The American Bar Association provides some expert tips for practicing ethically

Theresa Gronkiewicz writes that after a career of representing lawyers in complaints issues there are a number of issues that come up time and again which could be avoided by implementing a strong practice management system and common-sense approach to law.

There are 12 tips including:

  • Implement strong law office management procedures
  • Learn to identify when someone will become a problem client
  • Only use client funds for their intended purpose
  • Communicate effectively with your client
  • Be diligent in attending client matters until the matter is resolved
  • Be open and honest with your client and others in the profession
  • Honour client confidences
  • Rules of professional conduct apply to all communications via the internet
  • Carefully consider any conflict of interest
  • Be civil and professional
  • Think through any potential ethical dilemma
  • Remain abreast of the law

Read the full story here.

The National Association of Law Placement in the USA has reported diversity to be at an all time high

On 12 January 2022 the National Association of Law Placement released its annual Report on Diversity in US Law Firms. The report announced significant gains in the diversity of new entrants into the legal profession in 2021.

Summer associates showed the highest level of diversity amongst all groups of lawyers, with people of colour growing by almost 5%, the largest increase in 29 years of NALP data . Women made up more than half of all summer associates for the fourth year in a row. Additionally, the proportion of LGBTQ summer associates increased to 8.41%, the highest representation ever measured by NALP. 

However, the data shows that these groups are still underrepresented at partner and other associate levels, especially women of colour, who account for less than 5% of partners across firms nationally.

Read the article here.

California State Bar publishes responses to its consultation on the licensing of a new paraprofessional.

In 2021 the California State Bar published a consultation on a potential new paraprofessional license designed to ease the access to justice problem being experienced in the state. This new type of legal paraprofessional is intended to be a cheaper alternative to a fully licensed lawyer and would only be able to offer a very restricted set of services.

The consultation has drawn a mixed response, with 800 of the reported 1,318 responses directly opposing the new license and a further 325 supporting modifications to the license as proposed. Much of this opposition came from attorneys, with 94% of this respondent group opposing the proposal. Interestingly, 87% of consumers who responded to the consultation supported the proposed new license.

Read the full article here.

Oregon State Bar launches a consultation on new paraprofessional licensing plans

The Oregon State Bar has released plans for the introduction of licensed paraprofessionals, in a public consultation. It is proposing to restrict this new paraprofessional to practice in two areas of law, family and landlord/tenant issues. This is intended to help at least some of the 84% of Oregon residents who cannot currently access the legal help they need, easing pressures on access to justice in the state.

Other US States have had mixed success in trying to introduce paraprofessional qualifications. In 2022 the Washington State Supreme Court made the decision to sunset its  Limited License Legal Technician scheme, while the State Bar of California has faced a negative reaction to its own 2021 consultation on a paraprofessional license.

Read the full article here.

ABA issues guidance focusing on client language differences

The American Bar Association has issued a formal opinion to guide lawyers in situations when they and their clients do not share a common language. This guidance also covers when the client has a physical condition, such as a hearing, speech or vision disability, that might impede communications. The guidance revolves around a lawyers duty to communicate under Model Rule 1.4 and competence under Model Rule 1.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

This opinion outlines certain steps lawyers can take, including the use of an interpreter. It also makes clear that “it is the lawyer’s affirmative responsibility” to ensure the client understands the lawyer’s communications, and that the lawyer understands the client’s communications.

Read the full story here

American Bar Association publishes new data on minorities and bar pass rates

New data published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, has suggested that White test-takers were more likely to pass the bar exam in 2020 than test-takers of other races and ethnicities.  Within the grouping of those who identified as White men and women, 88% passed the Bar examination the first time. By comparison, 66% of Black first-time test-takers passed, 76% of Hispanics, 78% of Hawaiians, 78% of Native Americans and 80% of Asians. The report, which was released on the 22nd of June, includes data from 2020 and 2021 aggregated from across all 197 ABA-accredited law schools, broken down into nine different ethnicity categories. 

Under ABA rules bar passage results influence the “ultimate” pass rate. This is a measure of success in the bar examinations over a two-year period. Under 2019 revisions to the bar passage rule known as Standard 316, ABA-approved law schools must have 75% of their graduates who take the bar examination pass it within two years of graduation or face the potential of being found out of compliance.

The ultimate pass rate was higher for all ethnic categories than the rate for first-time takers. For 2019 graduates, for instance, white law graduates posted a 91% ultimate pass rate, and rates for other categories ranged upward from 75% based on 2020 and 2021 data.

Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, said that “During discussions on changes to Standard 316 concerns were expressed over the lack of national data on bar passage by members of different racial and ethnic groups. We promised to collect and publish such aggregate data and consider whether the requirements of the standard needed to be reconsidered in light of what we collected,” he said. “This report is consistent with that promise and will be further evaluated in the months to come.”

Read the full report here

ABA President Patricia Lee Refo – “Lack of advancement is not a ‘woman’ problem, it’s a ‘profession’ problem”

In a new column for the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo has called for a change in attitude towards the way in which gender is viewed in the profession. In the column, she describes how the lack of progression for women in the profession represents systemic issues in both the retention and promotion of female staff within the legal industry.

She goes on to describe some of the ABA’s work in the area, as well as calling for more to be done to increase the number of women working in the profession, as well as to assist those already employed within the profession. The article has been co-signed by the 9 other ABA presidents who were women.

Read the full article here. 

Top jurists call for regulatory change to increase access to justice

During the 9th June ABA discussion on regulatory change, Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer of the Arizona Supreme Court stated that despite decades of efforts to encourage practising lawyers to perform a minimum of 50 pro bono hours annually to increase access to justice, minimal results have been achieved.

Timmer is part of a growing list of top jurists calling for regulatory change to expand access to justice. Instead of relying on pro bono work to increase legal access, for instance, regulatory changes could lead to nonlawyers handling some routine legal matters. She and chief justices from Utah, Michigan and Texas discussed some of these changes in the inaugural Redesigning Legal Speaker Series, which is intended to provide a forum to explore the legal profession’s regulatory changes underway and the challenges they face. Three ABA entities — the Center for Innovation, the Center for Professional Responsibility and the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services — have teamed up with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver and Legal Hackers to organize what is planned as a quarterly series.

The debut program, Redesigning Legal: Leading from the Bench — Expanding Access through Regulatory Innovation, also featured Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of Michigan, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of Texas and Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of Utah, and showcased how supreme courts in Utah and Arizona have ushered in regulatory change to expand access to justice.

In Arizona, legal paraprofessionals can now practice in four distinct areas. The state Supreme Court also eliminated model rules that prohibit the sharing of legal fees with nonlawyers.

In Utah, 23 pilot programs have been approved in the state’s seven-year “sandbox” approach, Durrant said. They range from a solo practitioner giving his sole paralegal 10% ownership in the firm to law students at Brigham Young University providing counsel to domestic violence victims.

Hecht, who is also chair of the Conference of Chief Justices, said courts are rethinking their roles because jurists realize pro bono efforts are not sufficient to provide access to the courts for many Americans. McCormack added, “We are going to forge forward in Michigan because this is now the time in the process to try. And the big winner could be the public.”

Read more here.

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.

 

American Bar Association releases new report on the challenges faced by female lawyers

A newly released American Bar Association (ABA) report entitled, “In Their Own Words: Experienced Women Lawyers Explain Why They Are Leaving Their Law Firms and the Profession,” aims to shed light on factors that affect career decision making amongst experienced female lawyers.  This includes information on why practitioners choose to remain in practice, move to a different job within the law or step out of the profession altogether after 15 or more years of practice.

The report was written by Joyce Sterling, a professor at the Sturm College of Law in Denver, and Linda Chanow, executive director of the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas. The report includes analysis on the components that advance or impede long-term careers for female lawyers. The research was carried out via focus groups in six cities across the USA, as well as through individual interviews, with comments made during the interviews including:

“You give me the hardest problems to solve, but you tell me I am less important with the compensation you give me.”

“I don’t feel like I have anyone in a position of power who can personally relate to me.”

“[T]he power dynamic is very real. . . [P]eople are very uncomfortable when women lean into their power.”

The report includes recommendations designed to increase retention of female attorneys which include:

  • Assess the impact of firm policies and practices on female lawyers.
  • Take steps to ensure there is a critical mass of female partners on key firm committees.
  • Increase lateral hiring of female partners.
  • Provide resources to relieve pressures from family obligations.
  • Be flexible to support changing practices.

ABA President Patricia Lee Refo has said.“This report highlights the ongoing systemic barriers women still face in the legal profession. These women’s personal stories are eye-opening, and the recommendations illustrate the changes we need to make to support and advance all female lawyers.”

Read the full report here, or read more here.