You Need to Know

Don’t miss the deadline for fee payment, MCLE compliance

Annual license fees for members of the State Bar are due Feb. 1. The fees are $410 for active lawyers and $125 for inactive lawyers.

Failure to pay fees by the deadline will trigger a $100 late payment penalty for active lawyers and a $30 penalty for inactive attorneys.

Those lawyers whose last names start with A-to-G (Group 1) also have a Feb. 1 deadline to report completion of their 25 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE).

Dues can be paid and MCLE compliance can be reported online by logging on to My State Bar Profile. Please note: After Feb. 1, My State Bar Profile will be temporarily unavailable while late penalties are assessed.

The 2013 dues bill includes contributions to the Client Security Fund, disciplinary activities, the Lawyer Assistance Program, the building fund and technology upgrades. Fees are waived for inactive attorneys who are 70 years old on Feb. 1.

Lawyers also have the opportunity to donate to the Justice Gap Fund (recommended donation $100), the California Bar Foundation ($50 recommended donation), the Conference of California Bar Associations (CCBA — $35 recommended donation) and the California Supreme Court Historical Society (CSCHS — a $25 donation is recommended). In addition, they can deduct $5 for lobbying, $5 for the elimination of bias fund and another $20 — with an option to donate that amount to legal services.

Active lawyers with qualifying income levels are eligible for a 25-percent reduction in the membership fee. To qualify, a lawyer must declare a total gross annual individual income from all sources of less than $40,000 in 2012.

COPRAC Statewide Ethics Symposium set for April 20

The State Bar of California’s Committee on Professional Responsibility (COPRAC) will hold its  17th Annual Statewide Ethics Symposium on Saturday, April 20, at UCLA School of Law in Los Angeles. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Ethics 2013: Doing Good, Being Bad, Going Public, Being Sad.” Planned topics include ethical issues in pro bono representation, civility and the ethical bounds of aggressive lawyering, media, confidentiality and trial publicity, and lawyer mobility and law firm breakups. The keynote address will be delivered by Paul W. Vapnek, the 2013 recipient of the Harry B. Sondheim California Professional Responsibility Award. The event is approved for six hours of MCLE credit in legal ethics. Registration will open in March. For more information please contact Lauren McCurdy at (415) 538-2107.

Two Board of Trustees seats open

Attorneys interested in seeking a seat on the State Bar Board of Trustees may now access nominating petitions.

Two seats will be up for election – one each in Districts 1 (Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma) and District 3 (Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba).

Any active member of the State Bar who maintains his or her principal office for the practice of law within the State Bar district in which there is a vacancy is eligible to run for a seat on the board. Lawyer members are elected for three-year terms and will assume their offices at the conclusion of the 2013 Annual Meeting in October.

Nominating petitions must be submitted by April 2, ballots will be mailed April 30 and voting will be completed by July 1. As it has been doing in recent years, the State Bar will conduct a hybrid election, offering voters the option of voting electronically or by mail.

Members are elected for three-year terms and assume office after the State Bar Annual Meeting in October.

Check with your credit card company to avoid IRS penalty

Attorneys who accept credit card payments need to be aware of a change in the tax law change or face serious consequences.

Section 6050w of the IRS tax code requires payment processors to report all settled payment card transactions. The purpose is to improve tax compliance by businesses that accept credit cards.

But here’s the catch for attorneys. If there’s a mismatch between the lawyer or law firm’s tax identification name and number and the information on file with the processor, a 28-percent withholding penalty kicks in. That means that the IRS will pull from the account 28 percent of the attorney’s gross credit card sales for 2012.

The law does not distinguish between credit card deposits made to a trust or IOLTA bank account and an attorney’s operating account. For attorneys who have mismatched information, a 28-percent penalty could cause an overdraft in their IOLTA account, resulting in an ethical violation.

The State Bar of California urges attorneys to check with their credit card processor to confirm that the tax ID name and number on file matches.

