News

ABA to Revisit Bar Passage Standards at Meeting This Week

The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will revisit a controversial proposal to tighten law school standards regarding bar passage rates when it meets in Chicago on May 17, the ABA Journal reports. An agenda for the open session portion of the meeting does not list what actions will be considered on the proposed revision to Standard 316, which currently mandates a 75% pass rate for all graduates over the five most recent calendar years, or a 75% pass rate for at least three of those five years. However, meeting materials include a memo in support of the revision, requiring at least 75% of a law school’s graduates who sat for a bar exam to pass within two years of graduation.
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Alaska Supreme Court Issues Call for Pro Bono Earthquake Relief Work

Following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck the state late last year, the Alaska Supreme Court has issued an order allowing out-of-state lawyers to provide volunteer legal services to low-income Alaskans affected by the earthquake. The ABA Journal reports that the Alaskan legal community hopes to have the participation from at least one lawyer in every state. Lawyers can volunteer at a time and place convenient to them through ABA Free Legal Answers, an online portal that remotely connects pro bono lawyers with low-income individuals. The Alaska version of the site now accepts out-of-state registrations.
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ABA Panel Examines Potential Changes to Legal Profession Amid Millennial Ascendance

A recent American Bar Association Techshow panel examined challenges and changes the legal community will face as millennials take on a greater role in the profession. The ABA Journal reports that in 10 years, 75 percent of law firm staff will be millennials, the oldest now turning 38 and the youngest 22. Millennial attorneys have more student loan debt than previous generations, and are more racially and economically diverse. Due to these differences, firms were encouraged by panelists to be transparent with millennial lawyers about pay scale and growth opportunities.
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ABA Issues Guidance on Judges Performing Same-sex Marriages

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released today a formal opinion giving judges guidance related to their options for performing same-sex marriages under the Model Code of Judicial Conduct. The formal opinion differentiates between the obligations of a judge whose performance of marriages is either mandatory or optional. In either case, Formal Opinion 485 said the Model Code of Judicial Conduct is violated “by refusing to perform marriages for same-sex couples while agreeing to perform marriages of opposite-sex couples.” If a judge is not obligated to perform marriages, the judge “may decline to perform all marriages for members of the public” while maintaining that prerogative for “family and friends,” the opinion said. Still, the judge must be consistent and not discriminate based on sexual preference in performing those specific marriages.
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Deadline Near to Apply for ABA Presidential Appointments

The deadline to nominate yourself or another attorney for an American Bar Association presidential appointment for the 2019-2020 bar year is Feb. 15. ABA President-elect Judy Perry Martinez is expected to make approximately 700 appointments to ABA Standing Committees, Special Committees, Commissions and other association entities and initiatives, which are open to any ABA member. Questions can be directed to ABA State Delegate John Tarpley, (615) 259-1395, or ABA Resources Chair Jonathan Cole, (615) 726-7335.
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Judge Reeves Honored at TBA Event

The Tennessee Bar Association honored U.S. District Judge Pamela L. Reeves of Knoxville during the ABA Mid-Year Conference Saturday in Las Vegas. Joining in support for the event were the University of Tennessee College of Law, the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Belmont University College of Law and Vanderbilt University Law School. See photos from the event.
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ABA President Opposes Proposed Rule to Reduce Rights for Immigrant Minors

ABA President Bob Carlson sent a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday, opposing the agency’s proposal to unilaterally change a 1997 legal settlement laying out rights for minors in the immigration system, The ABA Journal reports. The settlement restricts the amount of time minors can be held in detention and sets standards for their care while in government custody. “The proposed regulations would essentially authorize the indefinite detention of children and codify the practice of family separation,” Carlson wrote.
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Cooley Law Drops Lawsuit Against ABA

After suing the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar over a noncompliance letter made public, Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School has dropped the lawsuit, which alleged Higher Education Act and common law due process violations, The ABA Journal reports. “The circumstances that led to the litigation have been largely resolved and there was simply no point in continuing. Importantly, we have had very cordial communication with representatives from the ABA Council on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. WMU-Cooley is committed to pursuing a collaborative approach in working with the Council, to continue meeting ABA standards,” the school's interim president, Jeff Martlew, said in a statement.
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ABA Seeks Help to Curb FDCPA Lawsuits, CFPB Rules Targeting Attorneys

