Lawyers on layaway: Alabama bills indigent defendants for court-appointed attorneys
by Tim Lockette, Anniston Star
MONROEVILLE – If anybody could claim to be a real-life Atticus Finch, Mickey Womble could.
Womble practices law out of a former bookstore on the town square in Monroeville, the town that inspired the book “To Kill A Mockingbird.” As public defender for Monroe and Conecuh counties, Womble defends anyone here who’s tried and is too poor to pay for a lawyer.
But he can’t say he defends them for free — because that just isn’t true.
“There’s really no such thing as a free lawyer,” he said.
Womble’s clients, if they’re found guilty, can face hundreds of dollars in court-imposed legal fees, even though they’ve already demonstrated that they’re too poor to pay. The money doesn’t go directly to Womble – it goes into state coffers, to offset the cost of paying court-appointed attorneys.
And Womble’s not the only public defender whose clients pay for representation. State documents acquired by The Star show that indigent defendants paid $4 million in legal fees and other trial-related costs to the state in fiscal 2012, according to figures from the state Department of Finance.
State officials say the $4 million collected in 2012 is only a fraction of the legal fees actually imposed on indigent defendants, who don’t have to pay until they’re released from jail or prison.
Legal fees for indigent defendants are old news to the lawyers who defend poor clients. But as Alabama’s cash-strapped court system adds more court fees for all sorts of services, lawyers such as Womble are beginning to ask whether the state is piling too much onto impoverished people in the court system.
Lawyers on layaway
The right to an attorney, even for those too poor to pay, has been a part of the American legal landscape since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright, decided 50 years ago. In that case, a Florida man, imprisoned on a burglary charge, argued that the state violated his rights by trying him without a lawyer, which he couldn’t afford.
Many people think that since Gideon, impoverished defendants have received legal services for free. But in Alabama, it’s long been more like a layaway plan.
In counties with a public defender’s office, indigent defendants pay a flat fee, based on the type of case being tried. In Tuscaloosa County, the price is $500 for drug possession cases, $750 for drug distribution cases and $1,000 to fight charges of first-degree robbery or first-degree burglary, said Randy Rose, a staff attorney with the Tuscaloosa County public defender’s office.
In Calhoun County, where lawyers are appointed on a case-by-case basis to defend indigent clients, defendants can be ordered to pay back every penny the state spent on their defense. The state has caps on how much it will pay lawyers for indigent defense, but the cost can be as high as $3,500 for a serious felony case.
"It’s a much smaller rate than you’d pay a private lawyer, but you’re paying," said Anniston lawyer Bill Broome, the president-elect of the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Defendants have to pay the state back only if they’re found guilty, and they don’t have to pay until they’re released from prison. The clients who cost the most to defend — those in capital cases — will likely never pay, because a guilty verdict will place them in prison for the rest of their lives.
The rest typically pay on an installment plan, starting when they leave prison.
“It’s very nominal,” said Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones. “Some of it is $50 a month or $100 a month.”
The fee is typically part of a larger collection of court costs an ex-offender has to pay down — including fines, court fees and restitution to victims.
“You can rack up $4,000 to $5,000 worth of fines and costs in a heartbeat,” said Calhoun County Circuit Judge Bud Turner. “People have no idea.”
How it’s paid
For defense attorneys like Womble, the idea of charging fees to someone who has been already declared indigent seems absurd.
"If you haven’t had a job since you got out of high school, and don’t have a relative who can give you some money, how are you going to pay it?" Womble said.
State officials note that judges have the discretion to waive attorney fees for people who show they can’t pay. Clinton Carter, a deputy director in the state Department of Finance, said the collection rate on indigent-client attorney fees is low, with the $4 million collected representing only a fraction of the total fees owed. (The Star’s calls to the state Office of Indigent Defense Services, which is part of the Finance Department, were referred to Carter.)
Jones, the Calhoun County circuit judge, said that only in rare instances does she waive fees for clients who say they’re unable to pay. She said she’s more likely to ask them to sit down with court officials and work out a budget. She said there’s often something the ex-offender can do without.
“Usually they’ve got things on their budget like cable TV,” she said. “I ask them if they’re a smoker.”
Most can manage at least $10 a month, she said. For some, it might take 10 years to pay off the debt, she said.
At least 13 states charge some sort of fee for using the services of a public defender. That was the finding of a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which looked at court fees in the 15 states with the largest prison populations. Alabama, where more than 25,000 people live in prisons built for 13,000, is one of those 15 states.
