You Need to Know

Health insurance program to be launched soon

Come this fall, California attorneys will have a valuable new resource for finding health insurance.

The State Bar is in the process of establishing a health care program that will help lawyers find health care insurance by connecting them with sponsored health care broker administrators. The program is expected to go live in time for the Oct. 1 rollout of California’s new health insurance exchange, mandated under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires that most Americans obtain health insurance by 2014.

Of particular benefit to sole practitioners and lawyers with small- to mid-sized firms, the State Bar sponsored health care broker administrators will help attorneys choose health insurance plans suited to their individual needs. Insurance premiums will be paid directly to the health insurance companies.

The program is being overseen by the State Bar Committee on Group Insurance Programs, which is also responsible for a number of State Bar-sponsored insurance programs including life, long-term care, disability and homeowner’s.

For more information, contact Laila Bartlett, staff coordinator group for insurance programs at (415) 538-2232 or Laila.bartlett@calbar.ca.gov.

Young lawyer vacancy on the Committee of Bar Examiners

The State Bar has an immediate opening for a young lawyer member on the Committee of Bar Examiners. The young lawyer member must be in active practice, admitted in California three years or less as of Nov. 15, 2013, and not have a relative taking a 2014 or 2015 California bar examination.

The application form is available online or from the State Bar’s Appointments Office (415-538-2299). The application deadline is Sept. 16, 2013. Details about the time commitment and the committee are found on the State Bar website.

Calling all bar and bench members with artistic talent

Attorneys and judges can celebrate their creative streaks by entering their works of art in the State Bar’s 61th Annual Meeting Bench and Bar Art Exhibit. All entries must be submitted by Sept. 13, 2013.

The artwork will be showcased at the State Bar Annual Meeting from Oct. 10 to 13, 2013 in San Jose. Awards will be given for oils and acrylics, portraits and figures, watercolors, prints, drawings, mixed media, ceramics, sculpture and photography.

Entry blanks and information are available by emailing the art show coordinator at AnnualMeeting@calbar.ca.gov. Organizers are also looking for volunteers to help set up the exhibits.

Supreme Court committee seeks feedback on judicial ethics opinion

The California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions invites public comment on a draft advisory opinion dealing with judicial ex parte communications in family law cases.

The draft opinion provides guidance on a local rule that authorizes a judge to review a request for (non-domestic violence) emergency orders in a family law matter in order to determine whether the moving papers show the necessity for an emergency hearing. The local rule permits the review to occur without notice to the other party and without a showing that good cause exists not to give notice. The draft opinion concludes that the local rule facilitates and permits ex parte communications, which violates the standards for ethical conduct in the California Code of Judicial Ethics.

After considering public comment, the committee will decide whether or not to publish an opinion in final form. Comments, due Sept. 9, may be made online, emailed to judicial.ethics@jud.ca.gov or mailed to committee staff member Nancy Black, 350 McAllister St., San Francisco.

Attorney slot open on Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles board

The Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) is looking for an attorney to fill an open seat.

Applicants for the three-year position must be State Bar members, support the Legal Services Corporation Act and have a keen interest in delivering quality legal services to the poor. LAFLA board members are also expected to volunteer their time to fundraise for the organization and make individual contributions.

Interested applicants should send a letter describing why they should be appointed and include a resume that includes their work history, community work and education to Sarah Lindsey Chanrasmi at the State Bar of California, Office of Legal Services, 180 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105. Contact Chanrasmi at 415-538-2534 or email her at sarah.chanrasmi@calbar.ca.gov for questions. Information about LAFLA is available online at http://www.lafla.org .

Applications will be initially reviewed by the LAFLA Board of Directors. The deadline to apply is Sept. 30.

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.

Training (and MCLE credit) available for fee arbitrators

Interested in volunteering for the State Bar (or your local bar association) as a fee arbitrator? The State Bar’s Mandatory Fee Arbitration Program (MFA) will conduct trainings for volunteer arbitrators throughout California.

Basic training will be conducted in San Luis Obispo on Sept. 19, 2013 at the Madonna Inn. Basic training sessions are three hours long and participants receive 2.75 hours of MCLE credit, one hour of which qualifies as ethics credit.

An advanced training session will be hosted by the San Mateo County Bar Association on Sept. 26, 2013. The session is two hours long and offers two hours of MCLE credit, one hour of which qualifies as ethics credit. You must attend basic training before participating in an advanced training session.

Minimum qualifications to serve as an attorney arbitrator include five years active status as a member of the State Bar, no record of public discipline and attendance at a basic training.

Questions can be directed to Doug Hull, director of the State Bar’s MFA program, at 415-538-2015.

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. Register early to guarantee your preferred test center site in either South San Francisco or Pasadena. For the lowest fee, register by Sept. 10. 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.

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. Although most of JNE’s emails do 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.

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).”