You Need to Know

State Bar’s 2013 Annual Meeting slated for Oct. 10 to 13 in San Jose

The State Bar’s 86th Annual Meeting will take place in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, from Oct. 10 through 13. The meeting will allow attendees to pick up to 18.5 hours of Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) credit and legal specialization, including all MCLE subfields. There will be 145 seminars presented in three education tracks: technology, practice skills and substantive law.

Scheduled speakers include author and legal affairs editor-in-charge for Reuters Joan Biskupic; founding dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky; former White House Chief Information Officer Theresa Payton; senior editor for Wired.com Kevin Poulsen; two-time president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias Sanchez; and San Francisco Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese M. Stewart. In addition, attendees will have plenty of opportunities to network and learn about the latest legal technology, publications, products and services at the Annual Meeting’s Exhibition Hall.

Registration will be available on site. For more information, visit the Annual Meeting web page.

Council on Access & Fairness seeks interim appointment

The State Bar’s Council on Access & Fairness (COAF) is seeking applications to fill a vacancy created by a resignation. The appointee will serve until October 2014 and be eligible for reappointment to a new three-year term.

The council serves as the State Bar's “diversity think tank” and advises the Board of Trustees on ways to enhance opportunities and advancement in the legal profession for diverse populations, particularly those who have been underrepresented.

The 25-member council consists of lawyers, judges, representatives from academia, and public members from diverse practice settings and constituencies. The council seeks new members who will have experience that represents the full spectrum of the diversity pipeline. The pipeline includes pre-K to 12; college; law school and bar exam prep; recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion in the profession; and judicial diversity.

The deadline for applications is Nov. 15. To apply, go to the fillable online application.

For more information about the council, see the council's web page or contact Patricia Lee at 415-538-2240 or patricia.lee@calbar.ca.gov.

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.

New form mandatory 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 new 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.

Become a certified specialist

Start the process of becoming a board certified specialist in California by registering for the next exam that will be administered on Oct. 22.

The California Supreme Court created the specialist program to increase public protection by identifying attorneys who are specialists in key areas of law and by encouraging the highest standards of practice in the profession.

The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization offers the examination every other year in the following areas of law: admiralty, appellate, bankruptcy, criminal, estate planning, trust and probate, family, franchise immigration, legal malpractice, taxation and workers’ compensation.

Attorneys who have been practicing in the specialty area since January 2012 or earlier are eligible to register. The final deadline is Oct. 15.

See the State Bar website to download an examination application and to learn more about preparatory materials and classes.

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 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 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.

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).”