“Costs for a public defender range from a $50 fee to apply for representation to hundreds, or thousands, of dollars in legal fees,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, a lawyer who works for the Brennan Center.
Many of those same states are also increasing other court fees, Eisen said.
"A lot of court systems are struggling, across the country, to fund themselves," Eisen said. "They’re turning to court fees as a source of revenue."
In 2012, the Alabama Legislature approved a raft of increased court fees intended to raise more than $20 million to bolster the state's court system, which has laid off workers and limited working hours in recent years due to budget constraints.
Eisen said those fees can saddle ex-offenders with debt that makes it hard for them to start a new life.
"It adds to what is an insurmountable cycle in the criminal justice system," she said.
Eisen said pursuing court debt could actually end up costing states more than they’re owed. If ex-offenders land in jail because of non-payment, the cost of incarceration could easily add up to thousands of dollars. There’s also the labor cost incurred when court systems or district attorney’s offices act as debt collectors, she said.
‘Can they pay part?’
University of Alabama law professor Joseph Colquitt says the attorney-fee system isn’t really a threat to defendants’ rights to representation.
“This is in complete compliance with Gideon,” he said. “A client may not be able to afford the cost of an attorney up front. The question is, can they pay part of it?”
Colquitt, a former criminal defense attorney and retired judge, said that in the years immediately after the Gideon decision, judges would simply appoint lawyers to represent poor defendants, and pay them next to nothing.
“I remember being appointed in 17 cases and the judge paid me $5 for each one,” he said. Colquitt said the fees, in place now for decades, represent the state’s effort to actually pay for the services it provides.
Colquitt said some defendants claim to be indigent because, while they have assets, they don’t have money on hand for a lawyer at the time of their arrest. Those clients should be able to pay the lower cost of a court-appointed lawyer after the trial is over, he said. Recovering the fees, he said, helps fund indigent defense while discouraging misuse of the system.
“This is not just a dole-out of public funds,” he said.
It’s not clear how many people, if any, have been jailed for failing to pay for a court-appointed attorney. Because ex-offenders typically owe other court costs in addition to their attorney fees, it’s hard to separate one debt from another.
Court statistics show that across the state in the 2012 fiscal year, 5,402 unpaid court fees were turned over to district attorney’s offices for collection in circuit courts alone.
Jones, the Calhoun County judge, said she will occasionally send those who default on court debt to jail for five- to seven-day stretches. She and other judges were quick to point out that no one can be jailed for defaulting on court debt if they truly lack an income, though people with an income sometimes default.
Jones recalled a recent case in which a woman with a job at a local restaurant missed payments and wound up behind bars for a week. She said it’s necessary to punish the worst court-debt defaulters, so others will know there is a penalty for not paying.
“If we do not collect the monies that are due, we cannot run the system,” she said.
Turner said the choice of whether to jail a court-debt defaulter is a tough one. It doesn’t take long for the cost of incarceration to grow beyond the amount of the debt.
“We're always balancing it out,” he said. “The cost of locking people back up, versus the money that they owe.”
No new taxes
Womble, the Monroe County public defender, thinks the rise in court costs is beginning to weigh on clients when they make the choice between going to court and taking a plea deal.
"It’s becoming, more and more, a consideration for defendants," he said.
In its study of court costs, the Brennan Center made a similar claim, saying that the poorest defendants may forego representation to avoid fees.
Jones disagrees. The particulars of the case matter more in a plea decision, she said, than the cost of a court-appointed lawyer.
“I don’t think people calculate that,” she said. “I think it would have to do more with the prison time.”
Turner said most defendants probably aren’t even aware of the cost when they’re first arrested.
"Most people think it’s a free lawyer,” he said.
Judges and defense attorneys do agree on one thing — that the state’s court system is underfunded, and that the state’s court fees are an attempt to address that.
"The state of Alabama is not going to pass any new taxes," said Broome, the Anniston lawyer. "They call it court costs instead."
Raising court costs is easier politically, he said, because most people don’t seem to care what happens to criminal defendants.
Womble thinks people should care.
“Some people say, ‘Well, they’re criminals and should have to pay,’” he said. “But for me it comes down to what’s fair, and what’s just.”
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New Florida Bar Advertising Rules Vex Lawyers
Julie Kay, Daily Business Review.com (Miami, Florida)
Orlando attorney Luis Gonzalez has no intention of following The Florida Bar's new social media rules, particularly those relating to LinkedIn.
"Let's get a little better priorities," said Gonzalez, a solo attorney who has been practicing for 36 years. "There's a lot of unlawful practice of law going on out there. I get these cases referred when it's too late. The Bar should be more involved in that and forget about this absurdity."
