California State Bar Board of Trustees approve updated law school accreditation rules

At its meeting on May 13, 2021, the California State Bar Board of Trustees adopted new accreditation rules for California accredited law schools. The new rules will come into effect on January 1st, 2022, with law schools required to demonstrate compliance by January 1, 2024, and are designed to incorporate best practices and provide a framework to recognise law schools that are accredited by regional or national accreditors. As well as these rules aim to focus accreditation on its essential purpose, rather than creating extraneous requirements.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“This effort is the latest example in the State Bar’s many efforts to broaden access to quality legal education in our diverse state. The new accreditation rules will ensure that law schools and the State Bar are focusing on what matters most to ensure positive student outcomes and ultimately support our efforts to protect the public.”

California is one of the few states in the USA that permits accreditation other than by the American Bar Association (ABA), and offers more separate pathways into qualification as a lawyer than any other state. Currently, nearly two dozen law schools are directly accredited by  the California Bar, with the goal of offering accessible, affordable, and flexible options for law students.

The revised rules further four key purposes for accreditation of California law schools:

  1. Consumer protection and transparency;
  2. Student success;
  3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
  4. Preparation for licensure and professionalism.

The approval of the rules, which comes as a culmination of two years of work by the Committee of Bar Examiners and the Committee of State Bar Accredited and Registered Schools. The aim of the reforms is to create a clear, understandable public protection framework for accreditation in keeping with the State Bar’s mission. Each provision in the revamped rules describes a specific, measurable action designed to fulfill one or more of these purposes. Prior accreditation requirements that did not further any of these specific purposes were eliminated, and new requirements were added to ensure that schools are meeting these goals.

Read more about the Board of Trustees meeting here, or read the new rules here.

 

0

State Bar of California provides grants to twenty legal services organizations to hire provisionally licensed lawyers

The State Bar of California has selected the first 20 legal services organizations which will receive grants to hire provisionally licensed lawyers (PLLs) in 2021–2022. The grant-giving programme is designed to allow legal aid organisations to augment their staff, and is part of the Bar’s ongoing effort to address unmet legal need amongst low-income Californians, improving access to justice. The grant is funded by legislation that added an optional $5 donation, as part of the annual California attorney licensing fees.

Contributions are currently projected to total about $1.4 million in 2021–2022, and the awardees were selected by the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission as part of a competitive selection process. The average award is for 12 to 13 months. Of the PLLs to be hired, 17 will collectively serve 43 California counties, at least 30 of which are rural or have relatively few legal aid resources. Three PLLs will support services offered statewide. The majority are expected to help meet legal needs in rural areas and provide legal services related to COVID-19 or natural disasters.

The PLL programme was approved by the California Supreme Court in July 2020 in response to the pandemic, the provisional licensure program provides a limited license to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney. The program enabled recent law graduates to begin practice without taking a bar exam. To date, nearly 850 provisionally licensed lawyers have been approved for the program, which will terminate June 1, 2022, unless extended by the Court.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“These grants provide a powerful dual benefit: expanding the reach of these legal aid organizations when the needs are greater than ever and offering meaningful public interest jobs to new provisionally licensed lawyers. We are grateful to the thousands of licensees whose contributions made these grants possible.”

Read more about the programme and view all the organisations who received an award here. 

0

Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys

Abstract

Rates of mental illness and heavy alcohol use are exceedingly high in the legal profession, while attrition among women has also been a longstanding problem. Work overcommitment, work-family conflict, permissiveness toward alcohol in the workplace, and the likelihood of promotion are all implicated but have yet to be systematically investigated. Data were collected from 2,863 lawyers randomly sampled from the California Lawyers Association and D.C. Bar to address this knowledge gap. Findings indicated that the prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety, stress, and risky/hazardous drinking were significantly higher among women. Further, one-quarter of all women contemplated leaving the profession due to mental health concerns, compared to 17% of men. Logistic models were conducted to identify workplace factors predictive of stress, risky drinking, and contemplating leaving the profession. Overcommitment and permissiveness toward alcohol at work were associated with the highest likelihood of stress and risky drinking (relative to all other predictors) for both men and women. However, women and men differed with respect to predictors of leaving the profession due to stress or mental health. For women, work-family conflict was associated with the highest likelihood of leaving, while overcommitment was the number one predictor of leaving for men. Mental health and gender disparities are significant problems in the legal profession, clearly requiring considerable and sustained attention.

Anker J, Krill PR (2021) Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250563.

Available on PLOS ONE. 

0

California State Bar publishes second biennial report on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession

On the 15th March 2021, the California State Bar published its second biennial report on the progress of its work programmes designed to further diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in California’s legal profession over the last two years.

The report sits against the backdrop of the Bar’s ongoing work on diversity. The Bar’s statutory mission specifies that public protection includes supporting greater access to, and inclusion in, the legal profession, whilst the state’s fee bill (2018) directed the State Bar to implement a plan to increase diversity in the legal profession and provide biennial reports to the Legislature on this topic. In 2019, the State Bar adopted nine concrete DEI objectives as part of its Five-Year Strategic Plan. The report has been written to review the progress of the bar against these objectives.

