News

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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ABA Annual Meeting Includes FBI Director, Marcia Clark as Speakers

The American Bar Association (ABA) annual meeting in San Francisco continues today. Offerings at the meeting include updates about the legal implications of electronic devices such as home security systems, cellphones and fitness trackers that collect and exchange data, and the Zika virus. Today, FBI Director James Comey was among experts who examined the use of emerging technology by criminals and terrorists to evade detection, and Marcia Clark, who was the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case, was on tap to discuss her new work of fiction.

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ABA Meeting Opens, Includes Diversity Commission Findings

The American Bar Association kicks off its annual meeting today in San Francisco with topics to be explored including national security at the U.S. border and in the cyber realm, the impact of new voting laws on the upcoming fall elections and the integration of transgendered soldiers in the U.S. military. On Saturday, the ABA Diversity and Inclusion Commission, formed by outgoing ABA President Paulette Brown, will unveil the results of its work. The group spent months reviewing and analyzing the state of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, the judicial system and the ABA, with the aim of formulating methods, policies, standards and practices to “move the needle” and advance diversity and inclusion. “The legal profession is the best, but we can do better," Brown said. "It can no longer be acceptable for us to be the least diverse of all comparable professions.” Learn more from the ABA's Diversity and Inclusion Portal.

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Nashville Attorney to Chair ABA Section

Sam H. Poteet Jr., a principal with Manier & Herod in Nashville, has been elected to a one-year term as chair of the American Bar Association Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS). He will begin serving his 2016-17 term at the conclusion of the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco, which starts today and runs through Aug. 9. TIPS unites plaintiff, defense, insurance and corporate counsel to advance the civil justice system. It has about 20,000 members and 31 general committees that focus on substantive and procedural matters in areas across the broad spectrum of civil law and practice.

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Law School Externships, Misconduct Rules on ABA Annual Meeting Agenda

The ABA House of Delegates will meet Aug. 8-9 in San Francisco for its annual meeting. Items on the agenda include a proposal that would permit law school students to earn academic credit and compensation for externships at the same time; an amendment to the model rules of conduct to add anti-discrimination and anti-harassment provisions; a proposal urging states to abolish probation systems supervised by private, for-profit firms; and initiatives that expand ABA efforts to diversify the legal profession and the judiciary.

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ABA Conducting Random Audits of Law School Job Stats

The ABA is starting to conduct random audits of jobs data provided by law schools, the ABA Journal reports. Auditors are examining data from 10 randomly selected law schools and 382 randomly selected students from 156 law schools. The aim is to make sure schools followed new procedures released in May governing the collection and verification of employment data. Audit results will not be publicly released unless problems lead to a public sanction.

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ABA: Safety of Society Relies on Rule of Law

Following police-involved shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana., and St. Paul, Minnesota., as well as the killing of five police officers in Dallas, ABA President Paulette Brown issued a statement, saying that "Our civil society and the safety of all in it – citizens and law enforcement – rely on the rule of law. It is imperative that the law be fairly applied and enforced. All citizens must perceive our justice system as fair. It also is essential that laws and authority are respected and followed." Brown writes that the ABA is "urgently exploring opportunities to develop creative solutions to this problem that affects us all… The ABA calls on all lawyers to work quickly and collaboratively toward viable and just answers to these issues.” Related, police officers in Nashville and Memphis were disciplined this week for what were deemed inappropriate social media posts about the shootings, the Tennessean reports.
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ABA Seeks Comments on Law School Standards

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved for notice and comment several proposed revisions to its Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. Comments on the proposals should be sent to jr.clark@americanbar.org by July 29.

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ABA May Lose Some Accreditation Powers

A U.S. Department of Education panel recommended last week that the ABA’s accreditation power for new law schools be suspended for one year. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity made that decision based on the ABA’s failure to implement student achievement standards and probationary sanctions, and to meet audit process and analysis responsibilities regarding students’ debt levels. The recommendation now goes back to the Education Department. The ABA Journal has the story.

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