Bars and leaders honored for making a difference in their communities

Volume 33 Number 2

The broad array of state and local bar programs—ranging from summer clerkships for first-year law students to mentoring programs for aspiring judges—was celebrated at the August Annual Meeting of the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE), the National Conference of Bar Foundations (NCBF), and the National Conference of Bar Presidents (NCBP). For details about the 2008 award winners and information about the 2009 awards, be sure to visit the Web sites for each group: ABA Bar Services (www.abanet.org.barserv) NABE (www.nabenet.org), NCBF (www.ncbf.org), and NCBP (www.ncbp.org).

 

ABA 2008 Partnership Awards Program

The ABA Partnership Awards Program salutes outstanding bar association projects that seek to increase the par-ticipation and advancement of lawyers of color in the organized bar and to attract students of color to the legal pro-fession. The 2008 award recipients focused on the needs of minority students and lawyers at three stages of a lawyer’s career: working as a summer associate, passing the bar, and becoming a judge.

The Allegheny County Bar Association started the Summer Clerkship Program in 2005 to improve the proc-ess of identifying and recruiting minority lawyers. Under the program, the bar offers summer clerkship opportuni-ties to first-year minority law students attending law schools in the Pittsburgh area. Sixteen law firms, corporations, and government agencies agreed to participate in the program by hiring or by providing financial support for the program.

The program has far exceeded expectations. Forty-two minority students have participated in the program be-tween 2005 and 2007. From the 2005 graduating class, 46 percent of the graduating students who completed the program received associate or clerkship positions in Pittsburgh.

Between 1929 and 1980, only 17 minority lawyers were admitted to the Delaware bar. To counteract that dismal record, the Multicultural Judges and Lawyers Section of the Delaware State Bar Association (DSBA) launched an aggressive program to increase the odds that every minority who takes the Delaware bar exam passes it on the first try. Every year, the DSBA section sponsors a bar review program that supplements commercial review courses by focusing on test-taking and analytical skills, essay structure, and stress management. The program is designed to provide technical assistance and support through lectures, discussion groups, coaching, intensive practice essay exams and critiques, and review of questions and answers to previous Delaware bar exams. Stu-dents meet for seven consecutive weeks before the bar exam and then take a full-day, eight-essay timed exam two weeks before the actual test.

Precise statistics are not available but the pass rate for program participants has been consistent with that of other successful candidates. And since the program’s start, at least one candidate of color has passed the bar every year.

Diversity on the bench has been a long-standing concern throughout California and elsewhere. The Alameda County Bar Association (ACBA) decided to tackle the problem by launching a one-year pilot project to “de-mystify the process of becoming a judge.” Under the auspices of the Judicial Mentoring Project, experienced judges served as mentors to provide valuable feedback and assistance to potential candidates to hone the nec-essary skills for a judicial career. The project involved 14 mentor judges and 21 lawyers.

One of the program’s goals was to trigger what ACBA calls the trickle- down and ripple effects. Although the Alameda County bench to some degree reflects the country’s rich diversity, it is the exception and not the rule. The trickle-down effect, according to the program’s organizers, will occur as a diverse bench provides role models for aspiring judges and younger generations. The ripple effect is that “the more diverse one bench becomes, the more likely other jurisdictions are to follow.”

 

2008 Harrison Tweed Award

The 2008 Harrison Tweed Award was presented to each of two local bar associations for their “extraordinary ef-forts” to increase access to civil legal services to the poor. The award is sponsored by the ABA Standing Commit-tee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

The Monroe County Bar Association in New York spearheaded a $2 million fund-raising campaign to house the bar, the Monroe County Bar Association Foundation, and four legal service organizations in one building in downtown Rochester. The Telesca Center for Justice is convenient to the courts and public transportation; previ-ously, the legal service providers were spread throughout the city. The provision of different legal services in one location will improve services to clients who deal with more than one provider, reduce the possibility that some cli-ents may get lost in the system, and improve coordination and cooperation among the four organizations. As an added bonus, each group expects to save—as the result of a long-term fixed low rent—an amount equal to the salary of one additional lawyer. The hiring of additional staff will allow the organizations to meet their clients’ need more effectively.