Key accomplishments raised in the report are:

  • The publication of the first Annual Report Card on the Diversity of California’s Legal Profession, including both key diversity data points;
  • Completing a groundbreaking study on racial disparities in the attorney discipline system and implementing measures to address these findings;
  • Launching the California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program, a positive mindset intervention that has since proven to increase California Bar Exam scores for test takers of color; and
  • Convening sector-specific diversity summits to respond to report card results and identify action steps in response to the State Bar’s calls to action.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director has said “As the largest legal regulatory agency in the country and one uniquely charged with addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of its mission, the State Bar takes seriously its role and opportunity to impact the profession in our state as well as the national conversation on inclusion and justice for all. Over the last two years, the State Bar has undertaken a wide array of DEI initiatives impacting prospective and current licensees, its many partners and stakeholders, and its internal culture. We are engaged in meaningful and substantive DEI work with an eye towards making real

Read the full report here. 

0

California Closing the Justice Gap Working Group holds first public meeting

A California State Bar working group established to study access to justice innovations held its first public meeting on the 14th January 2021. The State Bar’s Closing the Justice Gap Working Group, created by the Board of Trustees to carry on with important recommendations from the State Bar’s Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS), has been established with the objective of:

  • Investigating the development of a regulatory sandbox to foster experimentation with innovative systems for delivery of legal services
  • Exploring amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding the ability of lawyers to share fees with nonlawyers
  • Examining the addition of rule 5.7 to the Rules of Professional Conduct addressing the delivery of nonlegal services by lawyers and businesses owned or affiliated with lawyers
  • Considering amendments to the Certified Lawyer Referral Service statutes and Rules of the State Bar to enhance efforts to expand access to legal services.

The task force chair Justice Alison M. Tucher, Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division 4, in San Francisco has said “The immense challenges of the past year have only heightened the needs that this group’s work is intended to address. Fortunately, meeting virtually enables us to bring together a truly remarkable working group, all of whom are volunteering their expertise to help California move forward. We are honored and excited to get started.”

The working group is made up of 20 state, national, and international experts an is expected to submit recommendations to the Board of Trustees no later than September 2022. Each recommendation is expected to balance the dual goals of public protection and increased access to justice.

Read more about the meeting here. 

0

State Bar publishes first annual report card on the diversity of California’s legal profession

‘Report card’

The State Bar’s “First Annual Report Card on the Diversity of California’s Legal Profession,” (PDF) provides baseline data on the diversity and workplace satisfaction of California’s attorney population across multiple demographic groups and employment sectors. The report brings into stark reality that despite significant growth in the proportion of attorneys who are women and people of color over the past 30 years, California’s attorney population remains far from reflective of the state’s diversity.

Among the Report Card’s key findings:

  • White attorneys account for nearly 70 percent of California’s active licensed attorney population, while people of color constitute 60 percent of the state’s population.
  • Latinos are particularly underrepresented in California’s legal profession, accounting for a mere 7 percent of active attorneys.
  • In the last three decades, the proportion of new attorneys who are Asian or multiracial has more than tripled, and the proportion of new Latino attorneys has doubled, but the proportion of new attorneys who are Black has remained stagnant.
  • Nearly three-quarters of California attorneys work in the private sector. Increasing the diversity of this sector alone will have a transformative impact on the profession.
  • The government and nonprofit sectors, which together make up only 17 percent of the profession, are the most diverse, but women and people of color remain underrepresented at leadership levels in these sectors.
  • Women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and people with disabilities consistently report lower levels of satisfaction with workplace experiences, such as salary and opportunities for advancement and career development, than their white male counterparts.

Read more…

 California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program

An online learning program designed to help applicants prepare for the California Bar Exam is showing promising results, measurably increasing the likelihood of passing the exam, a two-year analysis indicates.  Researchers found that the California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program increased the likelihood of participants passing the bar exam ranging between 6.8 to 9.6 percentage points, controlling for other factors. The impact was even higher for applicants in disadvantaged groups, including those in underrepresented racial/ethnic populations and those who are first-generation college students.

Read more…

0

California approves measures to advance equity in attorney discipline

At its July 16 meeting, the State Bar Board of Trustees approved a plan aimed at improving equity in the attorney discipline system, following up on the bar’s first-ever study on racial disparities in the disciplinary system. The first group of reforms aim to expand representation by counsel when an attorney faces a disciplinary investigation.

“The State Bar is moving forward with concrete, specific actions that we believe will not only target the disparities noted in Professor Farkas’s research, but also make the discipline system work better for everyone.” said Donna S. Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director.

The study found that lack of representation by counsel during an investigation into an attorney by the State Bar was a statistically significant predictor of later discipline, the report also revealed that African American respondents were represented by counsel about half as frequently as other groups in the study.