Gonzalez is not the only attorney who has issues with The Bar's new social media rules, considered the most stringent in the country by many law firms.
The rules are part of The Bar's latest overhaul of attorney advertising rules, which were approved by the Florida Supreme Court in May. While rules for billboards, television and radio commercials and publications have garnered the most attention, rules about how attorneys can use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are now coming to light — and generating controversy among lawyers.
The Bar defends the social media rules, saying lawyers must comply with ethical guidelines whether their advertising is on Facebook, billboards or TV. The guidelines warn attorneys to refrain from testimonials, holding themselves out as experts and posting inappropriate and unprofessional photos or videos on Facebook.
Lawyers and law firms are expressing frustration with the new social media restrictions, saying they are difficult to interpret and overly stringent. Of particular concern are rules requiring law firms to state an office location on each tweet and barring lawyers from allowing third-party endorsements or listing their expertise on LinkedIn.
"We encourage our clients to use social media. We think it's a useful component of any public relations firm," said Jennifer Clarin of Boardroom Communications, which handles public relations for several South Florida law firms. "But because of the restrictions The Florida Bar has placed on social media, clients now have to rethink their social media strategy. This is such a broad stroke they placed over social networking."
Several lawyers, including Gonzalez, have voiced their frustration about the LinkedIn rule on a special LinkedIn group for Florida lawyers.
Gonzalez complains lawyers have no control over who endorses them on LinkedIn since the endorsements are done without their solicitation or knowledge. LinkedIn is the preferred form of social media for him and many other lawyers.
"I'm old school, and I don't like advertising," he said. "LinkedIn is a networking thing between professionals. It's a good idea because it's a word-of-mouth thing."
Gonzalez was particularly proud that an opposing lawyer in a case won by Gonzalez endorsed him on LinkedIn.
While law firms and lawyers have found a way to change their LinkedIn settings to block endorsements, Gonzalez said he has no intention of doing so.
"I'm not changing a damn thing," he said. "I want The Bar to come after me. I'm 61 years old, and I'm not going to tolerate garbage like that."
Expertise V. Skills
The Bar also forbids attorneys from holding themselves out as experts on LinkedIn.
Kristin Vasilj, digital communications manager for Holland & Knight, said the New York State Bar Association and The Florida Bar are the only ones in the country to ban the word "expertise" on attorneys' LinkedIn accounts. She has asked LinkedIn to consider changing the word expertise to skills to comply with Florida Bar rules.
"We counsel our lawyers to keep looking at their LinkedIn profiles to make sure no one has added endorsements," she said.
Law firms also are annoyed about the new Twitter rule. Some, like Greenberg Traurig, are interpreting the rule narrowly and including both names of lawyers and office locations in their tweets.
Holland & Knight has taken the position that informational tweets or posts about community events do not constitute advertising and the firm is not listing office locations.
A concern for law firms is that with just 140 characters per tweet, locations will eat up a good part of a tweet.
Holland & Knight does not allow individual attorneys to tweet under its official handle, and Vasilj monitors all tweets from the law firm.
"With regard to Twitter, all of the firms are reviewing and digesting the rules," she said. "I say this with all respect to The Florida Bar, but it's not the clearest of rules."
Elizabeth Tarbert, ethics counsel for The Florida Bar, said it's important for lawyers' tweets to state their locations because "if you're advertising your services, you have to say where you are. If you're a client, you need to know where the lawyer is located, are they near a courthouse, that sort of thing. If you list your office in Jacksonville, that's essential information about you."
Vasilj belongs to a national group of media and digital managers at law firms, and the group has had several discussions about the Florida social media rules.
Both Holland & Knight and Berger Singerman are in the process of training attorneys on new social media rules.
"We're having a training for all attorneys on Oct. 10 because it's so timely," said Lori Rabinowitz, director of marketing and recruitment for Berger Singerman. "All of our offices will be teleconferenced in."
Berger Singerman is not overly concerned about the Twitter rule because its lawyers rarely tweet, Rabinowitz said. The firm is advising its lawyers to change their LinkedIn settings to block outside endorsements and expertise listings, she said.
Unlike others, Rabinowitz indicated she has no problem with The Bar's new LinkedIn rule.
"I heard a lot of attorneys are being endorsed as commercial litigators when they are really real estate attorneys," she said. "We do find LinkedIn to be a very valuable tool."