The Houston Bar Association (HBA) was recognized for its Equal Access Initiative, which is an organized campaign to increase the number of pro bono cases handled by volunteer lawyers at the Houston Volunteer Law-yers Program (HVLP). Established in 1981, HVLP currently serves residents of Harris County (Texas) whose household income does not exceed 175 percent of the federal poverty level. HBA launched the new initiative in 2006 to encourage law firms, corporate legal departments, and individual lawyers to make a five-year commitment to pro bono. In its first year of operation, the initiative far exceeded its goal of growing by 25 percent a year for the next five years. In 2007, HVLP placed 1,536 cases—50 percent more than in 2006.

 

ABA E. Smythe Gambrell

Professionalism Awards

A law school, a state bar association, and a pro bono network were honored for establishing programs that “in-crease awareness among lawyers and law students of the importance of professional responsibility.” The 2008 recipients were Drake University Law School for developing a broad-based approach to ethics and professional-ism, the Ohio State Bar for creating comprehensive online law office management guide, and Pro Bono Net for using technology to expand the availability of legal services to the indigent and working poor.

 

Teaching Professionalism

to Law Students

The Drake University Law School was recognized for an “innovative and integrated approach to teaching legal ethics and professionalism” that begins on the first day of law school. In addition to requiring upper-level students to take a professional responsibility course, the school has developed an extensive curriculum spanning the entire first year that includes a multifaceted orientation program on legal ethics and professionalism; emphasis on ethical and professional considerations in the required legal writing course; and Supreme Court Week, a year-end cele-bration of the law school’s relationship with the bench and bar that reinforces the importance of professionalism and ethics and recognizes academic excellence, leadership, and service.

The school’s trial practicum is an important component of the law school’s approach to ethics and professional-ism. Since 1998, every member of the first-year class has observed an entire jury trial—from selection through verdict—in an educational setting that includes small group discussions and post-trial debriefings of trial counsel, judge, and jurors. In his endorsement of the school’s nomination, Judge William Jay Riley of the Eighth Circuit em-phasized that trial practicum allows students to view professionalism and ethical behavior in practice and ex-pressed his hope that the award would encourage other schools to develop similar programs.

 

OfficeKeeper

Helping lawyers to maintain professional standards in the management of their practices is one of the objectives of OfficeKeeper, the Ohio State Bar Association’s (OSBA) comprehensive online management guide to opening, maintaining, and closing a law office. The program covers both day-to-day operations and various aspects of pro-fessional responsibility. OfficeKeeper includes checklists, forms, sample documents, and links to Web sites and the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

The guide covers all the basics: (1) opening and maintaining a law practice, including choosing a business en-tity, developing a business plan, acquiring basic office equipment, and renting office space; (2) time billing and ac-counting, including trust accounts, fraud prevention, and financial management; (3) personnel management, in-cluding hiring/firing, payroll, performance reviews, and shared staff; (4) marketing, including advertising practices to avoid, networking, and specialization; (5) practice challenges, such as pro bono opportunities, career satisfac-tion, and balance between work and home; and (6) closing/selling a law practice, including law practice valuation, records retention, and professional responsibility issues.

By making OfficeKeeper available to all members at no charge, the OSBA hopes to help its members better manage the business side of their practices and avoid malpractice problems.

 

Expanding pro bono services

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit organization that works with legal organizations across the United States and Canada to increase access to justice for the indigent and working poor. More than 30 states have adopted the Pro Bono Net model.

Pro Bono Net’s Web site programs are designed to help lawyers get involved by linking them to opportunities, training events, mentors, and searchable libraries of practice resources. Five core Web sites include: Probono.net (www.probono.net), a national online resource for legal aid and pro bono attorneys, law professors and students, and social services advocates; LawHelp.org (www.lawhelp.org), an online resource that helps low- and moder-ate-income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, answers questions about legal rights, and provides information about local courts and social service agencies; Online Document Assembly (www.npado.org), a national, centralized effort to provide online legal document assembly for poverty law and court access to justice programs across the country; and Pro Bono Manager (www.probono.net/probonomanager), a customized, hosted Web application to increase law firms’ pro bono program management capacity. The site makes it easier for pro bono lawyers to get involved.

Given by the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism, the award is named for E. Smythe Gambrell, who served simultaneously as president of the ABA and the American Bar Foundation in 1955–56. Gambrell founded the Legal Aid Society in Atlanta, where he practiced law from 1922 until his death in 1986. The award’s ultimate objective is to encourage groups to establish or replicate effective programs to heighten the awareness of lawyers and law students to the importance of professional responsibility.

