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Posts Tagged ‘Arizona Bar Board of Governors’

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/b/BishopPatterdale/01/l/1388869659h90om.jpgAlthough still not a Twitter fan boy, I confess there’s something to the immediacy of firing off 140 character tournedos of untenderized thought. Admittedly, there are drawbacks to expelling every rashly considered impulsivity into the ether. My dogs will disagree but some itches are best left unscratched.

Compared to tweeting, however, ruminations posted on a blog necessitate more marination. This hopefully translates into less likelihood of inflicted harm. Unfortunately, this means the windows of currency to comment on what’s topical a given day or week are soon closed.

Instead of one longer post, here are random notes — albeit longer than 140 characters.

From the SMH File

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/38/See_No_Evil%2C_Hear_No_Evil%2C_Speak_No_Evil.jpg/320px-See_No_Evil%2C_Hear_No_Evil%2C_Speak_No_Evil.jpgNot long after the ABA House of Delegates voted against a proposal that to meet accreditation standards, 75 percent of an ABA-accredited law school’s graduates must pass a bar exam within a two-year period — the ABA put Arizona Summit Law in Phoenix on probation for low bar-passage rates. Bar passage rates have dropped to 25 percent at Arizona Summit for first-time bar exam takers, which obviously meant that the studiously unaware ABA was finally forced to take action against one of the nation’s most expensive law schools.

In a bit of unintentional understatement following the probation announcement, the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit legal education policy and watchdog organization, declared “the decision highlights the A.B.A.’s increasing courage in holding schools accountable.” With apologies to Polonius, if this be courage let there be method in it. See “For-Profit Law School in Arizona Is Put on Probation.”

More from the SMH File

File:Noaa-walrus31.jpgOne only has to read this year’s candidates’ statements to appreciate the continuing conflated confusion of lawyer thinking that results from the State Bar of Arizona’s conflicted regulator and trade association mission. Is the State Bar of Arizona a regulator protecting the public interest? Or is it a trade association serving and protecting members’ interests? It can’t be both — not without a walrus-sized conflict of interest.

And what about its court-mandated raison d’être “to serve and protect the public with respect to the provision of legal services and access to justice”?

But as the following excerpts demonstrate, virtually every candidate believes that running for a seat on the Arizona Bar’s Board of Governors means they’ll be acting on behalf of members’ interests. With elections coming up in two counties, candidates are asking either for “the opportunity to serve my fellow lawyers” or to be “a voice for solo and young lawyers” or that “the needs of our members are voiced and heard” or pledging to “make sure the Bar is here to help attorneys, not hurt them.” And of course there are the usual vague variations on the tried-and-tested trade association theme of serving “to ensure the Bar is working for its members” or that it “performs more services for the membership.”

Promises promises.

Also from the SMH File

Almost 7 years to the day after New Jersey said a so-called “virtual office” did not qualify as a bona fide office, a New Jersey lawyer also licensed in New York and also without benefit and burden of a bricks and mortar office in New York has filed a U.S. Supreme Court petition to overturn the New York rule that prohibits her from practicing in New York without said bricks and mortar office in the state. New Jersey didn’t change its anti-virtual office rule until 2013.

New Jersey used to have the same bona fide office restriction, i.e., “a bona fide office is a place where clients are met, files are kept, the telephone is answered, mail is received and the attorney or a responsible person acting on the attorney’s behalf can be reached in person and by telephone during normal business hours to answer questions posed by the courts,clients or adversaries and to ensure that competent advice from the attorney can be obtained within a reasonable period of time.” 

For more about lawyer Ekaterina Schoenefeld’s 9-year bona fide office battle, see Catherine Elefant’s always timely My Shingle post at “Solo Seeks To Challenge Archaic Bonafide Office Rules at the Supremes.”

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Photo credits: The three monkeys: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, by John Snape at Wikimedia Commons, the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License; Odobenus rosmarus at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; frustrated gif at giphy.com;SMH at http://gph.is/1WqoSOE at giphy.com.