Kathy Bible, advertising counsel for The Florida Bar, said it's not investigating any lawyers for potential Twitter violations. However, The Bar is involved in two disciplinary investigations regarding LinkedIn. She could not provide details because the investigations are ongoing.
Bible has privately talked to some lawyers about inappropriate Facebook photos.
"One lawyer had pictures of his staff with skirts too short," she said. "He kindly removed them when we asked."
Clearwater solo attorney Carin Constantine said she faced a Bar disciplinary complaint this summer for her Facebook page. She said another attorney reported her for posting disparaging comments about her ex-boyfriend, another attorney. She said she hired an attorney to defend her at the grievance level and the case was dropped.
"This is the first grievance I've had in my life," she said. "They copied my Facebook page, my Twitter, my blog and my Google Plus account."
Constantine said she has since dropped her Twitter account and changed the privacy settings on her Facebook page so only friends can see it.
"The Florida Bar can't take away my right to have a personal Facebook page," she said.
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Al Benn's Alabama: Lawyers give accounts of civil rights and wrongs
Written By Alvin Benn, The Montgomery Advertiser
Sep. 28, 2013 |
BIRMINGHAM — Alabama played a key role in America’s civil rights movement, and two of the state’s most prominent black lawyers took time out recently to discuss an era that placed the state in the national spotlight.
U.W. Clemon and J. Mason Davis talked about gains and setbacks during the past half century and didn’t pull any punches, especially when it came to their disappointments.
The two were the centers of attention on a stage last week at Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute, which educates the public about one of the country’s most traumatic times.
In the audience were more than a dozen young white lawyers who learned a bit about civil rights and wrongs in the heart of the South.
Clemon made history as Alabama’s first black federal judge and now is in private practice, while Davis is the former president of the Birmingham Bar Association.
They took turns listing positive developments since the 1960s when Alabama led the nation in major civil rights events. They also bemoaned the negatives.
“Who would have thought that in the 50 years since we saw desegregation of our public schools, we’re right back where we started,” said Davis. “Right now, 99 percent of all students in the Birmingham public school system are black.”
The reason, Davis said, can easily be traced to “white flight over the mountain” to public and private schools in majority white communities.
Clemon focused on national influences in local affairs, calling the U.S. Supreme Court “our greatest enemy” and pointed to one decision by the high court that “racially segregated inner city schools must remain that way.”
“What we need to do is convince federal courts that we are all in this boat together and will sink or swim together,” he said.
Watching and listening intently at the Birmingham Bar Association’s “Future Leaders Forum” were young men and women with credentials to match the title of the event. They were well aware of the challenges facing them.
The topic of the forum was “Fifty Years Forward: The Impact of the 1963 Civil Rights Movement on the Legal Profession and Media Relations in 2013.”
Before the institute event began, the young lawyers were across the street at 16th Street Baptist Church, where they got details about the Ku Klux Klan bombing that claimed the lives of four young girls Sept. 15, 1963.
The highlight of the event, however, was the forum where Clemon and Davis bantered over issues, agreeing on some, disagreeing on others.
Unlike the 1960s when civil rights consumed the country, especially in the South, the forum provided the two men with a platform to tackle other issues ranging from the economy to politics, from two historic pieces of federal legislation to the emergence of the tea party.
“I am encouraged by progress that has been made in the last 50 years because a lot has been made, but I’m troubled by what seems to be the reaction of a lot of white Americans to the election of our first black president,” said Clemon, 70.
He also said one of his biggest concerns was “a resurface of racism with a vengeance.
“I believe that if Barack Obama had not been our president, the racial problems of today would not be as obvious as they are,” he said, adding, “What we have now in the triumph of the tea party is the willingness of a lot of people to get back at the president.”
Clemon also said he believes Obama’s “sole sin is he is of another race.”
Davis, 78, was effusive in his praise of the late Lyndon Johnson, a president who used his presidential powers to push through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“If you ever wanted to see someone who took over as president and wasn’t afraid of anybody or anything, it was Lyndon Johnson, who caused Congress to pass these two important pieces of legislation,” Davis said.
He drew laughs when he mentioned the time he went to the Jefferson County Courthouse to register to vote in 1958 and ran into a white official who apparently knew little about the law.
“She wanted to know if I could read and write and if I could explain the 14th amendment,” Davis recalled, referring to provisions that include equal protection of the law. “I told her I was a third-year law student who had just finished a year of studying constitutional law.”
It was an honor for me to share the stage with Clemon and Davis because it was a joy to hear them debate the issues of then and now.