Significant changes to the law concerning construction-related disability access claims

Senate Bill No. 1186, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), made significant changes to the law, some of which impose State Bar disciplinary consequences on lawyers. The bill contains an urgency clause, which means it was effective immediately upon enactment Sept. 19, 2012, but some of its provisions didn’t go into effect until Jan. 1. The bill includes the following provisions, all of which govern construction-related disability access claims:

  • A general prohibition against sending a demand letter that includes a request or demand for money or an offer or agreement to accept money, effective immediately
  • A revision to the existing mandatory written advisory that must be provided with a demand letter or complaint, effective immediately
  • A requirement that a lawyer send a copy of a demand letter to the State Bar and the California Commission on Disability Access, effective Jan. 1.
  • A requirement that a demand letter sent by a lawyer include the lawyer’s State Bar license number, effective Jan. 1.
  • A requirement that a lawyer send a copy of a complaint to the California Commission on Disability Access, effective Jan. 1.
  • A requirement that demand letters and complaints contain plain language sufficient for a recipient business or property owner to determine the basis of alleged violations, including: specific identification of each access barrier encountered; the date of the incident; and a description of how each barrier interfered with full and equal access, effective Jan. 1.
  • A requirement that a complaint be verified by the plaintiff, effective Jan. 1.  A complaint filed without verification is subject to a motion to strike
  • A reduction of statutory damages if specified conditions apply, effective immediately
  • The establishment of procedures for a mandatory evaluation conference, effective as to claims filed on or after Jan. 1.

Help JNE move to paperless evaluations

The State Bar commission that evaluates the governor’s candidates for judgeships is seeking the help of attorneys to solicit information electronically.

For more than 20 years, the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, commonly known as the JNE (“Jenny”) Commission, has gathered information about candidates by mailing paper comment forms to attorneys. Over the past 18 months, the commission has experimented with the use of email to gather comments, but has encountered one barrier: the spam filter. While most of JNE’s emails reach their intended recipients, a significant number are blocked.

Attorneys can solve this problem by authorizing the spam filters serving their email address listed with the State Bar to accept the following email address: jneccf@calbar.ca.gov. Those who work in legal offices can help by asking their IT specialists to authorize the JNE email address for all spam filters serving office computers.

The electronic comment forms are identical to the written forms. A hyperlink in the email takes the commenter to a website where a form identical to the written comment form can be completed electronically. The electronic comments are maintained confidentially, with access only by investigating commissioners and staff. The use of email appears to result in response rates at least as high as the use of written forms, and it will save the State Bar tens of thousands of dollars a year in copying, stationery and postage costs.

Updated 2012 bar rules book now available for e-Reader

To facilitate a lawyer’s ability to readily identify and address legal ethics issues, the State Bar has published an e-Reader version of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the State Bar Act. The e-Reader version of the rule book is compatible with the Kindle Reader App, a free e-Reader application available for iPads, iPhones, Blackberry phones, Android phones, Macbooks, and PC laptops. The book also works on all versions of Amazon.com’s Kindle.

The new 2012 edition of the e‑Reader version of the rule book can be purchased at Amazon.com for $6.99, a significant discount from the price of the hardcopy book. It offers several useful features including a search function, bookmarking, highlighting and annotating. In addition, once downloaded to a tablet, smart phone or other compatible device, the book can be accessed at any time, even without an Internet or cellular data signal.

The bar’s rule book has been published for more than 65 years. The 30-page edition published in 1949 has grown to 411 hard copy pages. In addition to the rules and State Bar Act, the book includes other related authorities such as selected Rules of Court, code sections, the Federal Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, the State Bar Pro Bono Resolution, the Lawyer Referral Service rules, MCLE rules and more.

Legal ethics and technology resource page is online

The general Ethics Information page at the State Bar website has an area dedicated to Ethics and Technology ― a collection of resources that address professional responsibility issues raised by the use of websites, email, chat rooms and other technologies. The resources include advisory ethics opinions, articles and MCLE programs.

