Alabama standoff over judicial contributions draws fire
By Mary Orndorff, The Birmingham News
July 25, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Alabama is no closer to resolving a 16-year impasse over regulating campaign contributions to state judges after a lawsuit that might have settled the matter was tossed out by three federal judges.
But the political landscape has changed in the days since the case was dismissed, and lawyers are attempting to restart the legal debate over how Alabama's dormant law banning judges from hearing cases involving big-dollar campaign donors might ever get enforced.
Now, the law is caught in a stalemate between the Alabama Attorney General's Office and the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court says it can't write the rule implementing it until the law is approved by the Justice Department as being non-discriminatory; the AG says the law doesn't need Justice Department review but can't be enforced until the Supreme Court writes the rule.
Three federal judges mocked this standoff in a recent opinion.
"To loosely paraphrase Robert Frost, two roads diverged from the statute, and neither was taken. Indeed, no step has yet trodden either," the judges wrote.
Anniston City Councilman Benjamin Little sued the state one year ago, saying the judicial donation law should be reviewed by the Justice Department as part of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which applies to states with a history of discrimination against minority voters. Little argued the legal limbo of the unenforced law chills his ability to make donations to judicial candidates of his choice.
But the three federal judges -- U.S. District Judges Mark Fuller and Keith Watkins, and U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat -- tossed his case, saying he didn't have standing to sue because the unenforced law has not yet harmed him. Indeed, no judges have been forced to recuse themselves from cases because of donations. The law would force a circuit judge to recuse himself if a party in a case or his lawyer gave $2,000 or more. The limit is $4,000 for appellate judges.
The federal judges also commented that there was no threat of the law being enforced as long as the standoff remains.
"Until one of these two Alabama political institutions changes its policy, it is at the least a game of political chicken, with both players staring (or perhaps winking) at each other," they wrote.
Earlier this week, Little's attorney, William Eugene Rutledge of Birmingham, asked the three-judge panel to reconsider. Since the case was dismissed, the state of New York has implemented a rule that judges can't preside over cases in which the parties or their lawyers were donors to their campaigns. And the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court announced her resignation, in part because of the intense demands of fundraising.
There is a national debate over judges running in partisan elections and whether they can raise money without risking the appearance of impartiality once they are on the bench. Alabama's spending on judicial elections, especially at the appellate level, is higher than most other states.
"Alabama has humiliated itself in front of the whole nation with these judicial elections," Rutledge said Friday, referring to the record-setting, multimillion-dollar judicial campaigns.
In his written arguments to the three-judge panel, Rutledge says Little would "like to be able to make moderate contributions to worthy judicial candidates without running into opposing litigants who, after making obscene donations to judges, clearly influence the outcome of litigation."
He also argues that the standoff between the AG and the Supreme Court has "erected an impenetrable shield" against any law requiring Justice Department approval.
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Storm victims asked to stay in touch
The News-Courier in Athens, Alabama
July 21, 2011
Storm victims with disaster-related legal questions can receive help from a team of volunteer lawyers with the Alabama State Bar. Residents can call 800-354-6154 Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. More information, including free publications about disaster-related legal problems, can be found at www.vlpbirmingham.org/disaster-legal-information.
See also, Agencies encourage storm victims to stay in touch
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Former Gov. Albert Brewer among Gov. Robert Bentley's choices for constitution commission
By Brian Lyman, The Montgomery Advertiser
Jul. 20, 2011
Gov. Robert Bentley's choices for the state's Constitutional Reform Commission include a predecessor who tried to overhaul the state's governing document 40 years ago and the head of a local Tea Party affiliate.
Bentley appointed former Gov. Albert Brewer; Wetumpka Tea Party president Becky Gerritson and Vicki Drummond, a supporter of the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Birmingham.
“Governor Brewer is a respected statesman and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this commission," Bentley said in a statement. "Vicki Drummond and Becky Gerritson have a dedicated passion and vision for exploring the need to reform the Alabama constitution."
