Midyear Meeting

Hearings on Cash-Strapped Courts, Ethics in Global Legal Marketplace Kick Off ABA Midyear Meeting

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How recessionary pressures are affecting access in American courts, and how the regulatory structure for lawyers should respond to globalization and technology are two of the critical issues being addressed in public hearings as the ABA Midyear Meeting gets underway in Atlanta.

The midyear meeting is being held today through Monday, when the ABA’s policymaking House of Delegates convenes for a one-day session.

Both the Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System, which has a hearing today, and the Commission on Ethics 20/20, scheduled to hold a public hearing on Friday, are seeking to get a handle on trends that could have a major impact the justice system.

During his ABA presidency, Stephen N. Zack has pointed out that while case dockets for state courts around the country are growing as more people seek legal assistance for help dealing with economic difficulties, funding for the courts is dropping.

Some courts have resorted to furloughs of staff members and even judges, and reductions in business hours. As a result of the growing crisis, “the potential to lose the rule of law in our country is very real,” said Zack when he announced the creation of the task force in August, at the start of his one-year term as president. Zack is administrative partner in the Miami office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

The task force is emphasizing feedback from judges, lawyers and others on the front lines of courts under stress as a way to measure the practical impact of funding shortfalls. In addition to holding the hearing in Atlanta, the task force’s page on the ABA website includes a short online survey.

The task force is co-chaired by David Boies of Armonk, N.Y., who is chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, and former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C. In a joint letter issued on Nov. 17, Boies and Olson said the task force eventually will present recommendations and a report of its findings for consideration by the House of Delegates.

Meanwhile, the Ethics 20/20 Commission is collecting feedback on issues relating to globalization and technology before it too starts developing recommendations for consideration by the House. Most of the commission’s recommendations are expected to go to the House in 2012, said co-chair Jamie S. Gorelick, a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington, D.C. The commission’s other co-chair is Michael Traynor of Berkeley, Calif., a past president of the American Law Institute.

The commission is inviting feedback on preliminary reports outlining several issues. But Gorelick and other commission members have cautioned against interpreting these drafts as previews of what will be recommended to the House. Rather, Gorelick says, they “are designed to provoke—to provoke discussion, comment and debate.”

The topics covered by the preliminary drafts are alternative litigation financing; admission by motion; client confidentiality issues raised by lawyers’ use of technology; use of Internet-based client development tools by lawyers; domestic and international outsourcing of legal work; and inbound foreign lawyer issues. See the reports (PDF).

In a departure from the midyear meeting routine, attendees this year are also being invited to special showings of an a new film, The Conspirator. It tells the little-known story of Mary Surratt, who was tried and executed as one of the plotters of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and the lawyer—a war hero in the Union army—who defended her. The film, directed by Robert Redford, will go into wide release in April, but there will be special showings for midyear meeting attendees in conjunction with a program Saturday addressing issues raised by the film.

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