August 06, 2018

ABA House approves changes in membership dues, rules for lawyer advertising

The American Bar Association House of Delegates took major steps Monday to attract more members and to strengthen and simplify model rules dealing with lawyer communications with clients.

The resolutions, while separate and distinct, reflect the ABA’s focus on change, including making both the association more valuable to current and prospective members and offering more timely and relevant guidance to lawyers and regulators in a fast-moving technological age.

The House, made up of 601 delegates from state, local and other bar associations and legal groups, meets again Tuesday in Chicago, concluding the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting. The membership plan (Resolution 177) effectively streamlines the ABA membership scheme, reducing some dues at the highest level and cutting the price points of membership from 157 to five. The House also approved changes in bylaws necessary for the new dues structure.

The simplified dues structure is a central feature of a new membership model that will reduce costs for most members and provide enhanced membership benefits for all ABA members. It will take effect starting the fiscal year that begins Sept. 1, 2019. Under the plan, ABA members will have access to more and better content, including hundreds of free CLEs and information curated and delivered according to members’ individual interests and specifications.

The five new ABA dues categories are $75, $150, $250, $350 and $450, depending on years as a lawyer and type of practice. Law students will still receive free membership.

The lawyer communications measure (Resolution 101) culminates several years of work by the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and affiliated groups, which have shepherded the process for review of model rules related to advertising and lawyer communications with clients. 

The action updates ABA Model Rules related to communications with and solicitation of clients, lawyer advertising and communication of fields of practice and specialization. Advocates contended the current web of complex, contradictory and detailed advertising rules impedes lawyers’ efforts to expand their practices and thwart clients’ interests in securing the services they need. 

Lucian Pera, chair of the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, said the changes, which emphasize false and misleading advertising, reflect “the proper balance between First Amendment rights and consumer protection” and “clarify and simplify the rules.”

In other action Monday:

·       The House concurred with four legal education resolutions dealing with affecting the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, while a fifth was withdrawn in the face of growing opposition.

The leaders of the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar withdrew Resolution 111D that would have made changes to the law school admissions policy, including removing the requirement for law schools to collect scores for an admission test, such as the LSAT. The standard requires that schools have a “valid and reliable” test and about two dozen have said they would accept the GRE for incoming students.

Barry Currier, managing director for legal education accreditation, said, “The concerns that our delegates heard from other members of the House will be reported to the council and the council will determine how it wishes to proceed.”

The House concurred with the other legal education changes, including a restructuring that eliminates the council’s Accreditation and Standards Review committees and folds their work into the council. It also concurred with changes in standards related to distance education and simulation courses, clinics and field placements. Under the rules, the House can concur or send back legal education resolutions twice to the council with or without recommendations but final decisions rest with the council, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as national accreditor of law schools.

·       Approved Resolution 114, which adopts the black letter and commentary to the ABA Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees and urges governmental agencies to promulgate law and policy consistent with the guidelines, which are intended to minimize excessive penalties if an individual cannot afford to pay them. “We can alleviate this distrust through commonsense policies that ensure equal treatment of rich and poor and fair by considering the individual financial circumstances of people charged with offenses,” said Rob Weiner, chair of the Working Group on Building Trust in the American Justice System.

For a complete list of House actions Monday and to review the rest of the resolutions click here.