Brewer, who served as governor from 1968 to 1971 and is now a law professor at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, established a commission in the late 1960s to consider revisions to the state's 1901 Constitution, framed to disenfranchise blacks and poor whites.
Brewer has continued to champion constitutional reform, and later served on a commission created by former Gov. Bob Riley to consider limited changes to the Constitution.
The 16-member Constitutional Revision Commission, established by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is charged with suggesting changes to the state's government document.
It is scheduled to suggest possible changes to the constitution's severe limits on home rule
Marsh has three appointments to the commission. He named Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963; Matthew Lembke, an attorney at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, and Jim Pratt, a Birmingham attorney, president of the Alabama State Bar and past president of the Alabama Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers.
Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, appointed Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham; Democratic polslter John Anzalone and Balch and Bingham attorney Greg Butrus.
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Vestavia Hills lawyer Phillip McCallum to head Alabama State Bar
By Eric Velasco, The Birmingham News
July 16, 2011
Phillip W. McCallum, a lawyer from Vestavia Hills, will take over today the role of president-elect of the Alabama State Bar. McCallum is a shareholder and senior partner in the Birmingham firm McCallum Methvin & Terrell. McCallum is active in civic, service and legal organizations and sits on the board of directors of Triumph Services, which helps support developmentally disabled people trying to live independently. McCallum received his law degree from Cumberland School of Law.
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Birmingham attorney named president-elect of Alabama State Bar
by Antrenise Cole, Birmingham Business Journal
July 11, 2011
Birmingham attorney Phillip W. McCallum has been chosen as president-elect of the 16,600-member Alabama State Bar.
McCallum, a founding shareholder and senior partner in the Birmingham law firm of McCallum Methvin & Terrell PC, will assume the office following the state bar’s annual meeting July 13-16. He will succeed James R. Pratt III as president-elect and serve as president during the 2012-2013 term.
McCallum has served nine years on the Board of Bar Commissioners, the bar’s decision and policy-making body and was a member of a state bar disciplinary panel.
Other professional affiliations include serving as a member of Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb’s Commission on Professionalism; chair of the state bar’s Celebrate the Profession Committee and former chair of the state bar’s Judicial Liaison Committee.
McCallum’s firm concentrates its practice in the areas of complex litigation, class actions, insurance fraud and consumer protection.
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Callaway honored by American Bar Association
George Talbot, Mobile Press-Register
July 11, 2011
Mobile lawyer Henry A. Callaway III, a partner in the Hand Arendall law firm, was selected as one of five national recipients of the American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award.
Callaway, who will be recognized at the ABA’s annual meeting in Toronto next month, is the first Alabama lawyer to receive the award. The Pro Publico Award honors legal professionals “who have enhanced the human dignity of others by improving or delivering volunteer legal services to the poor,” according to a news release.
Callaway was cited for his exceptional leadership, “out of the box” thinking and creative legal problem-solving. He has devoted more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time to serve on the Volunteer Lawyers Project board and handled 118 lifetime pro bono cases, most of which lay beyond his core expertise.
“The recipients of this national award have answered the call with genuine concern, dedication and generosity,” said Alyce Spruell, president of the Alabama State Bar. “We are thrilled to recognize Henry’s work and I congratulate him on a job well done.”
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Attorney Henry A. Callaway III receives national award for pro bono work
By Katherine Sayre, Press-Register
July 11, 2011
MOBILE, Alabama -- Mobile attorney Henry A. Callaway III has been named a recipient of a national award from the Alabama Bar Association recognizing his work in delivering legal assistance to low-income residents.
Callaway, a partner in the Mobile law firm Hand Arendall LLC, is the first Alabama lawyer to receive the Pro Bono Publico Award. He is one of five recipients this year.
He has devoted more than 1,000 hours of time to the Volunteer Lawyers Program, which provides legal assistance to Mobile's poor population. Lawyers assist in civil cases, such as adoptions, debt collection lawsuits, and evictions.
