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Posts Tagged ‘bar leaders’

Recent news out of Ohio concerning debt-ridden new lawyers underscores the difference between a mandatory membership bar association and a voluntary one. Ohio is one of 18 states where lawyers can practice without being forced to join their trade association.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/37/Bury_your_head_in_the_sand.jpg/160px-Bury_your_head_in_the_sand.jpg

In states where lawyers are forced to join a mandatory membership bar association as a precondition to practice, there are bar leaders with heads in the sand who act as though the crashing tides of debt drenching young lawyers were nonexistent.

But in voluntary states like Ohio, bar leaders have at last started examining the “unprecedented burdens faced by new lawyers.” Ten years past the “law school tuition bubble,” they may be a tad late — but in contrast to mandatory bars in Nevada and Arizona — at least they’re now considering potential solutions to the astronomical six-figure debt service new lawyers get along with their diplomas.

Futures Commission.

Tasked with researching and developing long-term solutions and “first action steps,” the Ohio State Bar Association established a 29-member Futures Commission more than one year ago to look at new lawyer burdens and “the need for acquisition of knowledge and the skills necessary to develop and carry on a successful practice; the lack of regulation for new legal service delivery options; and the widening access to justice gap.” In July, the Commission released its preliminary report.

Unlike mandatory bars that too often act below-the-radar through top-down mandates, the Ohio Bar sought input from members through town hall style meetings held in each of its 18 districts and supplemented these with input from its 2017 Leadership Academy class of new lawyers.

In Ohio, bar leaders believe “member satisfaction” is one of their association’s “core values” driving the stated goal of making “membership in the Ohio State Bar Association indispensable to Ohio lawyers.” 

It’s one thing to force lawyers to join an organization in order to earn a living in their chosen profession. But it’s another matter entirely when lawyers choose membership because the value proposition is so strong that membership is “indispensable.”

 

So much debt.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f9/Tin_Woodman.png/105px-Tin_Woodman.pngIt’s not like mandatory bars haven’t heard about the unprecedented tuition debt incurred by today’s young lawyers. More likely, they can’t relate to it. Many graduated from law school when women had big hair to the skies and fashion meant shoulder pads, parachute pants and Members Only jackets. Tuition then was a fraction of today’s troubles. Unsurprisingly, these bar leaders are tin-eared about the problem.

According to Law School Transparency (LST)  “legal education inflation far exceeds the inflation rate.

“In 1985, the average private school tuition was $7,526 (1985 dollars), which would now cost a student $16,294 (2013 dollars). Instead, the average tuition is $41,985 (2013 dollars). In other words, private law school is now 2.6 times as expensive as it was in 1985 after adjusting for inflation. Public school (for residents) is now about 5.5 times as expensive.”

As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in July, “Ohio law school grads face debt of nearly $100,000 and few job prospects, report says,” the Commission’s report finds that the average 2015 Ohio law school graduate has approximately $98,475 in law school debt. Worse yet, “Only approximately 58 percent of 2015 Ohio law school graduates are employed in jobs requiring bar passage.”

And it’s only getting worse. For entering 2017 students, Ohio’s Law School Transparency (LST) numbers are even higher — well north of $150,000 on average.

In Arizona, LST projects even more sobering statistics for wanna-be lawyers starting law school in the Grand Canyon State this year. They should expect a “full price projected debt” for their J.D. degree of $175,084 if they are state residents graduating from Arizona State University. If they’re residents and start and finish at the University of Arizona, the number is $173,280.

At Arizona Summit Law School, one of the nation’s most expensive law schools, the “full price projected debt” is an astounding $252,571. This averages out to $200,978 among the three Arizona schools. It breaks out to an average debt service headache over 10 years of $2290 per month.

In Nevada, LST reports that students matriculating in 2017 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the state’s only law school, can anticipate a “full price projected debt” of $175,310 and a $2000 per month nut over 10 years.

‘What me worry?’

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/Happiness.gif/209px-Happiness.gifThe root problem is that mandatory bars like those in Nevada and Arizona aspire to serve competing interests — those of the legal profession and those of the public. But it can’t be done because these interests often conflict.

Instead of alleviating practice burdens, for instance, mandatory bars constantly tinker with their bureaucratic spigots to open ever increasing cost, time and stress pressures on members. This is because they’re not necessarily looking out for the interests of lawyers.

In mandatory bar Nevada, for example, there’s a bar study group looking at the supposed merits of forcing all the state’s lawyers to buy professional liability insurance. If the model is mandatory bar Oregon, currently the only jurisdiction mandating professional liability insurance, expect only one blessed provider.

Moreover, the cost will be substantial. In 2017, Oregon lawyers ponied up a whopping $3,500 apiece for bare minimum coverage of $300,000 per incident and $300,000 aggregate. And Oregon has almost twice as many lawyers as Nevada.

Voluntary bars look out for the interests of members.

In closing, here’s what the Ohio Bar’s Futures Commission looked at:

•  How to ensure new lawyers enter the profession practice ready and without the crushing burden of student debt;
•  How busy lawyers at all stages of their careers can get the most out of their required continuing legal education credits;
•  The appropriate role of online legal service providers, limited multidisciplinary practice, fee-splitting and other emerging new business models in the delivery of legal services and if they can they help lawyers better serve clients and stay true to the values of the profession;
•  And with the real and perceived expense of legal services, how to ensure access to justice for all, regardless of income.

Besides supporting cost reducing law school initiatives, the Commission also took a departure from the latest gambit being promoted by mandatory bars: the licensing of non-lawyers to practice law. “Believing firmly that any provision of legal services should be done under the direction of a licensed attorney,” the Commission pronounced its opposition to “any effort to establish new categories of non-lawyer legal service providers (NLP) in Ohio and instead, support the development of programs or actions that would connect the unrepresented with available attorneys.”

So before state bars go all in and eliminate unauthorized practice of law rules to allow non-lawyers to directly compete with lawyers, something ought to be done to level the field. Stem the tide of unconscionable tuition debt from overpriced law schools.

But as they bang away on their Access to Justice drums, don’t expect a pronouncement like Ohio’s from mandatory bars in Washington, Utah and Arizona to name just three where non-lawyers already compete for business with lawyers.

Unfortunately, mandatory bar leaders aren’t listening. When they’re not holding expensive annual convention boondoggles like the Nevada Bar in Hawaii (2016), Texas (2017) and Illinois (2018), they’re busy finding new ways to make it harder for lawyers to earn a living. 

The Futures Commission Report is available here

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Credits: Bury your head in the sand, by Sander van der Wel at Wikimedia Commons;Tin Woodman, by William Wallace Denslow at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Life user Manual, by Unuplusunu at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Smug by IburiedPaul at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution;3D Shackled Debt by Chris Potter  at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Second Band Drummer 5 Mono, by Dave Shaver, at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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