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West of Phoenix on Friday, an emu was loose on the interstate. Fortunately for the wingless relation of the ostrich, thanks to a state agricultural official’s lasso, troopers were able to corral the gregarious ratite without injury to bird or motorists.

Coincidentally, the same day something else was loose at the State Bar of Arizona —- folly. But unfortunately for lawyers forced to join to earn a lawyer’s living, there was no lassoing the Bar’s latest imprudent expenditure of mandatory member monies.

https://i0.wp.com/i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/161022000320-az-emu-1-exlarge-169.jpgBy a vote of 15 to 4, the Arizona Bar’s board of governors kowtowed to the glib nostrums of the Bar CEO and especially, the vehement urgings of its immediate past president. Exhorted to vote in favor so the expenditure could be included in the 2017 budget, the latter further warned “the train had left the station” if they didn’t approve a new online lawyer referral platform masquerading as a “Public Service Center.” 

Forget the reference to the 19th century technology locomotive out of the same mouth extolling a supposed innovation. And ignore the inconvenient fact the new program preserves the status quo. The Bar remains atavistic middleman preserving its self-governance privilege to protect — not disrupt its economic cartel.

The proposal was ramrodded through with the understanding that specific details and funding could be modified after the proposal was further studied and submitted to the membership for their comments. Good luck unringing that bell.

So much for due diligence. Act in haste, repent at leisure, especially when it’s not your money.

Don’t call it uberization.

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The online lawyer referral was demoed by the third-party provider, “Legal Services Link, LLC,” who touted it as in step with the uberization of services to consumers. That’s rich since it’s lawyers and their guilds who keep “fighting uberization of the law.”  Moreover, as presented, the technology neither disrupts the market or lowers consumer costs. What it does do is expand the Bar’s bureaucracy, grow overhead, and ultimately increase member costs with no choice but to pony up.

Ironically, this online lawyer referral platform a.k.a the Public Service Center is being sold as a way to purportedly enhance “access to justice” by supposedly making it easier for the public to hire lawyers and secondarily, for the indigent to find pro bono legal help. The Bar CEO even proclaimed the platform would provide a safe harbor for lawyers and consumers. Of course when pressed, the third-party provider and the CEO both walked back that breathtaking assurance by disclaiming any liability — as though lawyer users would expect a modicum of disciplinary liability cover or consumers would be assured of always competent, ethical legal services.

No, the $300,000 Center allegedly helps fulfill the latest state supreme court-ordered iteration of the Bar’s mission. The new mission effective 1/1/17 includes “enhancing the administration of and access to justice.” In truth, though, this expensive new initiative does more to promote ‘access to lawyers’ than ‘access to justice.’

And save for allowing the poor with Internet access to post their legal needs, I don’t know how the platform will “move the dial on pro bono” as the CEO pronounced. Who’s kidding who? How exactly does it “increase and incentivize pro bono” as he also proclaimed? Hold your breath for details.

Persons seeking legal assistance complete an online form stating their legal needs to create a “legal project.” This enables Arizona lawyer participants to review the paid or pro bono project. If interested, they then disclose their profiles, fees (if applicable) and other relevant information to the would-be client.

The Bar thinks its online referral platform will generate $120,000 in revenues to help defray the $300,000 annual hit to its budget. This must mean that in addition to paying for it with existing mandatory membership funds, the Bar plans on charging participants an additional fee.

Fear and loathing.

I attended the board meeting to inform myself and to comment as warranted. But in a testament to the bar’s continued opacity and its abiding aversion to dissent, the board president allowed just two minutes of public comment before not after the proposal was presented. Is there any wonder there’s so much fear and loathing of the Bar?

A representative of the local county voluntary bar association was given the same short shrift to comment without any proposal details in advance. Understandably, the local county association is concerned since it runs its own lawyer referral service, which now appears under threat from the Bar’s competing program.

Board members discover fire.

As a side note, I was surprised some board members appeared so impressed by the third-party presentation. You’d have thought they’d just witnessed the discovery of fire. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the digital marketplace has been offering similar consumer to lawyer matching services for sometime.