The American Bar Association recently sent a Legislative Action Alert to state and local bar leaders asking them to encourage their members of Congress to support for H.R. 5082, the "Practice of Law Technical Clarification Act." The bipartisan legislation, approved by the House Financial Services Committee last March, would "help restore traditional state court regulation and oversight of the legal profession by exempting creditor attorneys engaged in litigation from liability under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and from burdensome Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations." Read more in the ABA's Bar Leader Weekly.
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ABA Issues Formal Opinion on Lawyers' Duty in Case of Cyber Attack

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released a formal opinion this week that reaffirms the duty of lawyers to notify clients of a data breach and details reasonable steps to be taken to meet obligations set forth in model rules. “When a breach of protected client information is either suspected or detected, Rule 1.1 requires that the lawyer act reasonably and promptly to stop the breach and mitigate damage resulting from the breach,” Formal Opinion 483 says. “Lawyers should consider proactively developing an incident response plan with specific plans and procedures for responding to a data breach. The decision whether to adopt a plan, the content of any plan and actions taken to train and prepare for implementation of the plan should be made before a lawyer is swept up in an actual breach.” Read more here.
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Tomorrow is Law Student Mental Health Day

Tomorrow is the new date for the American Bar Association’s Law Student Mental Health Day, which aims to promote well-being among the nation’s future attorneys. Planned by the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the Law Student Division and the Young Lawyers Division, the day was moved from March 28 to Oct. 10 to encourage law students to start thinking about mental health issues earlier in the school year. A study conducted in the spring of 2014 among more than 3,000 law students found that 17 percent of law students screened positive for depression, 37 percent for anxiety and 21 percent reported thoughts of suicide. Forty-three percent reported binge-drinking habits as well. The ABA Journal reports that two upcoming webinars focused on well-being and recovery are planned for this week.
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ABA President Voices Support for 2nd Chance Act

American Bar Association President Bob Carlson yesterday urged the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to pass the Second Chance Reauthorization Act, which would renew funding for programs aimed at easing former prisoners’ re-entry into society. “These programs increase public safety and reduce recidivism by helping men, women and juveniles transition from correctional confinement to productive lives,” Carlson wrote. “The total number of Americans in prisons and jails has declined over nine straight years, in part due to ‘smart on crime’ policies like the Second Chance Act.”
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ABA Launches Campaign to Improve Mental Health, Substance Abuse Issues Among Attorneys

The American Bar Association has launched a campaign targeting substance-use disorders and mental health issues among lawyers. The campaign, organized by the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, is designed to address the profession’s troubling rates of alcohol and other substance-use disorders, as well as mental health issues. Recent studies have documented that lawyers struggle with these problems at levels substantially above both the general population and other highly educated professionals. The campaign’s goals are to raise awareness, facilitate a reduction in the incidence of problematic substance-use and mental health distress and improve lawyer well-being. The seven-point pledge identifies the core areas on which firms should focus and the concrete steps they should take as they seek to achieve those goals.
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Federal Judge Rated ‘Not Qualified’ by ABA Confirmed by U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Barnes Goodwin for a federal judgeship, despite his “not qualified” rating from the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, The ABA Journal reports. Six Democrats joined the Republican majority to approve Goodwin 52-42. The committee expressed concerns about Goodwin’s work habits, including “his frequent absence from the courthouse until mid-afternoon.”  Goodwin will serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
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ABA Committee Gives ‘Not Qualified’ Rating to Federal Judicial Nominee

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary gave a “not qualified” rating to a lawyer nominated to a federal judgeship in Oklahoma, The ABA Journal reports. The committee voted unanimously on the rating for John O’Connor of Tulsa in areas of professional competence and integrity. “The confidential peer review revealed several instances of ethical concerns, including candor with the court, evidence of overbilling of clients and billing practices criticized by courts, an improper ex parte communication with a court, and improper contact with adverse parties in litigation,” the committee wrote in a letter signed by chair Paul Moxley.
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Belmont Law Professor Named Chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section

