News

Grant to Fund Legal Education Research

The American Bar Foundation (ABF) has received a $320,000 grant from Access Group Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to promote access to legal and graduate education through research, policy advocacy and student educational services. The grant will support the foundation’s Visiting Scholars Fellowship Program in Legal and Higher Education and the Doctoral Fellowship Program in Legal and Higher Education. The goal of both programs, according to the foundation, is to advance scholarship examining access, affordability and value in legal and higher education. Read more about the grant.

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Knoxville Lawyer Named Top 100 Law Blogger

Knoxville family lawyer K.O. Herston has been named a top 100 blogger by the ABA Journal for the second year in a row. Herston, the author of “Herston on Tennessee Family Law,” practices with the Herston Law Group and focuses the blog on legal developments in Tennessee family law. The ABA Journal has been identifying the best blogs for lawyers for the past 10 years through its ABA Blawg 100.

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ABA Sanctioning Noncompliant Law Schools

Responding to concerns that it has not done enough to crack down on underperforming law schools, the ABA has started sanctioning schools that violate its rules, Above the Law reports. A review shows the ABA has taken action against three schools since this past summer, ordering remedial action at the Ave Maria School of Law, imposing a censure on Valparaiso University School of Law and imposing probation on Charlotte School of Law. The schools remain accredited and have two years to comply with ABA standards related to graduation and bar exam passage rates. The ABA Journal has more on the moves and links to the disciplinary notices.

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ABA Considers Privacy Law Certification

A program administered by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) that certifies lawyers as privacy law specialists is expected to go before the ABA House of Delegates in February, the ABA Journal reports. If the ABA approves accreditation, lawyers who meet IAPP standards – including passing two exams and working in the field for at least three years – could declare themselves privacy law specialists without fear of violating state ethics rules. The accreditation would last for five years. Those supporting the move say that the rise of cyber, security and intellectual property issues have created a need for a recognized specialty.

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ABA Group to Publish Trump Libel Article

The ABA Forum on Communications Law will publish an article calling Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump a “libel bully” after all, despite reservations about partisan language from ABA officials, the ABA Journal reports. On Friday, the ABA reiterated what it has said since the incident, that it did not refuse to publish article and was not afraid of being sued. It did acknowledge that it suggested edits that “were in keeping with the ABA’s commitment to non-partisanship,” but said it was the author, First Amendment lawyer Susan Seager, who decided to withdraw the article. Seager now has resubmitted the article and it has been accepted for publication.

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ABA Declines to Label Trump a 'Libel Bully'

A new report that was commissioned by an ABA committee of media lawyers calls Donald Trump a “libel bully” and outlines seven free-speech related lawsuits he or his companies have previously filed. The 15-page report, which was made public by the Media Law Resources Center, was prepared by former journalist and First Amendment lawyer Susan E. Seagar. According to the New York Times, the ABA refused to publish the report because it feared that Trump would sue it. A spokeswoman for the ABA, however, denied that fear of a libel suit had anything to do with its decision to withhold the report. WDEF.com has the story from CBS.

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Stricter ABA Standards Approved for Bar Pass Rates

A proposal to tighten bar passage rate standards for ABA-approved law schools was approved Friday by the council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Under the proposal, 75 percent of a school’s graduates must pass a bar exam within a two-year period. Under the current rules, schools have several ways to meet the requirement. According to the ABA Journal, the proposal is expected to go the ABA House of Delegates in February 2017. Most council members voted in favor of the proposal, though there was discussion that the change might decrease diversity in the profession. Those supporting the measure argued that such concerns were based on anecdotal evidence only.

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Pera Elected to Lead Regional Bar Leadership Group

Memphis attorney Lucian T. Pera was elected president of the Southern Conference of Bar Presidents at its 2016 annual meeting last week in Branson, Missouri. A partner at Adams and Reese, Pera is president-elect of the Tennessee Bar Association and will lead the TBA in the 2017-2018 bar year. “I’m really honored to be elected,” Pera said. “The conference provides those leading state bars really unique opportunities to share ideas and concerns about current issues facing our associations and our members, and to learn from each other what works and what doesn’t. And it will be just great for the TBA to host all our sister bar associations in Memphis in October 2017.

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ABA Urges Senate Vote on Child Welfare Bill

The ABA is urging the Senate to pass the Family First Prevention Services Act (S. 3065) by the end of the month. The bill, which passed unanimously in the House of Representatives this summer, reforms the federal child welfare financing structure and extends the Court Improvement Program (CIP), which provides resources for child welfare courts in all 50 states. Since its creation more than 20 years ago, the CIP has supported courts’ ability to play an essential role in ensuring the safety and permanency for abused and neglected children, the ABA says.