"These are the type of cases that don't generate any fees, but people need legal help in those cases," Callaway said.
He also created an awareness campaign about the program using public service announcements, appearances on TV and radio, and billboards advertisements, according to a news release from the Alabama Bar Association.
More than 750 lawyers participate, which represents two-thirds of the Mobile bar, he said. The national average for participation in free legal programs is between 20 percent and 25 percent, he said.
Mobile's pro bono program is the first and largest such organization in Alabama, he said.
As a law student at Vanderbilt, he said, Callaway took his first clinical class in which people came to get help from students.
"I saw what an impact a little bit of legal help could have on a low-income person," he said.
He said he has found the work personally rewarding, and he tells other lawyers that their volunteerism is enjoyable, not a burden.
Callaway graduated from Harvard University before moving on to Vanderbilt Law School. He is chairman of his firm's bankruptcy practice, according to the firm's website, and he spends much of his time representing creditors in federal bankruptcy court.
"As lawyers, we have a duty and responsibility to better our communities and help our neighbors," Alyce Spruell, Alabama State Bar president, said in a news release.
"Particularly now when government support for legal services has dropped and the need for legal services has grown significantly, pro bono services are more essential than ever," she said.
"The recipients of this national award have answered the call with genuine concern, dedication and generosity. The state bar is thrilled to recognize Henry's work, and I congratulate him on a job well done."
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On the record: Jim Pratt, incoming president of the Alabama State Bar
By Russell Hubbard, The Birmingham News
July 10, 2011
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Birmingham lawyer Jim Pratt is taking over as president of the Alabama State Bar at a historic time, as cooperation grows between disparate groups: the lawyers who sue for a living, those who defend the sued, and the Legislature charged with governing it all.
Pratt, who works at the Hare Wynn Newell & Newton firm, takes office July 16, and will lead the advocacy, disciplinary and professional development organization representing the state's 16,600 lawyers.
There is something new in the air. During the past legislative session, concessions were agreed upon by the plaintiff's and defense factions. Limits were placed on various aspects of suits seeking monetary damages for alleged wrongs. Pratt, as the bar's president-elect, played a central role in keeping both sides on track during negotiations on the tort reform bills.
It is a juggling act. On one side, Pratt is himself a trial lawyer, working for one of the state's most prolific plaintiff's firms, an expert litigator who has racked up historic verdicts in products liability cases.
On the other, he represents all lawyers with his position at the state bar, and would have violated all codes of conduct and ethics if he had used his office to advance the interests of his side.
A. "We are developing a reputation for neutrality, as facilitators," Pratt said. "It started with special ethics reform bills in the previous session, when the governor and the Senate majority and minority leaders each independently called and asked for our input."
"Q. How do you become president of the Alabama State Bar?
A. It is an elected office. After you are elected, you spend a year as president-elect. In some years, the office is contested, and in some years it is not. My wife says that while I ran unopposed, it doesn't mean I have no opposition.
Q. What is the feeling in the air between plaintiff lawyers, defense attorneys and the business community after the latest legislative session?
A. The atmosphere in the recent session was different than anything I have ever seen. Plaintiff lawyers, defense lawyers and the business community got along together very well. There were very civil discussions on tort reform. The state bar facilitated these discussions as a neutral party, and I think that helped. In the past, we couldn't agree about how long to meet and when to take breaks.
Q. What came out of it?
A. A package of five tort reform bills was agreed upon and passed both chambers without resistance. One was a venue law that prevents chasing a friendly venue in death cases. One makes it easier for retailers to be dismissed from manufacturing and design cases, so long as it is shown they caused no harm. Another raises the standard that must be met before experts can testify in scientific cases. The interest rate that runs after a civil judgment is entered was lowered from 12 percent to 7 percent. Another bill shields architects, engineers and contractors from liability after seven years when previously it was 13 years.
