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Links for February 2014
The Tennessee Bar Foundation has awarded $548,030 to 25 organizations across the state as part of its 2014 Interest On Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA) grants. Gifts range in size from $3,000 for Catholic Charities’ Immigrant Services to $122,153 for the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Legal aid agencies in Jackson, Knoxville and Memphis also received funding. Download the full list at the link above.
Women in the associate ranks declined for the fourth year in a row, while women and minorities in the partnership ranks show some improvement, according to a survey from the National Association of Law Placement (NALP). The percentage of female associates in law firms fell to 44.79 percent in 2013. Minority associate numbers recovered from a decline in 2009 to 2010, and the numbers of female and minority partners also increased slightly. Visit The Careerist for more information.
National law school enrollment figures reported today by the American Bar Association show an 11 percent drop in first year students – a trend not reflected at law schools across Tennessee. By contrast, the state's six law schools show a combined 3 percent increase in first-year enrollment from 2012 to 2013, though the trend varied at individual schools.
The Duncan School of Law in Knoxville saw a more than doubling of first-year students, with 28 new enrollees versus 13 last year. Neither Duncan or the Nashville School of Law — which saw first-year enrollment slip by 7 percent to 158 — are accredited by the ABA, so their numbers would not have been included in the national picture. The University of Tennessee’s College of Law saw enrollment increase by just over 30 percent to 158, while Vanderbilt and the University of Memphis law schools were nearly flat at 174 and 113, respectively. The Belmont College of Law, which has provisional accreditation from the ABA, reported first-year enrollment down by 20 percent to 82 students.
In an interview with National Public Radio today, ABA President James Silkenat says that one reason first-year law school enrollment is down is “student loan debt in the six figures.” He thinks some students have decided that law school is no longer “worth it” since jobs remain scarce and the amount of debt affects career options. “The level of debt, frankly, affects the kinds of careers that law graduates can pursue. It's very difficult becoming a legal services lawyer working in environmental issues or something where the pay is not … at Wall Street levels,” he said. Silkenat says the enrollment numbers point to a larger issue: law school tuition needs to come down.
The 2014 class of the TBA Leadership Law program kicks off today with an opening retreat at Montgomery Bell State Park. The 33 attorneys from across the state were selected from several hundred nominees. After this weekend’s retreat, the group will meet monthly, learning about leadership in the legal profession, issues in the courts, policymaking in state government and the importance of community service. Among speakers at the opening retreat are Covington lawyer Houston Gordon, Memphis lawyer Lewis Donelson, Nashville attorney Bob Tuke and TBA President Cindy Wyrick.
The YLD Diversity Committee met this month to review applications for the 2014 Diversity Leadership Institute, a six-month leadership and mentoring program for Tennessee law students. Now in its fourth year, the program is designed to develop skills to succeed as a law student and attorney; empower students to contribute more to the legal community; match students to mentors in a diverse variety of practice areas; and build relationships among students of diverse backgrounds. The committee selected a class of 23, representing each of Tennessee’s six law schools and offering a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Offers to join the class are now pending with the students.
Diversity Leadership Class Begins
The Young Lawyers Division Diversity Committee selected a class of 21 to participate in the 2014 Diversity Leadership Institute, a six-month leadership and mentoring program for Tennessee law students. Now in its fourth year, the program is designed to develop skills to succeed as a law student and attorney; empower students to contribute more to the legal community; match students to mentors in a diverse variety of practice areas; and build relationships among students of diverse backgrounds. See who they are at www.tba.org/news/2014-law-student-leadership-class-named
As law schools are forced to tighten their belts, law libraries are getting squeezed especially hard, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports. In fact, according to SUNY Buffalo Law School professor James G. Milles they are "doomed." “Law schools will not simply shut down or hand off their libraries—or few will. Rather, law libraries will be chipped away notch by notch, by attrition of personnel and services,” he writes in a new working research paper about the legal education crisis. Miles also notes that the problem isn’t just about money, but also about demand. Legal historians are “still attached to traditional law libraries” he writes, but most faculty now are doing most of their legal research electronically.
The five Hamilton County General Sessions Court judges have collaborated to publish the first revision of local court rules since 1966, the Chattanoogan reports. Judges Christie Sell, David Bales, Clarence Shattuck, Lila Statom and Gary Starnes drafted the comprehensive rewrite to achieve "uniformity and to inform all persons having business before the court of the requirements regarding procedures, dress-code and appropriate conduct." The rules take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Copies are available in the General Sessions Court Office on the second floor of the City County Courts Building and are reprinted in the paper’s story.
The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that cabinet-level state officials have absolute immunity from defamation claims for speech that arises out of the performance of their official duties. The ruling came in the case of Zoyle Jones, a former employee of the Tennessee Department of Correction, who sued the state for defamation after the former commissioner of the department spoke to the media about Jones’s demotion. Writing for the court, Justice Sharon G. Lee explained that a rule of absolute immunity furthers two important policy considerations: ensuring that cabinet-level state officials can fulfill their public duties and inform the public about the functioning of government free from the harassment of lawsuits.
The Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday adopted a new standard to guide appellate court review of decisions that impose consecutive sentences for multiple convictions. The decision came in the case of James Allen Pollard, who was found guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. The trial court imposed consecutive sentences of life in prison for the murder and 18 years for the robbery. The appellate court affirmed the conviction but instructed the trial court to identify the factors that supported imposition of consecutive sentences. The Supreme Court upheld that approach, directing trial courts to identify a specific evidentiary basis for “stacking” sentences. It also ruled that if a lower court finds an appropriate basis for consecutive sentences, appellate courts must find an abuse of discretion to justify overturning the decision.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said Tuesday that Supreme Court justices should work as long as they can and shouldn't manipulate their retirement so a like-minded president can appoint their successor, the Associated Press reports on WRCB Channel 2. Some liberals have recently called on the 80-year-old Ginsburg to retire so President Barack Obama can choose her replacement. If she stays beyond his term, it would leave open the possibility that a Republican would name the liberal justice's successor.
The Rhea County Commission voted Tuesday to establish an alcohol and drug treatment program as an alternative to prison for people convicted of certain drug offenses. Funding for the program will come from D.U.I fines collected in the Rhea County Circuit and Sessions Courts and federal grants. The Chattanoogan has more.
Offered January through April in partnership with the Nashville Community Education Commission, the People’s Law School is a free program taught by Legal Aid Society attorneys and volunteer attorneys. It provides an overview of common civil legal issues at weekly, one-hour classes. The sessions will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursdays at Wright Middle School, 180 McCall St. and at Cohn Learning Center, 4805 Park Ave. beginning Jan. 23. To register, call the Nashville Community Education Commission at (615) 298-8085 or visit the commission's website.
Legal Aid of East Tennessee is hiring an experienced Chief Financial Officer to be based in its Knoxville office. Interested candidates may submit a letter of interest and resume to Executive Director David R. Yoder or call (865) 637-0484 for more information. Download a job description.
On the eve of the New Year, legal trend watchers predict that alternative billing arrangements, new research and development programs, and lateral hiring will be among the top trends affecting law firms in 2014, reports the Nashville Business Journal. The paper cites a LexisNexis blog, which features 21 law firm managers, legal marketers and consultants offering their best predictions for practice management, technology and business development trends for the legal profession.