Wednesday, September 5, 2007
State Bar’s Dues Bill for 2008 Passes Assembly on 54-12 Vote
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A bill authorizing the State Bar to impose dues for next year at the current rate passed the State Assembly yesterday by a vote of 54-12.
The bill, SB 686, now goes back to the Senate for concurrence in Assembly amendments. The upper chamber passed the bill by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, on May 24 by a vote of 31-4.
The bill would delete the authorization for a $10 annual fee for construction or leasing of the State Bar headquarters, but would potentially offset the reduction by allowing the Board of Governors to impose an additional fee of $10 per member per year from 2008 through 2010 to upgrade the State Bar’s computers.
Pro Bono Bill
As amended in the Assembly, the bill would declare pro bono service to be a responsibility of every lawyer, although it does not create any means to enforce that dictum. The bill does, however, explicitly provide that a lawyer may discharge that responsibility by donating money to an organization that provides pro bono services.
The amendment would add Sec. 6073 to the Business & Professions Code to recite the tradition of voluntary pro bono service in the legal profession, and state that every lawyer “is expected to make a contribution” to that end.
An attorney who is unable to contribute services “may instead fulfill his or her individual pro bono ethical commitment, in part, by providing financial support to organizations providing free legal services to persons of limited means,” the section goes on to say. It further notes that that pro bono contributions may be measured collectively in some circumstances, such as aggregate work done by law firms.
In addition to encouraging pro bono legal service, the section underscores the importance of attorney involvement in voluntary public service activities that increase access to justice or improve the legal system.
Outgoing State Bar President Sheldon Sloan told the MetNews when the amendment was approved in July that the language of proposed Sec. 6073 is supported by the organization.
The amendment was criticized by lawyers who have argued that the bill could lead to mandatory pro bono at some point, that it could have an adverse impact on lawyers who are involved in discipline cases and have not done pro bono work, and that the issue should addressed on its own merits and not by an amendment to the fee bill.
Also approved by the Assembly was AB 1723, proposed by the State Bar and introduced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which would establish specific requirements for attorneys establishing accounts under the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts program and for banks offering such accounts.
The bill had been sent back to the Assembly last week for concurrence in Senate amendments, after the Senate passed it by a vote of 24-15, generally along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.
The State Bar has argued that the bill would “modernize” IOLTA by authorizing the deposit of IOLTA funds in investment-type accounts bearing higher rates of interest than at present. The bill was also supported by Attorney General Jerry Brown and by a host of legal services organizations, local bar groups, and law firms.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company