I was asked to represent the “Fourth Estate” and explain what it was like to report on the civil rights movement at a time often fraught with danger for those carrying notebooks and cameras or leading television crews.
Special thanks are in order for Janine Smith, senior vice president and assistant general counsel of Regions Financial Corp. Smith, a black attorney who put the program together, didn’t have to be reminded that it’s unlikely she would have held such a lofty position 50 years ago in a segregated town often referred to as “Bombingham.”
Federal Judiciary, DOJ Brace for Government Shutdown
By Todd Ruger, Legal Times
September 25, 2013
The federal judiciary and the U.S. Department of Justice are preparing for a government shutdown as Congress works through a showdown about government spending and the Obama administration's health care law.
If Congress and the White House don't continue government funding by October 1, federal courts could face widespread furloughs that will worsen an already "grave judicial crisis" from $350 million in budget cuts earlier this year, according to a memo the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts sent Tuesday.
The federal courts have enough reserve funds to run as normal for two business weeks before shutting down all but essential work, U.S. District Judge John Bates, the administrative office director, wrote in a memo to the federal court system.
"I remain hopeful that Congress and the President will ultimately come to agreement prior to October 1 on a short-term CR to fund the federal government, including the Judiciary," Bates wrote. "But we cannot be confident that will happen."
Justice Department employees, including those in the U.S Attorney's Office in Washington, are being told that some employees would be put on furlough. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. told employees that "there is a real possibility that you would not be paid for the period of the shutdown." (The Huffington Post, which first obtained the memo, has this report.)
Machen also wrote that the office can't pay for expenses that include travel, transcripts, expert witnesses and supplies after October 1. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to questions about the agency's preparations for a possible government shutdown.
So far, Republicans in the House passed a continuing appropriations resolution that also defunds the Affordable Care Act. Right now, Democrats in the Senate are now trying to reinstate the health care law funding and pass the bill back to the House for approval.
Senate rules and the opposition of some Republicans—including Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), whose 21-hour speech on the Senate floor against the health care law ended today—mean that Congress is pushing right up against the deadline.
"We could finish this bill within a matter of hours," Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor today. "But instead we find ourselves being pushed closer and closer to another shutdown."
Democrats and President Barack Obama are considered highly unlikely to agree to a funding resolution that would defund the president’s signature health care law. It is unclear now how House Republicans would respond to the Senate bill, or whether they would make additional changes.
Even if the funding resolution is passed, it so far does not restate the budget cuts for the federal courts from earlier this year, called sequestration. The federal courts have been lobbying Congress for months to restate those sequestration cuts, which have already caused furloughs at federal public defenders' offices and clerks' offices and reduced funds for probation and pretrial services and courthouse security.
However, the resolution does include $26 million to fill a hole in the judiciary's Defender Services account, which would primarily pay Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel attorney vouchers that have gone unpaid for the last three weeks.
Even so, a government shutdown would mean those CJA panel payments would again be suspended on Oct. 1, Bates wrote.
The effects of a government shutdown would differ among the judicial districts, which make many budget decisions independently based on local considerations. Bates said jury trials should continue as necessary even if the funding is not continued.
"Payments to jurors will be made during the initial 10-day period," Bates wrote. "If funds are not available beyond that point, courts may continue to call jurors and assure them they will be paid, although the payment may be delayed."
Each court would have some leeway in defining essential work, the federal courts state in a memo. That would include "activities necessary to support the exercise of the Article III judicial power and emergency activities necessary for the safety of human life and the protection of property."
California sends bill to let illegal immigrants practice law to governor
By Sharon Bernstein, Reuters
September 13, 2013
SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - A California bill to let undocumented immigrants become lawyers passed its last legislative hurdle on Thursday and will be sent to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.
The legislation was prompted by the case of an undocumented Mexican immigrant, Sergio Garcia, who was brought to the United States as a baby and later graduated from a California law school. He has won the support of the State Bar of California and state Attorney General Kamala Harris in his quest to be admitted to practice law, over the objections of the U.S. Justice Department.
The bill passed the state Assembly on Thursday in the waning hours of the legislative session. It would authorize the California Supreme Court, which finalizes applications to become licensed as a lawyer in the state, to admit qualified applicants regardless of their immigration status.
"By the grace of God, I was born on this side of the border," said Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced the bill in the Assembly. Were it not for that accident of fate, Gonzalez said, she might have been prevented from becoming a lawyer.
The bill previously cleared the state Senate. It was not clear if Brown, a Democrat, would sign the legislation.