Most of the resources are internal links to other pages on the bar’s website and some are external links to local or specialty bar associations. The page is organized both by the type of resource (ethics opinion, article, etc.) and by subject matter (law firm websites, electronic files, social networking, etc.).

The service focuses on providing basic legal research leads on how the rules apply to new technologies rather than specific law office systems, hardware or software options. For the latter, the resources of the State Bar’s Law Practice Management & Technology Section can be considered.

Register a law corporation

Law corporations are required to register with both the California Secretary of State and the State Bar of California under Corporations Code §13404. Registration requirements are set forth in Business & Professions Code §§6160 and 6161.

Rules and application materials are available on the State Bar website. Information required to register a law corporation includes:

  • Proof of registration with the Secretary of State
  • Submission of bylaws and a sample share certificate containing the appropriate restrictions on share ownership
  • A completed application that reports all the attorneys who are associated with the corporation
  • Submission of the Guarantee for Claims in the appropriate amount
  • A Declaration of Compliance with Rule 1-400

Limited Liability Partnerships providing legal services are also required to register with the State Bar. If not registered, attorneys should be particularly aware of California Corporations Code § 16306(f), which specifically removes the protection from liability for claims based upon legal work.

Prior to registering with the Secretary of State, it is advisable to check with the State Bar to ensure that the entity name complies with rules and has not already been registered. Additional information is available at the Law Corporations page, LLP page, or the Law Office Management page. Assistance is available at LLP@calbar.ca.gov.

Create a surrogacy agreement

An “Agreement to Close Law Practice in the Future” is available on the State Bar website for attorneys who want to plan for the possibility they will not be able to continue to work. The sample agreement, available to all lawyers, spells out the responsibilities of the primary attorney and his or her successor in the case of death or incapacity.

If a lawyer designates a successor using the new sample contract, the designated surrogate goes to court for appointment as the practice administrator who can take control and dispose of the practice. A lengthy list of duties is part of the contract and includes the ability to open mail, become a signatory on bank accounts, notify clients and transfer files, pay bills and handle funds, and accept the original attorney’s clients and cases. The practice administrator also will have the power to sell the practice.

Feeling stressed? The Lawyer Assistance Program can help

Attorneys struggling to cope with the stress of a challenging economic environment or a difficult employment situation are invited to contact the Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), which now offers new support programs in addition to its traditional help with substance abuse and depression. Support is offered for issues like stress, relationship and personal problems, grief and anxiety.

The LAP is designed for attorneys who might wish to participate in a weekly group with other lawyers and would like the support of a mental health professional (group facilitator) or a trained peer counselor who is familiar with attorneys’ particular challenges.

The LAP also offers an Orientation and Assessment (O&A) to any attorney who wants professional assistance to cope with personal problems, work problems, substance abuse or other mental health issues. The O&A provides a confidential assessment completed by one of the LAP clinicians located throughout the state. Referrals to outside resources and an opportunity to participate in a LAP group for a short period of time also are provided. There is no fee for this service.

Interested attorneys should call 877 LAP 4 HELP (877-527-4435) or contact LAP@calbar.ca.gov. All calls are confidential.

Membership benefits from CalBar Connect

State Bar members can save up to 25 percent every time they rent with Hertz, a participant in CalBar Connect, the State Bar’s member services and benefits initiative. Visit the Hertz page for details.

CalBar Connect, which provides discounts to all State Bar members, also offers a variety of insurance plans including Professional Liability Insurance, Workers’ Compensation Insurance, Group and Individual Disability plans, Life Insurance, AD&D, Auto, Home and Business Office Plans.

Opt out of lists

Attorneys who wish to remove their names from lists the State Bar provides to qualified outside entities may do so by logging on to My State Bar Profile. Go to “Account Information” and select “Update my mailing preferences (opt out).”

Members also may email their opt-out request to memrec@calbar.ca.gov. Include your bar number.