The State Bar has said that they will:

  • Measure and report data on representation for attorneys in the discipline system;
  • Pilot-test messages informing respondent attorneys of the value of representation by counsel in disciplinary proceedings to evaluate the most effective method of encouraging representation; and
  • Work with the Association of Discipline Defense Counsel to develop and distribute a roster of attorneys who could provide low-cost and pro bono case evaluations to respondent attorneys.

Read the full report, or read the State Bar Association’s announcement about the changes.

0

California Bar moves towards regulatory sandbox

The Board of Trustees of the State Bar of California took a 9-2 decision on the 14th May 2020 to form a working group to look into forming a regulatory sandbox in which innovative legal service providers would be subject to fewer regulations. This could include limiting unauthorised practice of law rules, as well as removing limits on fee sharing and partnership between lawyers and non-lawyers.

The decision is a major step forward in a potential move towards innovative business structures in California, following a vote to delay the decision by the Board in March, with board members saying they needed more time to consider the proposals.

Following the board meeting, which was held over Zoom, Chairman Alan Steinbrecher (who as Chairman did not vote) said: “This is a significant step and I think it will lead to an exciting future,”.

For more information see:

0

California Bar claims LegalMatch goes against attorney referral law

The State Bar of California attempted to sue LegalMatch on May the 4th 2020, for violating attorney referral laws. In November 2019 the California appeals court in Jackson v. LegalMatch found that LegalMatch, a service that matches clients with lawyers was a lawyer referral service (“LRS”) under California Business and Professions Code § 6155.

After the court’s decision, LegalMatch continued to operate, without formal registration, with the Bar claiming that LegalMatch ignored cease and desist orders, until the company had proper registration, and suggested that the company did not adequately make it clear that the service was not certified to operate in California on social media. This lead to the Bar attempting to file a temporary restraining order on the 4th May 2020.

However, during the course of the case, it became clear that LegalMatch had already submitted an application, which the Bar had not yet acted upon, leading Judge Ethan Schulman to deny the claim.

The case raises further questions about ongoing attorney referral rules both in the State and across the country, especially given the ongoing push for reform in California.

0

More regulatory responses to COVID-19

Following on from last month’s newsletter, we’ve put together the following list to examine different regulator responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here it is interesting to note the development and changes, as regulators begin to get a grasp on the crisis and develop innovative responses to meet the changing environment. If you have any questions or best practice for the rest of the ICLR community, please do get in touch, and we will be happy to include any of these in the next newsletter.

Illinois has introduced executive order 2020-14, this satisfies notarial requirements that a person must “appear before” a notary public if a two-way audio-video connection is used. It also allows documents to be witnessed through the same technology.


The Law Society of New South Wales has decided to run it’s annual Law Careers Fair as an online event, rather than cancelling it. The event will use zoom to create virtual presentations, with individual video booths and company landing pages replacing exhibitor booths. More information about the event is available here. The Society has also decided to reduce its $410 membership fee to $10, for the 2020-2021 period, allowing members to redirect funds to priority areas during the crisis.


The Law Society of Hong Kong has announced that civil hearing will take place remotely, with all other non-essential court hearings currently adjourned.


The Legal Sector Affinity Group which is made up of all the legal supervisory authorities in the UK, including the Law Society, Bar Council, CILEx, and the Law Society of Scotland, has released an advisory note on preventing money laundering during the crisis. The note discussed the increased risk of money laundering at the current time and what checks can be put in place to mitigate this.


The Council for Licensed Conveyancers in England and Wales is to allow members to defer fee payments, following the near-complete standstill in the UK property market. Members will be given the option to defer paying their practice fee and compensation fund contributions for April, May and June, which can be paid off over the following 4-12 months.


The California State Bar Board of Trustees has written to the California Supreme Court offering options and recommendations for the June First-Year Law Students’ Exam and the July Bar Exam. Full letter available here. Whilst the State Bar of Califonia has put in place emergency measures waiving late payment fees, as well as extending payment deadlines for membership fees and compliance deadlines.


The Law Society of Ontario has cancelled the lawyer licensing examinations and the call to the bar ceremonies due to take place in June. The society has said that alternative summer/autumn examination dates are being explored and that the administrative aspect of the call to the bar process is being undertaken remotely, allowing students to progress with their careers, with a celebration planned later in the year.


The Law Society of Saskatchewan and the Law Society of Alberta have temporarily reduced the articling requirements to a minimum of 8 months, instead of the previous minimum of 12 months, preventing a backlog of articling students due to limits created by coronavirus. Full statements available here and here. The Law Society of Alberta has also introduced changes allowing articling students to work remotely, as well as giving instructions on the supervision students doing this.


The American Bar Association has created a “Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic”, which launched a website on the 3rd of April to provide resources and information on the ongoing crisis and how this relates to the law. Statement available here, website available here. The ABA has also backed calls to adopt emergency rules that would allow recent and upcoming law school graduates who cannot take a bar exam because of the COVID-19 pandemic to engage in the limited practice of law, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, these individuals would have until the end of 2021 to practice without passing the bar exam. They hope this would limit the disruption to students careers, and help prevent the widening of the access to justice gap.  Full statement available here.

0