The efforts to deal with illegal immigrants in California come just months after the Democratic-led U.S. Senate passed a landmark immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants currently living illegally in the United States. However, the measure faces little chance of passage in its current form in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Garcia is challenging the application of a federal law prohibiting government spending for the benefit of illegal immigrants, even on such matters as professional licensing. The law, on which the state Supreme Court recently held hearings, has been interpreted to mean that the state cannot license applicants to be lawyers if they are undocumented.
Attorneys of the 36-year-old Garcia have maintained that the language of the law was vague and should not be interpreted as applying to law licensing.
In a hearing before the state Supreme Court earlier this month, State Bar attorney James Wagstaffe pointed to case law that he said showed that statutes such as those cited by Garcia's opponents were not meant to regulate attorney licenses.
U.S. Justice Department attorneys argued that the statute in question was clearly intended to bar illegal immigrants from being issued law licenses, which because they are finalized by the state Supreme Court, require public funding.
Garcia, who earned a law degree from Cal Northern School of Law in Chico, California, north of Sacramento, lived in the United States until the age of eight or nine and then returned with his family to his native Mexico.
At 17, Garcia re-entered the United States with his father, who was then a permanent U.S. resident and later became a citizen.
His father filed a petition seeking an immigrant visa for Garcia in 1995. Garcia is still waiting to receive the visa, which would allow him to seek permanent residency and ultimately citizenship.
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Labor Dept. OKs Firms' Use of Unpaid Interns for Pro Bono Work
By Karen Sloan, The National Law Journal
September 17, 2013
Law firms don’t need to pay law student interns—as long as those interns only work on pro bono matters that do not directly benefit the firm.
The U.S. Department of Labor has clarified that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not prohibit law students from performing unpaid pro bono work at law firms, subject to certain restrictions. That clarification was issued on September 12, three months after former American Bar Association president Laurel Bellows requested a clearer interpretation of the law.
While the FLSA doesn’t generally allow people to volunteer at for-profit entities like law firms, pro bono work is an exception, according to Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith. “Under certain circumstances, law students who perform unpaid internships with for-profit law firms for the students’ own educational benefit may not be considered employees entitled to wages under the FLSA,” she wrote.
The six criteria that must be met in order for an unpaid law firm internship to past legal muster are:
• The training is similar to what students would get in school.
• The internship is for the benefit of the intern.
• The intern is closely supervised and does not displace existing staff.
• The firm does not directly benefit from the intern’s work.
• The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job afterward.
• Both the intern and firm understand that the intern is not entitled to wages.
“Accordingly, where a law student works only on pro bono matters that do not involve potential fee-generating activities, and does not participate in a law firm’s billable work or free up staff resources for billable work that would otherwise be utilized for pro bono work, the firm will not derive an immediate advantage from the student’s activities, although it may derive intangible, long-term benefits such as reputational benefits associated with pro bono work,” Smith wrote.
However, Smith clarified that recent law school graduates who have not yet been admitted to the bar may not perform unpaid pro bono work as if they were still students.
A number of class actions filed on behalf of unpaid interns have cast scrutiny on the practice.
“The ABA agrees that exploitation of law students and other interns is unacceptable; however, the FLSA uncertainty inhibits law firms from offering students the opportunity to work on pro bono matters in a real-life practice setting,” wrote Bellows in late May. “It also reduces the potential supply of legally trained women and men willing to spend their time working on behalf of persons without resources to pay for legal counsel.”
With fewer paid summer clerk opportunities at law firms, students would gain experience and mentorship opportunities from working with practicing attorneys on pro bono matters, she added.
Sitting ABA President James Silkenat said the organization welcomed the guidance. “This clarification will assist law students seeking to gain legal experience and increase their volunteerism. It also will ensure law firms can continue to help the many people in need of legal assistance through pro bono efforts,” he said.
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Marshall County Bar Association wins achievement award
By Malarie Allen, Sand Mountain Reporter
September 6, 2013
The Marshall County Bar Association was selected by the Alabama State Bar to receive
the Alabama State Bar Local Bar Award of Achievement 2012-13.
The Alabama State Bar 2013 annual meeting took place July 17-20 at the Grand Hotel
Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa in Point Clear. Several nominations were submitted,
and only four county bars were selected to receive the award.
In making selections, the Alabama State Bar takes into consideration the types of projects
each county bar has participated in during the year, as well as the impact the Marshall
County Bar has had on the community.