Q. What is the role of plaintiff's lawyers in our legal system?
A. We represent people and companies that would not otherwise have a voice or manner of redress when they have been wronged. We also stimulate better and safer products and workplaces. Products liability has been my specialty. A lot of what we take for granted in many products came from litigation. In vehicles, everything from airbags to anti-lock brakes to fuel tank placement. Some for airplanes and food and drugs. Certainly, the other side in these matters has a strong and powerful voice.
Q. What does it take to bring a major civil damages suit to trial?
A. The first thing is a thorough investigation. We don't file cases unless we have convinced ourselves the facts and the evidence support the claims. It involves investigators asking hundreds of questions, taking photos and interviewing experts. The public usually doesn't see this part. Then there is the testimony. Dozens of witnesses and thousands of documents. We have our own in-house information tech team on the third floor, processing documents into databases, so that during a trial of deposition, I can call up anything in the case on a screen, have a section highlighted or whatever. Half the time, our litigation support people know what I want before I even say anything. Then you have to choreograph everything and make it presentable to a group of people -- jurors -- who are hearing this story for the first time.
Q. Sounds expensive.
A. It is. Firms in our business typically represent clients who can't pay the upfront costs of bringing a case. So we pay for it. Everyone hears about legal fees and jury awards, but people rarely hear about the money we advance to get a case going. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses are usually required.
Q. Why did you become a lawyer?
A. After college at Auburn, I was an officer in the U.S. Army, a tank unit that was part of the Ninth Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Wash. I had a regular commission, just like you get at West Point because I was in the ROTC program at Auburn. I was the commander of a tank platoon, but was reassigned with a year left to go. President Nixon was pulling back from Vietnam. So I was told to report to personnel and pick a job. I picked "legal department." They said you had to have a degree. They didn't say what kind, so I said I did have a degree. I just didn't tell them it was in English literature. You didn't have a law degree back then to participate in some non-jury cases in the Army legal system, so I sat in the back for awhile, then actually began to participate. I liked it.
Q. What are your goals for your year in office?
A. I want to build on what we accomplished during the session. I want the state bar to be a resource that might help in resolving the problems in Jefferson County, any sort of liaison we can do with state government. I also think there is a better way to select judges at the supreme court and appellate levels. It is too expensive and unfair to the judges. The perception is they are beholden to whichever special interest. I would support most anything that reduces the money and lessens the strife.
Q. Sounds ambitious.
A. Well, I'm not a caretaker type.
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OUR VIEW: New York reminds us of what Alabama needs to do about the growing influence of money in judicial elections – [Editorial]
By Birmingham News editorial board
July 1, 2011
This week, New York's Administrative Board of the Courts announced it will prohibit cases from being assigned to judges that involve their big campaign contributors. The board did so because of concerns over the growing influence money has in judicial elections.
The new rules prevent, with a few exceptions, a case being assigned to a judge who has received $2,500 or more in the past two years from any lawyer or party involved in the case.
"If we don't have our neutrality, if we don't have our impartiality, we have nothing," New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said.
And this matters to Alabama why? Because little, old Alabama is a trend-setter in spending on judicial races, particularly Supreme Court races. All that money feeds people's perception that justice is for sale to the highest bidder. Too many people believe Alabama judges don't have their neutrality and don't have their impartiality, which leaves judges with nothing. Except a whole lot of campaign money to spend every election cycle.
From 2000 through 2008, candidates in Alabama Supreme Court races raised almost $41 million, according to the Justice at Stake Campaign, a nonpartisan group working to keep courts fair and impartial. That was the most in the country. Supreme Court candidates in Ohio, which ranked No. 2, raised $21.2 million.
If anything, Alabamians should question judges' impartiality even more than people do in other states, and the numbers from national polls already are high. In a Harris Poll last June, 71 percent of those surveyed nationally believe campaign contributions to judges have some or a great deal of influence on their decisions. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said judges should not hear cases involving those who spent $10,000 or more supporting their election.
