Midyear Meeting 2008

Bar-Pass Rates, Pakistani Lawyer Solidarity on ABA's Agenda Today

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The ABA House of Delegates is not the place for someone who likes to talk about the same subject all day.

Instead, the 555 delegates who make up the association’s policy-making body will forgo today’s expected balmy weather in Los Angeles to spend the day in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Century City considering the usual stew of issues that characterize the typical House agenda.

In recent years, public policy issues have gained a greater foothold on the House agenda, but today, some of the issues that could trigger the greatest debate are matters of particular import to the legal profession.

One of those measures recommends that the House endorse a model rule for admitting attorneys to practice that would grant conditional admission to applicants who have experienced chemical dependency or mental health conditions that otherwise would have rendered the applicant unfit to practice law. The rule would grant conditional admission if the applicant demonstrates recent rehabilitation from chemical dependency or successful treatment for mental illness.

Nineteen states and Puerto Rico have adopted various versions of a conditional admission rule, according to a report to the House from the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the primary sponsor of the recommendation.

The issue that could trigger debate in the House is whether conditional admission should be granted on a confidential basis or disclosed to the public. The proposed model rule provides for confidential conditional admission on grounds that it would encourage lawyers to undergo appropriate treatment for conditions and allow bar authorities to intervene as early as possible when those lawyers fail to do so or engage in behavior that endangers the public.

Another recommendation likely to trigger House debate is the Uniform Representation of Children in Abuse, Neglect, and Custody Proceedings Act promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The specific issue is a provision in the model act that would allow courts to appoint lawyers to either advocate for a child’s expressed objectives or to advocate the best interests of the child. Courts may also appoint a best-interests advocate—who may or may not be a lawyer—who would help the court determine the best interests of the child.

Indications are that the proposal would garner opposition from groups including the Litigation Section and the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, which have expressed concern that the proposed model act might lead to lawyers being appointed to represent children in ways that would contradict legal ethics rules, especially concerning attorney-client privilege and confidentiality.

These are some of the other measures scheduled for consideration by the House:

—The Criminal Justice Section is the primary sponsor of a recommendation that the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct be amended to assert a stronger obligation on prosecutors to disclose evidence creating a reasonable likelihood that a defendant did not commit the crime for which he or she was convicted, and to take steps to remedy such convictions. The obligation would be triggered when the prosecutor has knowledge of the evidence within the meaning of the model rules.

—The House is being asked to concur in a revision to the Standards for Approval of Law Schools relating to bar passage rates as a factor in accreditation of law schools by the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The revision would essentially set a bar of 75 percent bar passage rates for students at law schools accredited by the Legal Education Section. Some questions have been raised about whether those bar passage requirements might have some effect on law school admissions policies. The Legal Education Section has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting body for U.S. law schools.

—The New York State Bar Association filed a late report calling for the ABA to express support for and solidarity with Pakistani lawyers and judges who have been persecuted by their government after protesting suspension of the Pakistani constitution by President Pervez Musharraf. The ABA sponsored a protest march in Washington, D.C., after a number of Pakistani judges and lawyers were detained or placed under house arrest.

—Two recommendations relating to environmental policies will be considered by the House. The Standing Committee on Environmental Law is the lead sponsor of a recommendation calling on government to consider the benefits people derive from ecosystems when adopting laws, regulations and other measures. The Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources is the lead sponsor of another recommendation, which urges the U.S. government to take a leadership role in addressing climate-change issues.

The House is scheduled to adjourn today.

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