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Links for November 2011
Campaign puts focus on pro bono needs, contributions
Tennessee lawyers will offer free legal services to those unable to afford a lawyer throughout the month of October as part of the national Celebrate Pro Bono initiative. More than 40 events — including legal advice clinics, CLE training and public education programs -- are planned across the state during the month. Gov. Bill Haslam has again recognized the good work of Tennessee attorneys in meeting the tremendous need for legal services in a proclamation declaring October as "Celebrate Pro Bono Month."
"Taking care of our neighbors is part of what it means to be a Tennessean," TBA President Danny Van Horn said in announcing the event. "This October, Tennessee attorneys once again have an opportunity to demonstrate our leadership, care and volunteerism in service of those in need. Times are tough for many of our neighbors and there are things that only attorneys can do to help. I encourage all attorneys to give back with their time or with their wallets during Pro Bono Month. I also encourage paralegals and law students to help in any way they can."
Learn more about the campaign and see a list of events
'GAVELS' will educate, demystify legal system
Tennessee judges and attorneys have partnered to create a new program for educating students, community groups and business organizations about the legal system. The Tennessee Judicial Conference (TJC) and Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) developed the GAVELS program, which stands for Gaining Access to Valuable Education about the Legal System, to fill the growing knowledge gap about the legal system and the important role it plays in our government.
"We hope this program helps demystify the court system and shed some light on the important role the judiciary plays in our democratic society," Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth said. Hollingsworth chairs the TJC's public confidence in the courts committee. GAVELS pairs lawyers and judges to make presentations in their communities in order to improve the public's understanding of our legal system and better equip citizens to be active participants in our democratic society. A list of available judges and attorneys and the topics they are willing to speak about are available online at www.tncourts.gov and www.tba.org. Schools, civic organizations and business groups are welcome to request a speaker by contacting a judge or attorney listed on either website.
Learn more about GAVELS
Patent reform act signed into law
President Obama H.R. 1249, the "Leahy-Smith America Invents Act" on Sept. 16. The act presents the most comprehensive overhaul of the Patent Statute (35 U.S.C.) since it was enacted in 1952, including changing our system of awarding patents from those who invent first to those who file their application first. Read an article that explains it all.
Commission proposes limited scope representation
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder says the Court's Access to Justice Commission is working on a proposal to make it easier for litigants to temporarily hire a lawyer to handle the most critical aspects of their cases. Such arrangements are already allowed in Tennessee, but the commission hopes it can encourage more lawyers to participate by formalizing guidelines for "limited scope representation," she says. Under a draft proposal discussed by the commission in October, lawyers could file a form notifying the court that they are making a limited appearance in the case. Once specified issues are resolved, the lawyer's obligation would be over, and the only requirement would be to notify the court within five days of withdrawing from the case.
Grisham accepts prize, reflects on state of the law
Lawyer and best-selling author John Grisham received the inaugural Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction at a ceremony in September for his book The Confession — a novel about a small town lawyer's efforts to stop the execution of a local football hero convicted of murder. In remarks after the event and reported by the ABA Journal, Grisham blamed lawyers for polluting the image of the profession in the five decades since Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird: "Just watch the TV ads, the lawyers who talk to the press during trials, and the lawyers that are just behaving badly." He explores that theme in his next book, The Litigators. If it's "all about the winning … you lose focus. And when you lose focus, you end up doing something you shouldn't do," he said.
Read more in the ABA Journal.
It was 25 years ago this fall, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports, that Tennessee's Supreme Court ordered the state's lawyers to "brush up on their skills or risk losing their licenses." Justice William H.D. Fones told the media that the court had approved a plan requiring lawyers to obtain at least 12 hours of continuing legal education each year to retain their licenses. That requirement was later increased to 15 hours.
Youth court students visit Supreme Court
Students in the Lake County and Crockett County youth court programs recently attended oral arguments at the Supreme Court Workers' Compensation. Following the proceedings, the group met with Justice Sharon Lee, who presided over the panel, and an attorney who argued one of the cases. The students were in Nashville for training. The Lake County students were accompanied by Judge Danny Goodman, who presides over that teen court. The Youth Court Program is managed by Nashville lawyer Denise Bentley, who coordinates her work through the TBA.
Learn more about Youth Court at http://www.tba.org/youthcourt/index.html.
Law school applicants, LSAT takers in decline
The Law Blog of the Wall Street Journal reports that Fall 2011 applications for law school were down 10 percent -- the steepest decline in at least 10 years. The paper also suggests that this may be the beginning of a trend. This summer, there was an 18.7 percent decline in LSAT test takers — the biggest decline in at least 24 years, according to the Law School Admission Council.
Pacer pages to go up 2 cents
The cost of Pacer documents will increase two cents a page — to 10 cents each — under a new policy adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States. The fee increase was announced along with a new policy that encourages federal courts to limit those instances in which they seal entire civil case files. Cases should be sealed only when required by statute or rule, or when justified by a showing of extraordinary circumstances and an absence of feasible alternatives, according to the policy. ABAJournal.com explains.
Civil Justice Act effective
The Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 took effect Oct. 3. Legal actions for injuries, deaths and other losses that occur from today forward are subject to big changes in personal-injury and consumer-protection laws, including new caps on damage awards. The Commercial Appeal has the story.
GCs fare better than those in firms under glass ceiling
Women make up only 20 percent of general counsels in Fortune 500 companies, but they are faring better than women at elite law firms. According to one study, only 6 percent of the country's 200 highest-grossing firms have a female managing partner. This is source of frustration for many observers, especially since women have received more than 40 percent of all law school degrees awarded each year since 1986. A new book, Courageous Counsel, interviews 42 current and former female GCs in the Fortune 500 and found 42 different ways to get to the top. "Just because you don't look like or act like or have the same CV as the person who did a job before you, that doesn't mean you aren't precluded from doing it too," author Kara Baysinger says. Law.com examines the glass ceiling and where the cracks are.