During the 2012-13 years, the Marshall County Bar Association organized and
participated in the second and third annual Marshall County Bar Association CLE and a
2012 Marshall County Bar Association Tee Shirt Fund raiser; Law Day 2012 with slogan
“No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom;” and Law Day 2013 with the slogan “Realizing the
Dream: Equality for All;” 2012 Adopt-a-family campaign through the Marshall County
Child Advocacy Center and the 2013 Marshall County Bar Association “Wills for
The bar also gave away two annual scholarships of $1,000 each to Marshall County high
Gabriela Watson, of Watson & Watson Attorneys at Law in Albertville and Marshall
County Bar Association President, was also selected to serve as a presenter during the
immigration law update at the Alabama State Bar 2013 Annual Meeting. The Immigration Law Update, titled “Immigration: Where Are We Going,” was a panel
discussion on the state of immigration law on a federal and state level and was sponsored by the Alabama State Bar.
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Former UA law school dean develops online classes
By PATRICK RUPINSKI — The Tuscaloosa News
September 8, 2013
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When Ken Randall retired in June after 20 years as dean of the University of Alabama's law school, he said he planned to work in the private sector. But he did not join a law firm. Instead, he went to work for a company that is partnering with universities to develop and deliver interactive online classes to students around the world.
It is cutting-edge, Randall said of his work with iLawVentures LLC. "Through technology, we are helping programs at bricks-and-mortar schools to reach people across the country and even around the world."
As a dean, Randall helped develop an online program that allowed attorneys to earn master's degrees in taxation and business transactions from UA.
That caught the attention of iLawVentures' parent company, iLawVentures Management Solutions of Naples, Fla.
Randall joined the company this summer as president and CEO of its new Tuscaloosa-based iLawVentures LLC, which has an office at The Merchant's Walk. The Tuscaloosa company has a staff of four, including Randall, who spends much of the time traveling.
The for-profit company's goal is to form partnerships with accredited colleges and universities that want to deliver their courses to students beyond their campuses, he said.
The initial focus is on law schools, but Randall said there already is interest from other schools and disciplines.
The potential for growth is unlimited, he said. Improved technology and the recent economic downturn are driving the change in higher education.
State legislatures faced with reduced revenues in recent years have cut appropriations to state universities. Universities in turn are seeking new sources of revenues, and one way to do that is by reaching out to more off-campus students through cyber-education, he said.
Online courses and programs such as iLawVentures can bring in extra revenues that universities need, Randall said. The goal is to partner with interested universities to develop and deliver their courses across the state, across the country and even around the world, he said. If the partnership fails to generate revenue for the university, iLawVentures will earn nothing.
"For the university, (the iLawVentures partnership) reduces the physical plant costs and provides new innovative approach to education," he said.
"We are able to use the best technology so that you no longer are limited to teaching or learning by being on campus."
The iLawVenture plan is aimed not only at non-traditional students but also at traditional on-campus students who might return to their hometowns for the summer or might be deployed to an activated military Reserve unit to places like Afghanistan. Such students still might want and need to take courses while away.
The cyber classes also could reach international students who cannot afford to come to the United States for a college education, he said.
Technology will allow students with a laptop to communicate with instructors much as they would if they were sitting in a classroom, he said.
In a public email he shared with his former UA colleagues when he retired from UA, Randall wrote of his new career:
"We all are still working on the margins of traditional education with distance ed: It is high time to create economies of scale industry-wide; to bring law to non-lawyers; to create hybrid models of brick-and-mortar and technology-based programs; to train lawyers to deliver legal services in the new technology-based ways clients demand; and to train law students for jobs that don't require a bar license. We need inclusive education, that breaks down geographical and other boundaries."
Randall declined to identify the universities that he is working with, citing the clients' confidentiality.
Randall was a member of UA's law school faculty for 28 years. During his two decades as dean, he saw the school achieve a top 25 ranking among the nation's law schools — both public and private.
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Man accused of scamming attorneys out of $70M gets over eight years in prison
By Martha Neil, ABAJournal.com
September 5, 2013
A Nigerian man accused of acting as the ringleader in a scheme that scammed lawyers in the U.S. and Canada out of $70 million has been sentenced to 100 months in prison after pleading guilty in federal court in Harrisburg, Pa., earlier this year.
That translates to a prison term of a little over eight years for Emmanuel Ekhator, 42, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, reports WPMT, a Fox News affiliate, and the Patriot-News.
Victimized law firms were contacted by a purported client, usually by email, who claimed to be out of the country needing help with a pending settlement in a case such as a divorce, personal injury claim or real estate transaction, according to authorities.
