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.

 

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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.

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Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System releases guides to cut through bias in legal hiring and improve legal education outcomes

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), has released two new guides designed to explain innovative ways for legal educators and legal employers to implement data-driven, outcomes-based standards underpinned by IAALS’ Foundations for Practice research. The guides are based on  a survey of 24,000 lawyers and working sessions with 36 employers and 4 law schools and aim to provide law schools with a path to train better lawyers and employers a path to hire and retain the best lawyers.

Logan Cornett, IAALS Director of Research has said “The Foundations guides are a natural continuation of Foundations for Practice, launched in 2014. We conducted the largest study of its kind to identify the characteristics, competencies, and skills—what we call foundations—that new lawyers need to be successful. Now, as our country reckons with systemic racism, implicit bias, a shifting economy, and lack of access to justice, the Foundations data and tools provide new ways for the legal profession to rise to the occasion.”

By targeting both legal education and legal employment, Foundations aims to implement wholesale reform. The IAALS has identified what it sees as a cycle of tradition: teaching classes the way they always have been taught and hiring lawyers based on where they went to law school and their class rank. The empirical research of Foundations provides pathways for schools and law firms to evolve and better ensure the success for all new lawyers, but especially for those who are less advantaged because of race, gender, or socioeconomic background.

The Foundations Instructional Design Guide is for educators who want to improve their curriculum by designing and implementing learning outcomes and standards-based assessments. Through close review of course objectives, defining desired learning outcomes from students, and assessments.

The Foundations Hiring Guide is for employers who want to improve their hiring practices—to improve quality, retention, and diversity. Through close review of hiring criteria, designing objective ways to assess candidates for hire, and creating accountability measures.

Read more about the guides here, or access the instructional design guide, or the hiring guide.

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American Bar Association data shows increase in bar passage scores during the pandemic

New bar score data from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, released on the 23rd of April 23, showed an increase in the scores compared to 2019 on both the ‘ultimate’ pass rate and for first-time takers, with the aggregate score of law graduates taking the exam for the first time rising by 3% to an 82.83% pass rate.

The data found that:

Students taking the bar exam for the first time in 2020 achieved an aggregate 82.83% pass rate (83.66% with Diploma Privilege), representing a 3-percentage point increase over the comparable 79.64% pass rate for 2019. Diploma Privilege considers those waived into the practice of law without taking the bar because of special rules during the pandemic.

And that 89.99% of 2018 law graduates who sat for a bar exam passed it within two years of graduation (90.10% with Diploma Privilege). This two-year marker, referred to as the  “ultimate” rate is slightly better than the 89.47% comparable figure for 2017 graduates. The report noted that 94.98% of all graduates sat for a bar exam within two years of graduation, and that schools were able to obtain bar passage information from 98.84% of their 2018 graduates.

Under a rule change in 2019, the 197 ABA-approved law schools still accepting students are required to have at least 75% of graduates who sit for a bar exam pass within two years of graduation. Schools found out of compliance have at least two years to meet the rule, known as Standard 316.

“These reports over the years have provided important consumer information for students considering whether and where to attend law school and for others with an interest in legal education,” said Bill Adams, managing director for ABA accreditation and legal education.

Read more about the data.

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Event: Redesigning Legal: Leading from the Bench—Expanding Access through Regulatory Innovation

June; 9, 2021

Online

The access to affordable legal services and access to justice crises are growing, yet there remains a sizeable gap between what real-world data tells us and the expectations of and understanding of those in the legal profession. Moreover, new approaches and new technology offer some solutions, but they are not widely known within the legal profession.

To increase awareness, on June 9 from 11 a.m.–12 p.m. MDT, this inaugural Redesigning Legal Speaker Series session will explore how judicial leadership can play a critical role in expanding access to legal services and access to justice. As the ultimate regulator and stewards of our justice system, state supreme courts, in partnership with their colleagues on the bench, have recognized they must lead and are in a prime position to do so. The panelists will explore the status of regulatory innovation, how courts and others are seeking to address the problems, and why state supreme courts and the organized bar must start forging solutions now instead of taking a “wait and see” approach.

This esteemed panel will feature Justice Ann Timmer of Arizona, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of Michigan, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of Texas, and Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of Utah, whose conversation will be moderated by Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis of Colorado (Ret.).

Registration is free and open below. Approved for one hour of Colorado CLE credit. Universal certificate will be provided for attendees from other states for submission in their home states. Acceptance of universal certificates is determined by the attorney’s home state.

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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. 