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ABA to Continue Accrediting New Law Schools

The U.S. Department of Education will not implement a panel recommendation that called for suspending the ABA from accrediting new law schools for one year, the ABA Journal reports. The department rejected a call from the National Advisory Council on Institutional Quality and Integrity to suspend the group for one year based on questions of whether the ABA was in compliance with federal regulations requiring accrediting agencies to monitor, re-evaluate and enforce programs and standards. The department said it did not find enough evidence that the ABA was out of compliance with those mandates to justify a suspension.

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Lawyers Observe Criminal Court with Eye to Reform

Earlier this week, lawyers who do not typically handle criminal defense work sat in Nashville courtrooms and watched how domestic violence and misdemeanor arrests were handled. The 15 lawyers fanned out among five courtrooms to observe whether defendants had lawyers and knew about their rights, and whether judges were asking about people’s financial status and ability to pay fines. The day was sponsored by ArchCity Defenders, a pro bono law firm in St. Louis. The Tennessean reports that the ABA is evaluating the program to see if it should be expanded to other cities.

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ABA Panel OKs More Stringent Bar Pass Standards

The requirements for bar passage rates for ABA-accredited law schools need tightening, an ABA committee says. Under a proposal approved by the committee, schools would have to show that 75 percent of their graduating classes pass a bar exam within two years to remain ABA-compliant. The current standard gives students five years to pass the exam. The committee also approved a new interpretation of a rule governing student attrition. Both proposals now go to the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar for consideration in October, the ABA Journal reports.

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ABA Urges Senate Vote on 20 Court Nominees

ABA President Linda Klein is calling on Senate leaders to schedule a floor vote on 20 nominees for district judgeships whose nominations are stalled. In a letter to leaders this week, Klein says the Senate Judiciary Committee found all 20 nominees to be fully qualified and sent them to the floor with overwhelming bipartisan support. “With over 10 percent of authorized judgeships now vacant, the prompt filling of vacancies is becoming a matter of increasing urgency,” Klein wrote.

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Cole to Head National Conference of Bar Presidents

Jonathan Cole, a shareholder in Baker Donelson’s Nashville office, has been elected president of the National Conference of Bar Presidents (NCBP). He is the first Nashville lawyer to be elected to the position, his firm reports. In this role, he will oversee programs providing leadership training, networking and information sharing for bar leaders across the country and abroad. Cole previously served as president of the Nashville Bar Association and chair of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division. He currently serves as director of the American Bar Endowment and is a fellow of the American, Tennessee and Nashville bar foundations.

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Lewis Named Chair of ABA Pro Bono Committee

Baker Donelson shareholder George T. “Buck” Lewis has been named chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, his law firm announced. The committee is responsible for developing and assessing pro bono programs and policies that affect lawyers’ ability to provide free legal services. Lewis, who practices in Memphis, is a past chair of the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission. As president of the TBA, he spearheaded the “4ALL” campaign and development of a web-based legal advice platform. Most recently, he has been helping the ABA roll out a national online pro bono tool modeled on the Tennessee service. ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org will launch in 39 states between now and Nov. 11. In Tennessee, the site has been rebranded as TN.FreeLegalAnswers.org.

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ABA Seeks Professional Responsibility Center Director

The American Bar Association is seeking a director for its Center for Professional Responsibility. Responsibilities include strategic planning, policy development, financial management and personnel administration. Candidates should have 15 years of professional legal experience with executive responsibilities, 10 years of legal experience in the field of professional responsibility or legal/judicial regulation, five years of experience leading an organization and supervising a team, and an active law degree.

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Court Seeks Comments on 2 Proposals, Sets Legal Aid Funding Ratios

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued three orders. The first amends Rule 11 Section VI(a)(1), which sets out the amounts that the state’s four legal aid organizations receive from the Civil Legal Representation of Indigents Fund. The order, which will take effect Sept. 1, changes the percentage of funding each organization receives based on the percent of poverty in their service areas. The second order seeks comments by Sept. 19 on a proposal by the Board of Professional Responsibility and Tennessee Bar Foundation to amend Rules 8 and 43 to allow attorneys to deposit trust funds in federally insured credit unions. The third order seeks comments by Nov. 17 on a proposal by theTBA to amend Rule 8 to make a number of changes recommended by the ABA's Commission on Ethics 20/20.