Lucian Dervan, associate professor of law and director of criminal justice studies at Belmont University College of Law, was named the newest chair of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section earlier this month. As chair, Dervan will lead the section’s various works throughout the bar year, including launching task forces to examine pressing issues in the field of criminal justice. As lead on the section's spring meeting, Dervan will bring the annual conference to Nashville on April 4-5.
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Pera on Podcast: Seek Help from Other Attorneys on Ethics Issues

Former TBA President Lucian Pera recently appeared on the American Bar Association podcast “Asked & Answered,” in which he discusses the importance of seeking the advice of colleagues on issues of ethics. “None of us — and this is not just lawyers — are really objective about our own matters,” Pera said. The Memphis attorney and current chair of the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility’s Coordinating Council said that when an attorney gets even the slightest notion that something could become a problem on a client matter, reach out and ask for help. 
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ABA Scuttles Plan to Kill Law School Admissions Exam Requirement

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar withdrew a resolution before the ABA House of Delegates on Monday that called for cutting a required exam for law school admission, the ABA Journal reports. On Friday, the Young Lawyers Division Assembly voted against changing the test requirement. And as Monday’s House session began, a letter was circulated on the House floor from the Minority Network, a group of law school admissions professionals, saying the LSAT is better than any other admissions test in predicting a candidate's success in law school.
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Montana Lawyer Takes Office as ABA President

Bob Carlson, a shareholder with the Butte, Montana, law firm of Corette Black Carlson and Mickelson PC, became president of the American Bar Association today at the conclusion of the Annual Meeting in Chicago. He will serve a one-year term ending in August 2019. Carlson said he will focus on ABA initiatives to promote lawyer and law student wellness, advance diversity in the association and the profession, fight for access to justice for all and for an independent judiciary, and assess the state of legal education and bar admission.
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ABA House of Delegates to Meet, Consider Proposals

The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates will meet on Monday and Tuesday to consider a number of new resolutions, the ABA Journal reports. While the final slate will not be determined until Sunday afternoon, some of the issues that might be voted on include a resolution to amend the ABA’s dues structure and a resolution to eliminate the requirement that law schools use a “valid and reliable admission test” as a part of the application process.
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ABA Seeking Responses to Diversity Survey

The American Bar Association is asking attorneys to participate in a voluntary study aimed at better understanding the legal workplace with regards to the experience of women, minorities, LGBT individuals, those with disabilities and others. The ABA has partnered with the Burton Blatt Institute and Syracuse University to conduct the survey, and the findings will be used to help develop best practices in the legal profession. Access the survey here.
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American Lawyer Population 15% Higher Over 10 Years

New data from the American Bar Association’s National Lawyer Population Survey shows the number of attorneys in the U.S. has increased by 15.2 percent over the last decade, the ABA Journal reports. As of the end of last year, there were 1,338,678 lawyers active in the country. The five states reporting the highest number of active lawyers were New York, California, Texas, Florida and Illinois.
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DOJ Reverses Decision to Suspend Legal Orientation Program

The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday moved to continue funding the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) for detained immigrants, reversing an earlier decision on the matter. American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass applauded the decision, saying that the LOP “has a track record of effectively saving the government millions of dollars a year in immigration court and detention costs while providing due process and dignity to individuals involved in the immigration court system.”
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ABA Undergoes Massive Restructuring

The executive director of the American Bar Association has announced a major restructuring of the organization, the ABA Journal reports. The association will now be organized under nine centers, all of which fall under the four goals of the ABA: serving members, improving the profession, eliminating bias and enhancing diversity, and advancing the rule of law. No entities have been eliminated, but staff cuts will occur.

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ABA Files SCOTUS Brief Urging Rejection of Latest Trump Travel Ban

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Friday with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Hawaii’s challenge to President Donald Trump’s revised executive order banning all immigration from six majority-Muslim nations, including five covered under previous versions of the executive order. Like the amicus briefs filed in previous cases, the ABA brief takes issue with the Trump administration’s contention that the executive order is unreviewable by the courts, including the Supreme Court. “The government contends that this sweeping exercise of authority by the president is simply unreviewable,” the brief said. “That position cannot be reconciled with this court’s precedent and with the rule of law.”
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