As a matter of fact, one wonders why the Bar apparently singled-sourced a provider instead of making requests for proposals. Other competing providers include, for example, Axiom, LawDingo, Lawyer.com, Legal Match, UpCounsel, LegalZoom, and RocketLawyer. The latter even had a short-lived pilot partnership with the ABA until all hell broke loose from protectionist forces.

And as a final side note, it was just a few years ago that the Bar invested significant sums of member monies to upgrade its website and online “Find a Lawyer” directory. Now it means to replace its online member directory via a third-party provider. So much for the return on that earlier investment.

And interestingly but hardly surprising was the added disclosure that the Public Service Center and its two new employees will be part of the Bar’s government affairs group. This is the legislative advocacy department that monitors the Bar’s legislative priorities. This makes perfect sense, given the comments of several board members.

It’s fair to say the Public Service Center is primarily a public relations gambit — a tool intended to serve and protect the Bar’s bureaucratic hide from further threatened reforms from the state legislature. As one board member put it, the Public Service Center will enable the Bar to trumpet to the legislature how much ‘good’ it’s doing for the public.

Despite that, the conflicted regulator/trade association Bar will nevertheless face a challenge. How will it square a trade association lawyer referral “access to justice” service generating business for lawyers with any regulatory semblance of public protection?

Portland Urban Iditarod | by Misserion

Misserion via Flickr attribution license

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Image, Wikimedia Common

So here it’s almost year-end with so much to update and so little time, including that the Arizona State Bar’s ‘pay to play’ CLE precertification scheme was unexpectedly voted down by an otherwise management-submissive board of governors.

Conveniently overlooking that it started the commotion in the first place but acting now as though members suddenly mattered, here’s the Bar’s self-serving announcement, “After hearing comments from members and CLE providers, the Board of Governors has voted unanimously not to create a process for precertifying CLE providers.”

“Fanciful benefits” of CLE

But in place of other updates and since there’s a few more days before the last day of the year, let me instead here applaud colleague James C. Mitchell’s boldly trenchant move to petition to amend Arizona Supreme Court Rule 45. This is the rule that sets out the Court’s mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirements.

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Arizona lawyer Mitchell petitioned the state supreme court last month to require an acknowledgement on all continuing legal education advertising, to wit,“that the value of mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) is unproven and that the State Bar of Arizona has a financial interest in CLE marketing.” The acknowledgement would read as follows:

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Rule 45. Mandatory Continuing Legal Education
(a) through (k) [No changes]

“(l) Advertising. Any advertisement for a continuing legal education program, product or service offered by or in conjunction with the State Bar of Arizona shall contain the following disclaimer:

“The State Bar of Arizona makes no representation that this program, product or service will improve any attorney’s competence or protect the public. No evidence proves that mandatory continuing legal education provides such benefits. The State Bar seeks revenue from CLE programs, products and services.

The disclaimer shall appear conspicuously in capital letters in black type at least half the point size of the largest type in the advertisement, but in no event smaller than 12-point type.”

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As he writes in his petition, “The statement would align claims for mandated CLE with available evidence of its value, acknowledging that CLE as practiced has little or no verifiable impact on attorney competence or public protection.

“This amendment is needed to create transparency in a significant program of law practice regulation. It would protect the public and lawyers themselves from deception by unproven claims of value in a mandated scheme of so-called continuing legal education, and protect the State Bar from potentially making or embracing false claims of value in products and services that it provides for money.”

Asking for “honest disclosure.”

Of course, the Court will never approve this petition and will most likely deny it without explanation. Still, kudos to Mr. Mitchell for daring so eloquently and so wittily to expose what most of us already knew, MCLE is bare of verifiable, substantiated argument.

Calling for truth-in-advertising and referring to the Bar’s claims about CLE content quality as “hyperbole,” he adds, “. . . until that joyous day when MCLE joins Smell-O-Vision films and Michael Dukasis’s tank in Terrible Idea Heaven, Petitioner simply urges this Court to order a policy of honest disclosure in advertising.