What's a shame is Alabama has had a law on the books for a decade and a half that mandates recusal of a judge from a case involving campaign contributions that exceed $2,000 for trial judges and $4,000 for appellate judges. There were just a few problems with the law, though.
It never has been enforced because of a years-long battle between the state attorney general's office and the U.S. Department of Justice over whether the Voting Rights Act required pre-clearance of the statute. Even if the law had been enforced, its requirements could have been skirted easily because of gaping loopholes in Alabama's campaign finance laws. One allowed political action committees to transfer unlimited amounts of money among themselves and hide from the public the tracks leading to the source of a campaign contribution. The other allowed third-party groups to run attack ads against candidates without disclosing who was giving them money.
In last December's special session, the Legislature banned PAC-to-PAC money transfers. The Legislature in its regular session was poised to force third-party groups to file campaign forms, until a legislative conference committee struck that section of a campaign-finance bill.
Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that large campaign contributions to judges threaten the constitutional right to a fair trial because they pose a risk of "actual bias" in cases involving their political benefactors. It was unfortunate justices offered no clarity on what constitutes "extreme spending" and "disproportionate influence" in cases
That is something Alabama lawmakers can, and must, do. The Legislature needs to fix the law on judicial recusals and close the loophole on third-party spending. Otherwise, many Alabamians will continue to believe our justice is for sale.
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Verdict is out: Local law jobs limited
by Antrenise Cole, Birmingham Business Journal
July 8, 2011
Ginny Willcox, a May graduate of Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, didn’t face the same challenges during her job hunt as many other law school graduates.
She actually found one.
After working at Balch & Bingham LLP in the summers before her second and third years in law school, she received an offer at the end of her second summer to become an associate with the firm when she graduated.
That’s the traditional way of getting a job out of law school – but a national survey revealed that the law school class of 2010 is facing the worst job market since the 1990s, and experts say the legal job market in Alabama is following the national trend, leaving graduates in what media outlets have called “the lost generation of lawyers.
” The overall national employment rate for new graduates is 87.6 percent, which is the lowest it has been since 1996, when the rate was 87.4 percent, according to a survey by the National Association for Law Placement Inc. in Washington, D.C.
The employment report measured the rate of 2010 graduates as of Feb. 15, or about nine months after May graduation, according to NALP.
Jeffrey Price, director of career development at Cumberland School of Law, said the legal market is still seeing the effects of the Great Recession. In a thriving economy, most large law firms offer permanent positions to students in the summer before their second and third years of law school. But the current economic conditions have slowed hiring and caused law firms to shrink the number of students they take, creating a “lag” in the legal job market.
Price said law firms are not taking the chance of hiring as many lawyers as they once did because there’s still a lot of uncertainty about the economy.
The Alabama State Bar recently conducted a survey using 454 individuals who were admitted to the bar. Eighty-four percent said they were able to get legal-related jobs in the first six months after being admitted. However, Keith Norman, executive director of the Alabama State Bar, said the individuals didn’t get the jobs that they hoped for or the salary they expected.
“Law school graduates are having a difficult time finding the jobs they want,” he said. “It’s a combination of factors. Not only is it a tight job market, but it’s also due to a set of unrealistic expectations.”
Norman said a sizeable group, 9.7 percent, reported that it took more than a year after admission to the bar to find legal-related employment. Richard Brock, founding partner of American Legal Search, said law firms are hiring, but certainly not at the pace that they were before the recession.
“It’s better now than it was 18 months ago,” he said. “If the economy comes back, I think it will have a significant impact on the legal market. On the other hand, if the economy remains somewhat sluggish, then that’s certainly going to have an impact, as well.”
Balch & Bingham, the third largest law firm in the area, has strategically kept its summer class sizes smaller, said Director of Marketing Aimee Puckett. “
The smaller class size allows us to give greater attention and focus to the individual clerks,” she said. Balch & Bingham’s incoming associate Willcox, who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public relations from the University of Alabama, said the legal job market is definitely not wide open, but “the opportunities are absolutely out there.”
