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You Need to Know

Register for the Solo and Small Firm Summit

The State Bar of California will hold its annual Solo and Small Firm Summit June 19 to 21 in Newport Beach.

Being billed as “Not Your Ordinary MCLE Weekend!” the summit offers solo and small firm practitioners and office staff an opportunity to network and come away with workable strategies to manage their offices, build a client referral network and stay on top of key developments in various substantive areas of law.

For more information or to register, visit the event’s website at www.calbar.org/solosummit.

Serve on the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation

The State Bar seeks active members of the bar, former members of the judiciary and members of the public who are interested in volunteering to serve on the 2015 Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE Commission). The application deadline is June 2. The application form and information on the commission are available from the committees and commissions page of the State Bar website or by calling 415-538-2370.

New program paves a path from community college to law school

A project announced last month is designed to make it easier for low-income and minority students to pursue a law degree.

The Community Colleges Pathway to Law School initiative will give students at 24 community colleges individual counseling and LSAT exam preparation as well as waived application fees to six of the state’s top law schools. The project is sponsored by the State Bar’s Council on Access and Fairness, the bar’s “diversity think tank.”

“We know that our community colleges have the diversity and talent that the State Bar seeks to enhance the diversity pipeline into the legal profession, as evidenced by the many prominent judges and lawyers who attended community colleges,” State Bar CEO Joseph Dunn said.

Participating law schools are USC’s Gould School of Law, Loyola Law School, the University of San Francisco School of Law, Santa Clara University School of Law, UC Davis School of Law and UC Irvine School of Law.

Bar foundation launches first crowd funding effort

The California Bar Foundation is launching its first crowd funding effort to raise money for its Public Interest Bar Exam Scholarships. The community effort will help graduating California law students committed to public interest practice (nonprofit, legal services) by providing a no-cost BarBri Bar Review course and a stipend for living expenses as they prepare to take and pass the California Bar Exam.  

This unique initiative is the only crowd funding community effort designed to help aspiring public interest attorneys. Several leading law firms are making gifts to the initiative.

Committed to public interest practice? Want to see more than one public interest attorney for every 800 Californians? Join the crowd funding campaign today by visiting the website.

Memorialize someone committed to public interest law practice

The California Bar Foundation offers family, friends and colleagues the opportunity to remember recently departed individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to public interest practice by underwriting its Public Interest Bar Exam Scholarship in the individual’s memory.

The scholarship helps an aspiring public interest attorney studying for the California Bar Exam by providing a no-cost BarBri bar review course and a stipend for living expenses while studying for and taking the bar exam.  

Those interested in setting up a Public Interest Bar Exam Scholarship Memorial Fund may contact Joe Swimmer at 415-856-0780 or jswimmer@calbarfoundation.org.

Serve on the California Bar Foundation

The California Bar Foundation invites applications for open positions on its board of directors for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Ideal candidates will be attorneys, judges or members of the public with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to the purposes and goals of the foundation. Applicants must have previous board, public or community service experience, and be knowledgeable about and comfortable with charitable fundraising.

The foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As the center of philanthropy for California’s legal profession, and with strong ties to the State Bar of California, the California Bar Foundation mobilizes and leverages the financial resources of individuals, law firms, corporations and foundations to build a better justice system for all Californians. More information is available at www.calbarfoundation.org.

Through grants, scholarships, public education and community collaboration, the foundation strategically invests the resources of donor partners. It champions full and equal access to the law, invests in the next generation of California’s lawyers, educates Californians about their rights and responsibilities under law and promotes philanthropy throughout the legal community.

The board of directors consists of up to 35 members and three ex officio members. Appointed members serve two-year terms and are expected to attend four board meetings per year while actively participating in up to three board committees. Board meetings alternate between San Francisco and Los Angeles, while most committee meetings are conducted by conference call.

Each board member is expected to make a personally meaningful financial contribution to the California Bar Foundation and to actively participate in fundraising from personal and professional contacts on behalf of the foundation. Board members are required to attend the scholarship and award Ceremony held in conjunction with the fall board of directors meeting. Board members may also be asked to participate in other California Bar Foundation-related events or activities.

Complete applications must be submitted via email to Carlos Aguilar by 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15. A complete application includes a resume or CV and a statement of interest and qualifications.

The California Bar Foundation’s Board of Directors will approve a slate of new director candidates during its fall board meeting.

Incubator workshop scheduled for June 10

The California Commission on Access to Justice will hold a workshop for the Modest Means Incubator Project at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 10, at the State Bar offices at 845 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.

The project is part of a national movement to connect practical training for new lawyers with providing excellent and affordable legal assistance to low- and moderate-income clients on a range of topics including family and housing law, labor code violations and consumer debt. The commission’s promotion of the project includes regional meetings and subsequent seed grants to applicants that propose the best projects.

At the meeting you will learn about successful incubator models that train new attorneys to address the modest means justice gap, meet and collaborate with key stakeholders and learn about funding opportunities. Registration is available online.

New law affects immigration attorneys

Attorneys and immigration consultants are prohibited from collecting money for services related to federal immigration reform until Congress acts under a State Bar-sponsored bill that went into effect last fall.

The consumer protection legislation, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, was introduced in response to reports from law enforcement that the federal debate over immigration reform was prompting scams aimed at undocumented immigrants.