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ABA Unveils New Tools for ATJ Efforts, Solo Lawyers

The ABA this week announced two new efforts. The first, a new Center for Innovation, is designed to increase access to justice and improve the delivery of legal services through innovative programs and initiatives. The second is a new web-based tool to help solo and small firm lawyers manage their practices. The ABA Blueprint program will launch this fall and offer information on technology, marketing, retirement and insurance services.

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Warren Seely Named ABA Section Director

Tennessee lawyer Linda Warren Seely has been named the new director of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution. She will take office Sept. 1. Seely served as director of pro bono projects for Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) for nine years and later became director of MALS’ Campaign for Equal Justice. She recently left MALS to join a Step Ahead Foundation, working to help women learn about and access birth control. Seely is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association and the Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women. She currently serves in the TBA House of Delegates, and on the governing boards of the Association of Women Attorneys Foundation, Madison County CASA and Tennessee Bar Foundation. 

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New ABA President to Focus on Veterans, Election Issues

Atlanta lawyer Linda Klein, senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson, was sworn in as president of the ABA yesterday and outlined her goals for the year, which include a focus on veterans’ legal needs, promotion of voting in the upcoming election and support for quality education. A new ABA Commission on Veterans’ Legal Services will provide resources for local legal groups to serve veterans and their families, and explore ways to provide legal services at VA medical facilities. Tennessee will be represented on the commission by TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur. The voting initiative, ABA Votes 2016, will provide a state-by-state summary of voter laws as well as resources lawyers can use to encourage participation. Finally, a new education commission will study ways to address substandard education in rural and inner city communities and improve opportunities for children with disabilities.

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ABA House Adopts Rule on Harassment, Discrimination

The ABA House of Delegates approved a model professional conduct rule that prohibits harassment and discrimination by lawyers “on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status or socioeconomic status” during its annual meeting in San Francisco. The National Association of Women Lawyers strongly supported the move, while critics argued it would have a chilling effect on lawyers' First Amendment rights, The New York Times reports. During two days of deliberation, the body also approved proposals to (1) permit law school students to earn academic credit and compensation for externships at the same time, (2) broaden diversity and inclusion in the profession, (3) urge state and local governments to abolish offender-funded probation systems and provide Miranda warnings in Spanish, and (4) urge legislatures to eliminate the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

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Pakistani Lawyers Targeted in Suicide Bombing

A suicide attacker killed almost 70 and injured more than 100 people – many of them lawyers – outside a hospital in the Pakistani city of Quetta. The lawyers were there to mourn the killing of Bilal Anwar Kasi, the president of the Balochistan Bar Association, who was shot dead on his way to work Monday. Legal groups in Pakistan say lawyers will hold a week of mourning and boycott the courts in protest of the deaths. Rallies took place across the country today. A breakaway faction of the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. ABA President Paulette Brown responded to the situation saying the American legal community condemns the attack, which “strikes at the rule of law.” CNN has more on the story.

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Law School Council to Stop Certifying LSAT Scores

The Law School Admission Council, which certifies LSAT scores and undergraduate GPA data submitted by law schools for ABA accreditation, announced last week that it intends to suspend that service. The organization’s letter cites consideration by the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to allow use of the GRE exam instead of the LSAT for law school admission. “Our board believes that certifying LSAT scores when other scores are not certified could lead to more confusion for applicants and for law schools,” the council’s chair said. The ABA Journal has more.

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TBA Young Lawyers Net 4 Honors at ABA Meeting

The TBA Young Lawyers Division received four awards from the American Bar Association's YLD Awards of Achievement program at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco this weekend. For the division of state YLD groups with fewer that 3,000 members, the TBA YLD was awarded first place for service to the public for the Access to Justice Legal Clinic Initiative, second place for service to the bar for its CLE programming and second place for diversity programming. The YLD also received a special recognition in the comprehensive category, which honors all of the group's programs for the 2015-2016 bar year.

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Retirement Webinar on Tap for Wednesday

The ABA Retirement Funds Program is hosting a free webinar on the role of self-directed brokerage accounts (SDBA) within retirement plans. The session will be held this Wednesday at noon Central Daylight Time. Topics include: the basics of SDBAs, the benefits of SDBAs, SDBA product details, how SDBAs work within the regulatory environment of ERISA, and trends related to SDBAs in the marketplace.

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