The law graduates just can’t be picky, she said. “
In this economy, it is unreasonable to expect 100 percent employment,” she said. “However, it appears that the more flexible one is willing to be in terms of geographic scope and type of legal work, the more likely he or she is to find employment.”
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Alabama lawyer group sues LegalZoom, wants ban in state
By Russell Hubbard, The Birmingham News
June 10, 2011, 11:39 AM
The DeKalb County Bar Association said today it has filed a lawsuit that asks a judge to bar the online forms company LegalZoom.com from doing business in Alabama, saying the Los Angeles-based firm is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
The suit filed in DeKalb County Circuit Court requests that LegalZoom be permanently prohibited from creating legal documents and related services for Alabama residents.
Fort Payne attorney Daniel Campbell, president of county's bar association, said in a statement that LegalZoom's offering of standard legal forms such as wills and incorporation papers that are then customized to the buyer's preference has been prohibited by Alabama law for many years.
"Alabama's unauthorized practice of law statutes prohibit anyone who is not a lawyer from advising or counseling another person on legal matters, and from preparing or assisting another person in preparing any document or instrument such as a will or deed in Alabama," the bar association said in a statement.
LegalZoom.com was founded by O.J. Simpson lawyer Robert Shapiro and partners, billing itself as a cheap and convenient source of legal documents. Attempts to reach officials with the company were unsuccessful.
Public insurance adjusters called illegal in Alabama
By Jeff Amy, Mobile Press-Register
July 3, 2011
In at least 44 states, insurance policyholders can hire their own adjusters, called public adjusters, to help settle claims after a loss. But the legal status of public adjusters is cloudy at best in Alabama.
Following April’s savage tornadoes, the Alabama State Bar warned that public adjusters are illegal in Alabama, saying that they are practicing law without a license and could face criminal prosecution.
Insurance Commissioner Jim Ridling says that policyholders are generally free to hire whoever they want to advise them on making claims with their insurer. It’s when the third party takes charge of the negotiation for the policyholder that things get murky, Ridling said.
Various public adjusters have solicited business in Alabama since the tornadoes, which are expected to result in 90,000-plus claims and more than $3 billion in damage. For example, United States Adjusters, based in Boca Raton, Fla., has a website seeking business in Alabama. Officials with that company say they work through a lawyer, though.
When someone files a claim with an insurer, the company sends an adjuster to examine the damage and determine how much repairs will cost.
A public adjuster, however, represents the policyholder, working up a separate damage estimate and bargaining with the insurer. The policyholder pays for the service, giving a public adjuster 10 percent to 25 percent of a settlement depending on the state and type of claim.
A study by Florida legislative researchers found that policyholders represented by public adjusters typically get more total money from their insurance company.
But the study also found that claims handled by public adjusters can take much longer to settle. Public adjusters may present more information that an insurer has to investigate, as well as encourage policyholders to formally dispute a settlement through a lawsuit, mediation or a form of arbitration known as appraisal.
Insurers warn that public adjusters inflame policyholders’ distrust, and may defraud insurers by inflating claims to reap more money for themselves.
"Once you cross that bridge and go to the public adjuster side of things, (insurers) will hate you forever," said John Merchant, a former contract adjuster for insurers who now owns a Georgia roofing company seeking work in Alabama.
Merchant says he tries to help his clients maximize claims, giving them more money to spend for repairs with his company. "We don’t negotiate the claim so much as we educate the policyholder. I cannot legally do the negotiating in Alabama," Merchant said.
In Florida, the state with the most public adjusters, lawmakers have moved to restrict some of their activity.
Monique Kabitzke with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said insurers believe some public adjusters were "manufacturing claims" where there were none, engaging in "basically just plain and outright fraud."
The Alabama bar association on May 9 issued a statement that said any third party who negotiated with an insurance company on behalf of a policyholder was committing a misdemeanor.