A cashier's check would soon arrive, which the firm was asked to put in its trust account and use to pay legal fees or other expenses before refunding the balance to the client. By the time it became clear that the cashier's check was a fake, both the money and the client would be gone.
In addition to the prison term, Ekhator must repay a little over $11 million and forfeit funds in Nigerian bank accounts and Canadian property.
Attorneys from across Alabama take on leadership roles in state bar's Young Lawyers Section
Kelsey Stein, al.com
September 04, 2013
MONTGOMERY, Alabama – More than a dozen young attorneys from across Alabama will take on roles as officers or members of the executive committee of the Alabama State Bar's Young Lawyers Section for the 2013-2014 year.
The 3,500-member section elected Montgomery lawyer W. Christopher "Chris" Waller Jr. as president. Waller, who earned his degree at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, is a partner with the firm of Ball Ball Matthews & Novak PA.
Other officers for 2013-2014 hail from across the state, with two from Birmingham and two from Mobile:
- Vice President – Brandon D. Hughey, of Mobile firm Ambrecht Jackson LLP
- Secretary – S. Hughston Nichols, of Birmingham firm Hare Wynn Newell & Newton LLP
- Treasurer – Charles E. (Chip) Tait, of Mobile firm Vickers Riis Murray & Curran LLC
- Immediate Past President – Kitty Rogers Brown, of Birmingham firm White Arnold & Dowd PC
The Young Lawyers Section is composed of attorneys who are 36 and younger, or those who have been admitted to the bar for three years or less. The section conducts a continuing legal education seminar and sponsors service projects to help the public understand the law.
The section conducts community service and outreach projects, such as collaborating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide disaster relief assistance.
At FEMA's request, the attorneys provide pro bono disaster-related legal services to low-income victims of federally declared disasters through a hotline and by working at clinics and resource centers.
Each year, section members also conduct a Minority Pre-Law Conference designed to introduce high school juniors and seniors to the American justice system. Minority lawyers work one-on-one with central Alabama teenagers, who participate in a case study, give fact scenarios and participate as jurors in a trial.
The section is governed by a 28-person executive committee, with 11 newly elected members from firms in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery:
- Evan G. Allen, of Montgomery firm Beasley Allen Crow Methvin Portis & Miles PC
- Jesse K. Anderson, of Montgomery firm Jackson Anderson & Patty PC
- Ashley W. Davis, of Huntsville's LogiCore
- Lisha Li Graham, of Birmingham firm White Arnold & Dowd PC
- Alysia J. Harris, of Birmingham firm Lightfoot Franklin & White LLC
- Vanesa Hernandez, of Birmingham firm Maynard Cooper & Gale PC
- M. Lee Johnsey, Jr., of Birmingham firm Balch & Bingham LLP
- Neah L. Mitchell, of Birmingham firm Balch & Bingham LLP
- Dorothy "Dottie" Barker Perry, of Mobile firm Burns Cunningham & Mackey PC
- L. Robert Shreve, of Mobile firm Luther Collier Hodges & Cash LLP
- Amy Hill Nation, of Huntsville firm Wilmer & Lee PA
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Some law schools report increasing enrollment, citing low tuition and attractive financial aid
By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABAJournal.com
September 5, 2013
Some law schools are reporting increasing enrollments even as the number of applicants dropped 12 percent this year.
Some law school officials say their low tuition may have been a factor, the National Law Journal reports. Others cite new programs and buildings. Some are sweetening financial aid packages, and one acknowledged a lower LSAT standard.
Among the law schools attributing rising numbers at least partly to attractive tuition are the University of Missouri-Kansas City—it charges about $18,000 in-state tuition and saw its first-year class size increase by 15 percent—and the University of Idaho—it charges in-state tuition of less than $16,000 and saw a nearly 8 percent increase in its entering class.
University of Missouri law dean Ellen Suni also said the school’s new Summer Start Program was a factor. It allows entering students to take core courses during the summer; more than 30 of its 174 students in the first-year class entered the summer program. The median LSAT for the entering case is slightly lower this year, but grades remain virtually unchanged, Suni said.
George Washington University Law School reported a 22 percent increase in its 1L class after its entering numbers fell last year. In interviews with the George Washington Hatchet, school officials said new students may have been drawn by the school’s two new buildings and more attractive financial aid packages. The school also relied more on grades and lowered its standards for LSAT scores.
Other law schools with increases are:
• The College of William and Mary, with a nearly 16 percent increase in 1L class size.
• The University of California at Berkeley, with an 8 percent increase in 1L class size. Its median LSAT remained unchanged, but grades were down slightly.