“None of the Bar’s hyperbole likely violates the prohibitions on false and misleading commercial speech in ARIZ. REV. STAT. § 44-1481(A)(1) (fraud-in advertising statute bars omission of material facts) or our own ER 7.1 (material omission prohibited in communication concerning a lawyer’s services). But should our State Bar really slither through the same loopholes that permit overselling automotive clunkers? Should our State Bar, when advertising, omit material facts in a way that no ethical advertising lawyer may? Should the State Bar claim a right to withhold essential information about CLE’s worth, namely the fact that none has been proven? Petitioner respectfully suggests that it should not. We’re lawyers. We should do better. We should get out front with the truth.”

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/Hands-Clapping.jpg/312px-Hands-Clapping.jpgTo which I cheer, “Bravo, bravo, bravo!”

Read the entire petition here.

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Photos: From The Æsop for Children, by Æsop, illustrated by Milo Winter at Wikimedia Commons, public domain;La publicite en France par Emile Mermet, advertising poster, ca. 1880 by trialsanderrors at Flickr Creative Commons attribution;hands clapping, Wikimedia Commons.

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https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d1/Avarice.jpg/321px-Avarice.jpg“When somebody says it’s not about the money — it’s about the money.” – H.L. Mencken

This Friday, the State Bar of Arizona considers whether or not to ask the state supreme court to approve a precertification system for organizations offering continuing legal education (CLE) in Arizona.

Those favoring a first-ever pay-to-play arrangement wherein CLE providers have to pay a fee to be Bar-accredited to sell credit-eligible courses in Arizona are making like it’s all good. They’re saying it’s about insuring program quality and attorney competency; enhancing member services; and advancing the Bar’s mission to protect the public — from its lawyers.

But recalling Mencken and as every lawyer who’s ever heard clients sayit’s not about the money’ knows — the proposed change is about the money. And we’re talking about a lot — well into the 7 figures of gross revenue, at least here in Arizona. For mandatory and voluntary bars across the country, continuing legal education is a cash cow business.

And thanks to the Arizona Bar’s latest proposal to require provider precertification, it means to keep its cash-generating bovine healthy by:

► Generating more money via another CLE revenue stream and by;

► Protecting its $2M+ annual CLE revenue turf from increased competition from third-party CLE providers.

How high the annual or course-by-course certification fees will be is anybody’s guess. However, the Bar subcommittee recommending the changes noted that other state bars have annual fees ranging “from $100-$500.”  Unfortunately, the subcommittee neglected to similarly emphasize that the mandatory continuing legal education jurisdictions of Nevada, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, and New York have CLE certification guidelines but without fee generating mechanisms. See http://www.barancle.com/mcle/course-application-requirements/

Those aforementioned states, which include both mandatory and voluntary bars, only require lawyers to comply with MCLE — but do not impose accreditation fees on providers. See https://www.reqwiredlegal.com/reqwired/resources/ and http://www.barancle.com/mcle/mcle-requirement/ And why not mention that the jurisdictions of Michigan, South Dakota, District of Columbia, Maryland, and Massachusetts have no MCLE requirements at all?

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3d/Limbo1.JPG/1024px-Limbo1.JPGTo be fair, there’s talk here of possible exemptions for non-profits and local organizations that do not charge dues and seminar registration fees, which must mean that unlike the non-profit Arizona Bar — such organizations have to undertake CLE strictly as a labor of love.

Sarcasm aside, it presumably means law firms with free in-house employee CLE would get a pass. Yet undetermined, though, is whether state agencies or state-funded organizations would be charged fees or reduced fees and whether or not Arizona lawyers would be charged to get credit approval for non-Bar accredited third-party CLE.

Another under-publicized Bar vote.

Politicians 19But for a belated blast email asking for member comments 9 days before the vote, Arizona’s lawyers might not have heard of the significant changes planned. That said, since lawyers are often too busy to pay attention to every email in a glutted inbox, I suspect very few of Arizona’s 17,300 active members will have heard of the proposal. They’ll find out only after the proverbial die’s been cast.

