Monday, June 09, 2008

The California Bar Association Has Something Against Small Firms

Most of the time, I do my best to ignore The State Bar of California . For the first couple of years of being a lawyer in California, that meant paying my dues and sending in my MCLE certificates. However, lately, its as if the California Bar is determined to make me pay attention.

Recently the Bar Association passed a rule which mandates that lawyers have to disclose whether they have malpractice insurance coverage. Now, for big firms, this is not a problem. If they are a big firm, it is almost a given that they can afford it. However, for solo and small firms, malpractice insurance is expensive and some choose to go forward without it (the AngryBell may or may not have insurance). I can see that for a number of clients, this is something that will they will take into account. It is not that I believe that this will make lawyer's more likely to be the target of law suits. This is about the appearance of a law firm. Some solos simply cannot afford the insurance. The lack of the insurance may make people more hesitant to retain those lawyers because in their mind the lack of malpractice insurance will raise questions as to:

- the quality of their work
- whether those attorneys are any good (because of course all good lawyers have insurance)
- whether the firm/solo is just a fly-by-nighter who will dissappear on them

So not content to impose an additional burdens on small business (you'd think I was a republican with that statement), the State Bar is at it again. This time, it is with this proposal:

The Office of the Chief Trial Counsel believes that public protection requires that members of the public who are interested in consulting with, and possibly retaining California attorneys, should have ready access to information about disciplinary proceedings pending against those attorneys.

So not only do they want to force disclosure as to insurance (which I am not aware of any other profession in California requiring... and I have read those papers that my doctors force me to sign... but don't tell them that.), but now they want to alert the public every time a lawyer has a disciplinary proceeding pending against them.

Yes, I know that in this country, every person is innocent until proven guilty. Of course, how well did that work for O.J. Simpson, Barry Bonds, or how about William Lerach and Melvyn Weiss? How about Richard Jewell. Yes, they were all guilty, but public opinion against all of them was against them from the moment indictments came out.

Now, in the past year, the AngryBell dodged a disciplinary charge. A dissatisfied client threatened to bring an action before the Bar against me. Forget the fact that I won the case for the client. Forget the fact that I got them the best possible result that they could hope to get. Forget the fact that result was approved of by the client when they signed the papers. Under this new rule, if this client had gone through with their threat, the fact that an action was pending against me would be disclosed to anyone who looked AngryBell up at the State Bar's website.

For a solo or a small firm, approving this new rule would significantly harm them. Large firms are known by their names. Solos and small firm practitioners cannot hide by large letters and fancy offices where there are literally hundreds of attorneys practicing. Instead, they are known by their names and their faces.

Is the Bar going to send out emails to everyone who looks at the Bar's website when the person is cleared? Of course not. Instead, the people who check up on the lawyer are only going to know that Lawyer X underwent a disciplinary action, even if no conviction/discipline is actual ordered by the Bar, because someone claimed that he stole money. This new rule would smear their reputations by having a listing next to their name that they are undergoing a disciplinary proceeding (in much the same way that the Bar lists an attorney's history of being actually disciplined).

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