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First Alternative Business Structures approved in USA

The first two fully licenced alternative business structures (ABSs) have been approved by the state of Arizona. On the 17th March 2021, two businesses, Trajan Estate LLC and Gilbert and Payne Huebsch PLC received their ABS license after the State Supreme Court approved their bids. Trajan Estate is a legal service provider focused on estate planning while Payne Huebsch provides transactional legal services paired with tax and accounting advice.

Last year Arizona became the first state to fully allow alternative business structures and non-lawyer ownership in law firms,  revoking state professional conduct rule 5.4 which barred nonlawyers from fee-sharing and holding an interest in law firms. The change came into effect in January 2021, allowing business to begin the approval process.

The licenses follow the approval of the first non-lawyer owned law firm in Utah, as part of the state’s two-year regulatory sandbox. Law on Call opened at the beginning of March 2021, allowing consumers unlimited over the phone access to lawyers, in a business entirely owned by non-lawyers. The business will however be subject to license reviews, as per the conditions of the sandbox.

Read more about the Arizona licences here, or the Utah licences here.

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Illinois Supreme Court announces new task force to review court fees

The Illinois Supreme Court and Chief Justice Anne M. Burke has announced the formation of a Supreme Court Statutory Court Fees Task Force. The task force has been established to conduct a thorough review of the new Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act (CTAA), an act designed to reduce the statutory fees imposed or assessed on criminal defendants and civil litigants, the task force is mandated with examining the fiscal impact of the civil and criminal fee schedules. The task force will also review the implementation of the act, suggesting any legislative or rule changes that may be required.  The Task Force will submit a report and recommendations to the Supreme Court and General Assembly within one year.

The Task Force is made up of a bipartisan body of judges, retired judges, legislators, circuit clerks, and members of the private bar from across Illinois.

The new Task Force serves as a replacement for the Court’s original 15-person Task Force created under the Access to Justice Act. Recommendations from the original Task Force were the foundation for the CTAA .

Chief Justice Burke has said “The reforms enacted to simplify court costs were an important step and we are grateful to the original Task Force for its hard work. There was always the expectation that additional improvements would be necessary, and we look forward to hearing from the new Task Force on what those might be.”

Read more about the task force here. 

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American Bar Association issues new guidance on remote working and ethical use of technology

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has released a formal opinion cataloguing the relevant model rules and technological considerations that lawyers should be aware of when practising virtually. The opinion (Formal Opinion 498) identifies some of the minimum requirements for virtual practice under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct as well as suggesting several best practices to meet ethical obligations in a virtual setting.

The opinion states that “When practising virtually, lawyers must particularly consider ethical duties regarding competence, diligence, and communication, especially when using technology,” the opinion said. “In compliance with the duty of confidentiality, lawyers must make reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized disclosures of information relating to the representation and take reasonable precautions when transmitting such information.” Noting that the “duty of supervision” requires lawyers who supervise others to “make reasonable efforts to ensure” that their direct reports comply with the model rules, particularly if these colleagues are still working virtually.

The best practices cover hardware devices and software systems; accessing client files and data; using virtual meeting platforms and videoconferencing; and virtual document and data exchange platforms, among others.

Read the full opinion here.

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ABA releases first model diversity survey report on law firm equity and inclusion

On the 16th February, the American Bar Association Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession today released its 2020 ABA Model Diversity Survey Report, the first report focused on diversity, equity and inclusion within law firm practices in the USA.

The Model Diversity Survey (MDS), was developed in 2016, and is designed to give clients the tools to review and assess diversity, equity and inclusion of the legal service providers and to make decisions regarding hiring and retention. It assesses firm policies, practices and outcomes regarding hiring, attrition, promotion, leadership, work schedules and compensation. The MDS Report includes 2017-19 data from more than 370 law firms.

Some of the findings of the survey were that:

  • Firm leadership was overwhelmingly made up of white men relative to white women and racial, LGBTQ+ and disabled minorities of any gender identity.
  • Hires and promotions/attrition suggest that representation of minority groups is growing at the bottom levels of associates but is declining at the higher levels of non-equity and equity partners.
  • Attrition rates were substantially larger for nonwhite attorneys (e.g., nearly three times larger for African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino attorneys) relative to white attorneys.
  • The percentage of white associates promoted to equity partner was slightly higher than the percentage of white associates promoted to non-equity partner. This pattern was reversed for female associates, and the associates of all other racial minority groups which displayed larger percentages promoted to non-equity partner than to equity partner.
  • Minority males and females consistently ranged between 0% to 2% of the top 10% highest-paid attorneys in law firms.

The full report can be viewed here.

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