"Alabama does not license claims adjusters so any claims settled by such third-party recovery firms are considered to be the unauthorized practice of law, which is subject to criminal prosecution," the statement said. "Anyone assisting third-party adjusters attempting to settle claims on behalf of claimants could also be charged with aiding and abetting in this illegal activity."
Tony McLain, the bar’s general counsel, said that even giving advice on how to negotiate with an insurance company could be a crime. "If they’re giving you legal advice, that’s practice of law," he said.
McLain said that Alabama’s law against unlicensed lawyering is broad. The law says in part that non-lawyers can’t get paid to "adjust" disputed "claims," in a situation where the non-lawyer isn’t the person making the claim or an employee of a company making the claim.
Others disagree with that stance.
Brian Goodman, a lawyer for the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, says that even though its members aren’t licensed by Alabama, the association maintains that such work is "perfectly legal" everywhere.
Ridling said he believed that public adjusters could advise policyholders, but probably couldn’t negotiate directly with insurers.
Ridling submitted a May 23 request to Attorney General Luther Strange for an opinion on whether public adjusters are legal here. Ridling wrote in part that the department believed public adjusters would level the field for policyholders by giving "Alabama consumers access to the type of adjusting experience and expertise that insurers already have."
Ridling also asked Strange whether, if public adjusters were legal, the state could quickly regulate them by decree under its emergency management law.
But Ridling withdrew the request for an attorney general’s opinion on June 21. His chief of staff, Ragan Ingram, said that Ridling decided to pursue a "legislative solution" instead.
"We believe clarity on this matter is important and are seeking the best path to get there," Ingram wrote in an email.
Bills to license and regulate public adjusters were introduced in the recently concluded legislative session by state Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Gulf Shores, and state Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile. Neither of those bills made it out of committee.
McMillan said he introduced the bill at the request of Dave Stewart and George Harris, Alabama lobbyists for the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. But they asked him not to move the bill because they couldn’t get agreement from interested parties, he said.
"We are trying to pass this model bill that would provide some teeth to the Department of Insurance to weed out bad actors," Harris said.
McLain said the bar wasn’t consulted about the bill. Though it believes public adjusters are now illegal, McLain said the bar is not opposed to legalizing and licensing them. "No, not at all," he said.
Kabitzke declined to comment on whether insurers opposed the bill. "We will look at the issue again the upcoming session," she said.
Ridling’s letter to Strange indicated that the Insurance Department supported the bill, and said it was largely based on a model law developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
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Race to escape: Alabama judge resigns, citing cost of elections
By Carlyn Kolker, Thomson Reuters
NEW YORK, June 30 (Reuters) - The top judge in Alabama is stepping down in the middle of her term, citing the mounting costs of judicial elections.
Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, the lone Democrat on Alabama's nine-judge elected court, said in a statement on Wednesday that she had a variety of motives, family included, for resigning.
"One of my keenest disappointments has been my inability to convince the members of the legislature to improve the method in which judges are selected in our state," Cobb said in a statement describing her 4-plus year tenure as the top judge.
Between 2000 and 2009, contributors spent more than $40 million for Alabama's top court election campaigns, according to Justice at Stake, a Washington-based non-profit group that advocates for judicial reform. That amount is nearly twice as much as the second-highest state, Pennsylvania, where contributors spent $21 million.
Of 26 states with elected top court judges, there are wide swings in the contributions doled out: from Alabama on one extreme, to North Dakota - where just $15 was raised - on the other, the group said. Spending on top court elections across the country doubled from one decade to the next.
"The amount of money spent in Alabama on judicial races is obscene," said J. Mark White, an attorney with law firm White Arnold & Dowd in Birmingham and the past president of the Alabama State Bar Association.
"She tried every way possible, along with the bar, to get a more civilized and economical way to select our judges," said White.