 

Pyrz receives Bolton Award

Thomas A. Pyrz, Indiana State Bar Association (ISBA) executive director, received the 2008 Bolton Award for Out-standing Bar Leadership. The award is NABE’s highest accolade, recognizing the exceptional professionalism and achievement of a bar executive.

In his 17 years of service as ISBA’s CEO, Pyrz has demonstrated “a commitment to make the association a real presence in the working lives of lawyers,” according to Indiana’s Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. He has been in-strumental in developing such membership benefits as complimentary online research for clients, computerized form systems, and a chat room for ISBA members.

Long active in NABE, most recently as its president in 2003, Pyrz has also been involved with the Indiana and Indianapolis Bar Foundations, the Indiana Society of Association Executives, the American Legion, and the Asso-ciation of the U.S. Army. In 2002, he was named a Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest honor presented by an Indiana governor to a resident of Indiana. He graduated from West Point and is a retired officer of the Judge Advo-cate General’s Corps.

2008 NCBF Award for Bar Foundation Excellence in Public Service Programming

The South Carolina Bar Foundation received the 2008 NCBF Award for Bar Foundation Excellence in Public Ser-vice Programming for its support of a program designed to keep delinquent fathers out of jail. The foundation’s project, Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI), is an initiative conducted by the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families and serves nonviolent, low-income fathers who are underemployed or unemployed and behind in their child support.

The program coordinates services that allow participants to find jobs, resolve their legal problems, and learn how to manage money. Seven program sites throughout the state offer classes on job readiness and retention, parenting, legal rights and responsibilities, communications skills, and child support/visitation issues. Fathers may be ordered to participate by the court or may enter the program voluntarily.

During the program’s first year, the foundation made a grant award of $72,000. In that year alone, $61,000 was paid by participating fathers in child support. In addition, the fathers also earned $186,000 in gross wages. Without this program, most of these fathers would have spent time in jail at the expense of taxpayers.

 

LexisNexis Community and Educational Outreach Awards

Four bar associations and one bar foundation—the State Bar of Texas, New Hampshire Bar Association, Boston Bar Association, Baton Rouge Bar Association, and Springfield (Missouri) Metropolitan Bar Association—received the 2008 LexisNexis Community and Educational Outreach Award. NABE selected the award recipients, which were honored for their commitment to public service.

Let’s Do Justice for Texas, a multiyear public education initiative presented by the State Bar of Texas, helps Texans to understand their role in maintaining justice and preserving the rule of law. The initiative consists of three primary components: radio spots in English and Spanish on jury service, the rule of law, and other topics; a You-Tube video contest, Lone Star Stories: Texans on Justice; and a series of Web-based animations featuring Texas heroes, e.g., Sam Houston, interviewing everyday heroes who report for jury service or participate in the justice system.

The New Hampshire Bar Association developed a program based on the book Leapholes to teach middle-school students the relevance of our legal system, help them realize the importance of making good choices, and show them how to discuss respectfully debate issues. After reading the book—the first novel for young readers ever to be published by the ABA––participating students and lawyers produce a project based on what they have learned. Author James Grippando will visit the highest-rated project.

The M. Ellen Carpenter Financial Literacy Program is the result of a partnership between the Boston Bar As-sociation and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts. Volunteer lawyers teach a five-part course on personal finance, budgeting, credit and credit cards, auto financing, and the consequences of credit mismanagement. The program concludes with a field trip to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The Greater Baton Rouge Teen Court is a voluntary diversion program sponsored by the Baton Rouge Bar Foundation in which teens sentence their peers for first-time misdemeanor offenses such as shoplifting, school fights, and minor property damage. Teens serve as prosecutors, defense attorneys, clerk/bailiff, and jurors. Law-yers act as judges. Jury sentencing may include community service, counseling, and writing essays and letters of apology.

Sus Derechos is a legal literacy program designed by the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association to educate Hispanic immigrants in Southwest Missouri about the American legal system. The program counteracts challenges immigrants face due to language and cultural barriers that could leave them vulnerable to exploita-tion, such as being arrested for offenses that are illegal here, but are legal in Mexico or failing to show up for court dates on traffic tickets because they fear deportation. Sus Derechos consists of two immigration law semi-nars for professionals together with public forums on immigration law, Missouri employment law, and a citizen’s rights in court. BL

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