Seems the Bar learned nothing from the brouhaha it stirred when it tried last December 2013 to pass a 22% lawyer licensing fee increase when they thought no one was looking. Because of lawyer objections concerning insufficient due process and lack of transparency, the Bar had to table that vote. Unfortunately, despite subsequent revelations of bureaucratic bloat and budgetary waste, the Bar eventually eked out a 12-11 vote to hike Arizona lawyer dues albeit by ‘only’ 13% instead of 22%.

So no surprise to jaded Bar members about this latest under-publicized move by the ‘friendly state bar.’ Stoically resigned Arizona lawyers already know that despite an almost $15M annual budget; a just-passed dues increase; and a projected nearly $4M surplus by 2019, Bar leadership has sufficient brass to ask members to sustain one more financial burden on their practices. The imposition of new cost-of-business fees on third-party CLE providers will be passed on to participants.

The emperor has no clothes.

The irony of all of this is that from the first imposition of mandatory continuing legal education, lawyers have questioned the faulty assumptions and false conclusions underpinning it.

Indeed, as prominent Nevada family law attorney Marshal Willick writes in his brilliant post All studies known to date show no benefit whatsoever to imposition of mandatory CLE programs in terms of lawyer competency.  What we have is a time-and-money-consuming bureaucracy that falsely portrays itself as providing a service important to the public, but actually does not make lawyers any better, or provide the public any useful information; in short, it does no actual good.

Man with American money uid 1“Why would the organized Bar – formed for the stated purpose of serving the Bar and public – demonstrate such gross incapacity to see that the emperor has no clothes? Because, even beyond the PR value of the appearance of doing something valuable, there’s money to be made.”

And for additional perspectives concerning the absence of studies that mandatory CLE verifiably improves the quality of legal services or ensures the competency of lawyers, also see, e.g., “The MCLE Question No One Wants to Ask” at http://www.law21.ca/2013/04/the-mcle-question-no-one-wants-to-ask/ and “Colossal Cave-in: Why Reform of MCLE Was DOA” at https://www.myazbar.org/AZAttorney/PDF_Articles/AZAT0201-MCLE.pdf  and “Revisiting MCLE: Is Compulsory Passive Learning Building Better Lawyers?” at http://bit.ly/1uRNLDq R

Irksomely, however, mandatory CLE will continue to exist because state bars make a lot of money from it.

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“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.”Thomas Sowell

The creation of yet another bureaucratic department at the Bar staffed with either more clerical or legal staff to vet CLE programs is a fiscal step in the wrong direction.

Among similarly-sized state bars, the Arizona Bar already has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest lawyer licensing fees; one of the largest annual budgets; and one of the biggest administrative staffs and exceptionally well-paid executive cadre in the country.

Instead of looking at fiscal discipline and cost-controls, this latest initiative virtually assures more member dues increases to satisfy the ongoing demands of the new bureaucracy created to qualify, certify, track and audit CLE providers in the future.

Whether there’s enough fiscal good sense left among the Bar’s Board of Governors to stop the proposal remains to be seen.

But when you’re talking Bar bovine bankrolling protection — don’t bet on it.

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Photo Credits: Deadly sins, Avarice, by Jesus Solana at Flickr Creative Commons-requiring attribution http://www.flickr.com/photos/pasotraspaso/6953271968/; The Emperor’s Clothes by Vilhelm Pedersen at Wikipedia Commons, public domain; Revenue by Simon Cunningham at Flickr via Creative Commons license requiring attribution; Limbo Dancer by Mariegriffiths at Wikipedia Commons under the GNU Free Documentation License; Imag0361, by Bruce Biles at Flickr via Creative Commons license requiring attribution; Money, by Philip Taylor at Flickr via Creative Commons license requiring attribution; Bureaucrats, by Raafael at Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; Cash cow, adopted from watchingfrogsboil at Flickr, Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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