Albama's top court races have been increasingly heated in recent years as money from interest groups poured into the races, according to Justice at Stake. Tort reform groups and plaintiffs' lawyer groups, seeking to sway the high court agenda, both made large donations. Contributions for top court races have ratcheted up with each election since the mid-1990s.
In her statement Cobb urged that top court judges be either appointed, or elected only in retention races.
"To do otherwise is to perpetuate the public perception that judges are selected more on campaign contributions than on ability," Cobb wrote.
Cobb herself received $2.62 million in contributions during the 2006 Alabama Supreme Court election, a multi-candidate election that was the costliest state judicial race ever, with candidates raising a total of $13.5 million, according to Follow the Money.
Cobb will step down on August 1. She was slated to be up for reelection in 2012.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, will appoint someone to fill Cobb's seat, and an election will be held in 2012.
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Consumers Finally Figure Out That Law School is Overrated
By Zac Bissonnette, TIME Magazine
July 5, 2011
Not so long ago, enrolling in law school was an almost guaranteed ticket to a six-figure salary. But with horror stories circulating through the media about six-figure debt loads and no jobs for recent law school grads, many students are reconsidering.
And the slight decline in interest is leading a few law schools to slash the number of places in their new classes. Touro Law Center, Albany Law School and Creighton University School of Law have all announced plans to cut enrollment, and the Chronicle of Higher Education reports: “While most law schools are still claiming high job-placement rates, those numbers don’t seem to show up in other reports. A study by Northwestern University’s law school estimated that since January 2008, about 15,000 attorney and legal staff jobs have disappeared from the nation’s largest firms.”
The really bad news for prospective lawyers is this: The recession certainly hasn’t helped matters, but the negative trends are more than cyclical. And, in fact, a few observers have been noticing trouble for law school grads for years. Almost five years ago to the day, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece titled “Law school by default,” which argued that:
“The legal profession is really two professions: the elite lawyers and everyone else. Most of the former start out at big law firms. Many of the latter never find gainful legal employment. Instead, they work at jobs that might be characterized as ‘quasi-legal’: paralegals, clerks, administrators, doing work for which they probably never needed a J.D. … The mean salary for graduates of top 10 law schools is $135,000 while it is $60,000 for ‘tier three’ schools. It’s certainly possible that tier-three graduates tend to gravitate toward lower-paying public-interest and government jobs, but this lower salary may also reflect the nonlegal nature of many of these jobs and the fact that these graduates are settling for anything that will pay the bills.”
My advice to would-be law students is this: Don’t think that law school is a guarantee of anything, and only consider going if the career you are passionate about involves being a lawyer. Keep your ego out of it, and don’t be seduced by the bright lights of a J.D. Finally, let your results on the LSAT influence your decision: If you aren’t qualified to get into an elite law school, consider that it might not be the right career for you anyway.
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Consultant Backtracks: Lawyer Surplus in Nearly Every State
By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABAJournal.com
June 30, 2011
There was scant good news when Economic Modeling Specialists released its analysis of job openings and bar passage numbers this week. The consulting company concluded that nearly every state has an oversupply of lawyers. [See last week’s Weekly News Digest]. The exceptions, it said, were Nebraska, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.
Now the company is taking a second look at the numbers, the Washington Post reports. EMS notes that Washington, D.C., allows lawyers to practice there if they passed the bar in another state, and Wisconsin admits graduates of law schools in the state to the bar without requiring an exam.
As a result, Economic Modeling Specialists has arrived at a new conclusion: There might not be any states with a lawyer shortage.
The study compared the number of people who passed the bar exam in each state in 2009 with the estimated number of lawyer job openings in those states. Overall, 53,508 people passed the bar in 2009, about twice the number of estimated job openings, which was 26,239.
New York had the greatest lawyer surplus, estimated to be 7,687 too many lawyers for each of the next several years if bar passage numbers stay the same. It is followed by California, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts, with surpluses ranging from 2,951 to 1,450 too many lawyers each year.
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