the outsourcing of research over the Internet, a glut of underemployed and indebted law school graduates and a high percentage of the legal needs of Americans going unmet.
“There is almost universal agreement that the current system is broken,” said Thomas W. Lyons III, a Rhode Island lawyer and a member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, which gathered here over the weekend for a public hearing at the association’s midyear meeting.
While a few schools are freezing tuition and others are increasing hands-on learning, critics are increasingly saying that the legal academy cannot solve its own problems, partly because of the vested interests of tenured professors tied to an antiquated system. Effective solutions, they insist, will have to be imposed from the outside.
Since law schools are regulated by state courts, that means convincing top state judges of the necessity of major change.
At the task force’s hearing, where lawyers and students gave testimony, most said the time was ripe for that change.
Many recommended reducing the core of law school to two years from three to cut costs. Others suggested that college juniors should be encouraged to go directly to law school, the bar exam should be simplified, accreditation standards should be relaxed to allow for more experiential learning, and states should establish training for the legal equivalent of nurse practitioners.
The task force was set up last summer and was given 24 months to issue its recommendations. But its chairman, Randall T. Shepard, a former chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, said a sense of crisis was driving the group to do so this fall.
Over the years, bar associations and foundations have called for similar changes, with limited impact. But leaders in the legal profession say that this time is different.
“We are going to look at everything from scratch,” Laurel G. Bellows, a Chicago lawyer and the president of the American Bar Association, said in an interview. “We have to keep everything on the table.”
Paula Littlewood, a task force member and the executive director of the Washington State Bar Association, put it this way to her colleagues: “There’s a time for incremental change and a time for bold change. This is the time for bold change.”
Hers is one state that is not waiting. It has established a board to create a program for limited-license legal technicians, the first in the country. Within a year, the board is expected to lay out the educational and professional framework for the technicians. They will have more training and responsibility than paralegals but will not appear in court or negotiate on their clients’ behalf.
“The consuming public cannot afford lawyers, and the profession needs to figure that out and own it,” Ms. Littlewood said. “Our hope is to provide more access. The second point is that you have these folks out there doing unauthorized practice, which is harming the public. The hope is to bring them under the tent.”
Elsewhere in the country, law schools are trying to deal with declining popularity in a range of ways. The University of Akron Law School in Ohio has frozen its tuition and virtually ended its out-of-state surcharge. At the University of Oregon, Michael Moffitt, the law school’s dean, has started clinics on nonprofit groups, environmental policy and probate mediation. He has also set up law courses for students in other parts of the university, which brings revenue to the law school.
“The problem is that we have been selling only one product,” Mr. Moffitt said. “But if you are getting a business degree, you need to know about contract law. City planners need to know about land-use law. So we at Oregon are educating not just J.D. students.
“Demand is through the roof,” he added. “I feel like I am living a business school case study.”
Nicholas W. Allard, who became the dean of Brooklyn Law School in New York last summer after a career in government and private practice, said that in the past, graduates of elite schools arrived at major law firms with little knowledge of the actual practice of law. As a result, corporations hiring those firms felt that their large hourly bills were in effect going to train those graduates, who were assigned some of their work. Mr. Allard said those corporations are no longer willing to do that.
As a result, he said, law schools need to have far more practical training and closer ties to the legal profession. That has led a number of schools to choose deans from within the profession, like Mr. Allard, rather than from academia.
He also said legal practice had a growing global component that needed to be addressed. “Some international exposure is being looked at for the first year in many places,” Mr. Allard said. “Whether you have a shingle up in Park Slope or in Maine, you are going to have some need for an appreciation of international legal issues.”
One group that came under frequent attack at the meeting here was tenured law school professors, who were criticized as having high pay, low productivity and a remote relationship with the practice of law. Robert L. Weinberg, a retired founding partner of the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly and a lecturer at George Washington University Law School, said that instead of restricting the number of adjunct lecturers like himself, law schools ought to greatly increase them because they bring real-world examples to students.
Jim Chen, a professor of law at the University of Louisville and a former dean of its law school, said that to reduce law school from three years to two would mean that, in turn, tenured professors, whom he called the biggest expense for law schools, would have to take a one-third cut in pay. But, Mr. Chen said, they would never accept that, and the impetus for change would have to come from State Supreme Courts.
Derek M. Tokaz, the research director of Law School Transparency, a legal education policy group that seeks to guide some of the changes, told the gathering that drastic changes were needed in student loans and accreditation. Rather than start with the number of required classroom minutes or student-teacher ratio, Mr. Tokaz said, what students need to know upon graduation should be agreed upon first.
As the meeting ended, one task force member, Michael P. Downey of St. Louis, summed it up. “The house is on fire,” he said. “We don’t want a report that sits on a shelf.”