The legislation, which went into effect upon Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature Oct. 5, also:

  • Requires attorneys and immigration consultants to account for any money already accepted for immigration reform services and either refund the money or deposit it in a client trust account.
  • Requires attorneys to inform clients receiving immigration reform act services where they can report complaints. A notice for attorneys to use has been posted on the State Bar’s website and has been translated into multiple languages.
  • Increases the amount of bond that immigration consultants must carry from $50,000 to $100,000 as of July 1.
  • Prohibits the use of the term “notario,” which has been misconstrued as someone who is qualified to give legal advice.
  • Provides that a person who violates the ban on the use of the term “notario” is subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 a day for each violation.

Running for judicial office? Take this mandatory free course

California judges and lawyers seeking a judicial office must take a new online judicial ethics course within 60 days of filing for office, creating a campaign committee or receiving a campaign contribution. The mandatory judicial ethics course went online last month.

The course was developed by a working group of justices, judges and lawyers after the Supreme Court adopted the mandatory rule, along with other changes to the California Code of Judicial Ethics, almost a year ago. The Rules of Professional Conduct require a lawyer candidate for judicial office to comply with the Code of Judicial Ethics.

“The Supreme Court changed the rules to promote and enhance public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and to provide guidance on the ethical obligations and responsibilities of those running for judicial office,” Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said.

The rule came out of the work of the Commission for Impartial Courts.

Consult the Ethics Hotline

Time is money and legal research takes time. California legal ethics research can be particularly time-consuming. First, California is not an ABA Model Rule jurisdiction, so dusting off your law school textbook or simply Googling won’t always cut it. On top of that, the applicable California law is often found in multiple sources, many of which are unfamiliar to most lawyers. If you consult the California Rules of Professional Conduct, that’s great, but you can’t stop there. Consider the following questions:

  • May an attorney use inadvertently disclosed confidential information?
  • Does the “no contact” rule permit an attorney to imply opposing counsel’s consent?
  • Is a “virtual law office” an ethical alternative for starting a solo practice?

You can get assistance in researching these questions by calling the State Bar of California’s Ethics Hotline. This call-back service is free, staffed by live people and typically has a turnaround time of one business day or less.

If you’ve never tried calling the Ethics Hotline, here’s the official pitch: The Ethics Hotline is a confidential telephone research service for attorneys. This service is staffed by specially trained paralegals who can refer callers to the California Rules of Professional Conduct, State Bar Act sections, published bar association ethics opinions and other relevant authorities. Although the Ethics Hotline does not render opinions or give advice, this guidance serves as a valuable resource that can jump-start legal ethics research and aid lawyers in making informed decisions about their legal ethics questions.

Attorneys can reach the Ethics Hotline from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays by calling 800-238-4427 (800-2-ETHICS) from within California, or 415-538-2150 when calling from outside of California.

Use this form for fee disputes with clients

As of July 1, attorneys who encounter a fee dispute with a client are required to use the State Bar’s updated version of the Notice of Client’s Right to Fee Arbitration form.

The form, approved by the State Bar Board of Trustees on March 7, incorporates a handful of changes, including clarifying who can request fee arbitration and making it clear that more than one bar association may have jurisdiction to hear a fee dispute. The new version also contains the State Bar seal, a change made to ensure lawyers are providing clients with the correct form.

Business and Professions Code § 6201(a) requires that lawyers send the notice to their clients before or at the time of initiating a lawsuit, or other action to collect fees. Attorneys are legally required to use the State Bar’s form – not their own version put on their firm’s letterhead.

Mandatory fee arbitration is designed to reduce the number of fee disputes that end up in court. The vast majority of fee disputes handled through the mandatory fee arbitration process are resolved without filing an action in superior court, saving the courts valuable time and money, said Doug Hull, director of the State Bar’s Mandatory Fee Arbitration Program.

Have your voice heard in evaluating judges

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 30 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. During the past few years, the commission has successfully implemented the use of email to gather comments, but continues to encounter one barrier: the spam filter. Most of JNE’s emails do reach their intended recipients. However, some 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, public agencies and the court system 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. It has proven to be a cost-effective and efficient method of transmitting time-sensitive, confidential data.

Questions and comments about the process can be directed to jneccf@calbar.ca.gov.

Bar rules book 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 2014 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 on 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, be sure to check with the State Bar to determine if 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. For questions or help, send an email to 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 a free 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, accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D), auto, home and business office plans.

Leverage the law through a State Bar section membership

Join other leading attorneys and legal professionals who are passionate about their practices. Each State Bar section provides its members with valuable tools including e-newsletters, publications and more. Highly regarded as a premier provider of legal education, the 16 sections deliver specialized training and practical programs including symposiums, one-day seminars and multi-day conferences, on-line seminars, self-study curriculum as well as updates on trends and changes in the law. Visit our online catalog, which contains more than 1,000 individual seminars.

Sections can also figure heavily when initiating or advocating legislation and regulations. Plus, most of the sections participate in major public education efforts and community service activities, such as consumer radio shows and booklets that explain legal rights. Your minimal annual membership helps to fund all these essential programs and services. What’s more, your membership is a tax-deductible investment.

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).”