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May 01, 2011

Washington News Briefs

LAW SCHOOL TRANSPARENCY: ABA President Stephen N. Zack explained ABA’s activities last month with regard to helping potential law students make informed choices about law schools. Zack was responding to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who asked the ABA to provide her with information regarding the accuracy and transparency of law school admissions and post-graduation employment data. In her March 31 letter to the ABA president, Boxer expressed concerns about allegations in news reports that post-graduation and salary information provided by law schools is sometimes falsified to raise the schools’ position in the annual U.S. News and World Report law school ranking. In an April 27 response to Boxer, Zack noted that the association is actively disseminating information to potential law students and the general public. The association, he said, has produced a paper entitled “The Value Proposition of Attending Law School,” which has been recognized in traditional press and by legal bloggers for its simple, clear approach to helping potential law students weigh their choices. In addition, the ABA encourages students to use the ABA-Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, which includes extensive chapters on job opportunities, careers and salaries. He also provided a response from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which is the Department of Education’s recognized accreditor for legal education. The section stated that two of its committees are working on recommendations to improve transparency and provide additional employment, placement and salary information. The recommendations, once finalized, will be submitted to the LSAC for further action. “The Section of Legal Education is dedicated to ensuring that potential law students have as much information as possible to make an informed decision about whether to enter law school and, if so, what school to attend,” according to the section.

PATENT REFORM: The House Judiciary Committee approved patent reform legislation by a 32-3 vote last month that is similar to a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate in March. Although the ABA does not have a position on the overall legislation, the association supports a provision in both bills, H.R. 1249 and S. 23, to institute a “first-inventor-to-file” rule for obtaining a patent. The United States is the only country in the world using the more complex “first-to-invent” standard that relies on “proof-of-invention dates.” The bills also include provisions supported by the ABA to allow the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to keep the fee revenue it generates, an action that would eliminate diversion of USPTO fees for other purposes. H.R. 1259 has been referred to the House Budget Committee for consideration before proceeding to the House floor for a vote.

SUNSHINE IN LITIGATON: The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to mark up legislation this month that, according to the ABA, would “impose additional unnecessary requirements on, and restrict the discretion of, federal courts in a way that will only increase the time and expense of litigation.” S. 623, known as the Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2011, would amend Rule 26(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to require courts to make a particularized finding of fact that a discovery protective order would not restrict the disclosure of information relevant to the protection of public health and safety. ABA President Stephen N. Zack expressed ABA opposition to the bill in a May 4 letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Zack explained that the Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have studied the issue since the 1990s and have found “no significant problems of protective orders impeding access to information that affects the public health or safety.”  The ABA president also emphasized in his letter that the bill circumvents the Rules Enabling Act, the procedure established by Congress to ensure that changes to the federal rules are thoroughly reviewed. He stated that the current version of Rule 26(c) is and has been an appropriate and effective way to protect the rights of both litigants and the public without overburdening the administration of justice in the federal courts. “The ABA is deeply concerned that seeking a day in court will become a luxury item if courts and cases cannot operate with greater efficiency and speed. Problems with federal judicial vacancies and court underfunding already wreak havoc with case schedules and the resulting time it takes to resolve a dispute,” Zack concluded, adding that “these expensive new rules would cost everyone, and make access to justice even more of a luxury item.”

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