News

ABA Report Provides Updates on Legislation

The American Bar Association’s first Washington Letter chart for 2017 has been released and has updates on bills in Congress that the ABA has championed or opposed during the previous congressional session. Updates include information regarding the ABA’s support of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the ABA’s support of adequate funding for the Legal Services Corporation. Read the full chart here.
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Memphis Judge Moderates ABA Panel on Batson Decision

Judge Bernice Donald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit moderated a panel reviewing the 30 years of the Batson v. Kentucky decision of 1986. It ruled that a prosecutor’s exercise of race-based peremptory challenges to jurors violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The panelists at the ABA Midyear Meeting event called the ruling a “tremendous failure,” and said that lawyers need to be trained on how to choose a jury without excluding due to race. Read more at the ABA website.
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Independence of Judiciary Not Up for Negotiation, ABA President Says

American Bar Association President Linda Klein today called on lawyers to defend the rule of law despite comments against the judiciary coming from the U.S. executive branch, according to the ABA Journal. “Let us be clear. The independence of the judiciary is not up for negotiation,” Klein said in an address to the ABA House of Delegates. The House later adopted a resolution urging the U.S. government to withdraw the Executive Order barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Klein also announced the launch of an online portal to coordinate efforts of lawyers helping immigrants affected by the ban.
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Neil Gorsuch Selected as SCOTUS Nominee

Judge Neil Gorsuch, from the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was nominated by President Donald Trump to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch, considered a reliable conservative, is a former Washington, D.C. lawyer educated at Harvard and Oxford. Gorsuch may face challenges to his confirmation, however, as Congressional Democrats consider seeking reprisal after Republicans blocked Obama nominee Merrick Garland last year, according to the New York Times. The American Bar Association issued a response to the pick, which can be read here.
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ABA Section of Antitrust Law Releases Presidential Transition Report

The American Bar Association Section of Antitrust Law released its Presidential Transition Report today, outlining current state and federal antitrust and consumer protection law and policy, as well as recommendations for ways the Trump administration might consider strengthening policy and enforcement. The report includes calls for more transparency and consistency in investigations, concern about the competitive effects of emerging financial regulations, criticism of civil-penalty assessments and support for the importance of international engagement. 
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$5M Suit Filed Against Charlotte Law School

Two students filed a $5 million class action lawsuit last week against the Charlotte School of Law and its parent company Infilaw, the ABA Journal reports. The complaint accuses the law school of engaging in misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty and constructive fraud. The filing follows the U.S. Department of Education's decision to cut off the school’s federal student aid for allegedly misleading current and prospective students about its ABA accreditation status.

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ABA Releases Guide to Issues in Assisted Reproduction

The American Bar Association (ABA) has released a guide to the legal and medical issues related to assisted reproduction. “The ABA Consumer Guide to Assisted Reproduction” is designed to educate consumers about the processes involved in choosing medical providers, legal representatives and other key players throughout the assisted reproduction process. The book provides a critical understanding of the protocols to enter into appropriate legal contracts while addressing the unique issues that may arise pre-and post-birth.

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Memphis Law Diversity Event Set for February

The Benjamin L. Hooks Chapter of the University of Memphis Black Law Students Association will hold its inaugural Unity in Diversity Banquet on Feb. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Guest House at Graceland. The event is designed to bring together judges, lawyers, law students and community leaders to highlight a wide array of contributions and achievements made by diverse individuals. Former ABA President and current Leadership Council on Legal Diversity President Robert Grey will deliver the keynote address. Tickets are $50 for students and $100 for all others and can be purchased online.

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ABA Files Suit Over Loan Forgiveness Program

The American Bar Association (ABA) filed a lawsuit Tuesday to force the U.S. Department of Education to honor loan forgiveness commitments it made under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The suit was brought on behalf of four plaintiffs who were retroactively denied eligibility for the benefit after being told their jobs qualified or taking positions "pre-approved" by the department. The program, which began in 2007, provides incentives for choosing a public service career by forgiving student loan debt for those who make payments for 10 years while working in public service jobs. The ABA reports that it filed the suit after several unsuccessful attempts to resolve the situation.

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ABA Opinion: Protect Confidentiality When Ending Representation

The American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued Formal Opinion 476, which addresses confidentiality issues that arise when a lawyer moves to withdraw from a civil case because of a client’s failure to pay legal fees. The opinion recommends a process for the lawyer and the trial judge to follow and how much, if any, confidential client information should be disclosed in a motion to withdraw. The opinion notes that sticky situations can arise, and that “this requires cooperation between lawyers and judges.” Read more about the opinion.

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Female Law Students Outnumber Males for 1st Time

For the first time since data on the issue has been collected, women now outnumber men as law students, according to Deborah Merritt, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. Merritt calculated the slight lead of 50.32 percent based on reports released last week by the nation’s law schools. Her research, however, indicates that on average, higher ranking law schools still have significantly smaller percentages of female students. According to other analysts, the reports show that 80 percent of ABA-accredited law schools have experienced double-digit percentage decreases in students admitted and total 2016 law school enrollment is the lowest it has been since 1974. The ABA Journal has links to a number of analyses.

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ABA Releases Updated Law School Data

The American Bar Association (ABA) has released updated information about admissions, tuition and other matters reported by ABA-approved law schools. The information is presented in 11 categories, including admissions, tuition and living costs, financial aid, class and faculty demographics, employment outcomes, bar passage and other areas. The data can be searched and sorted, allowing for school-by-school comparisons and analysis.

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Stites & Harbison’s Trademarkology Named Top Blog

In addition to two blogs written by individual Tennessee attorneys, the ABA Journal has named Stites & Harbison’s Trademarkology blog as one of the 100 best blogs for a legal audience for 2016. This is the third consecutive year the blog, which focuses on trademark issues, has made the list. Read more from the firm or see other blogs by Tennessee lawyers and firms.

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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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