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Bar will collect attorney data electronically

All California attorneys will have to register electronically with the State Bar next year if a proposed new Rule of Court is adopted, a step that will offer lawyers a variety of options and provide the bar an opportunity to collect demographic data on its members. The rule is an outgrowth of one of three pieces of legislation, one working its way through the legislature and two that have become law, that impose new requirements on the bar and that will affect the state’s 215,000-plus lawyers.

RULE OF COURT 9.8

SB 56, authored by former Senator Joe Dunn, D-Garden Grove, and signed into law by the governor last year, requires the Judicial Council, the governor and the bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) to report annually the gender and racial make-up of the state’s judges and those whose names are submitted to JNE for evaluation. It also permits the bar to seek that information from the full membership.

The legislation requires the bar to provide a centralized online mechanism that facilitates reporting of both mandatory and voluntary information by the state’s lawyers. Texas and New Mexico currently require online registration of lawyers in those states, although neither model was considered applicable for California by drafters of the rule. Demographic data would be provided voluntarily, can be used only for general purposes and cannot be used to identify any individuals or their bar records.

Proposed Rule of Court 9.8 will require every California lawyer to register with the bar online, creating a My State Bar Profile at the bar’s Web site. Already, more than 125,000 California lawyers have established an online profile that includes their name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. Those who have registered have the ability to — electronically — change their contact information, download the status change form, submit the MCLE compliance card, calculate and pay membership fees and opt out of receiving State Bar mailings.

The proposed rule also will require lawyers to provide an e-mail address that will be used exclusively for disciplinary or regulatory purposes unless the attorney indicates it may be made public. The rule specifically makes no change to the public or confidential nature of information that is registered.

In addition to name, address and phone number, the information currently available to the public on the bar’s Web site includes a lawyer’s undergraduate and law schools, the district and county in which he or she practices, the bar sections in which he or she is a member, status history and any discipline record.

Lawyers who move are required to notify the bar within 30 days of a new address; the new rule would require notification within 30 days of a new e-mail address as well.

Any lawyer who does not have internet access may provide the required information in a format provided by the bar.

Failure to register online or to obtain an exemption would result in a penalty that would be attached to the annual fee statement.

Lawyers also will be required under the proposed rule to notify the bar if they or their law firm maintain a trust account. Any changes in the information must be provided by Feb. 1 annually.

The proposed rule is out for public comment until mid-August and likely will go before the board of governors in the fall. If adopted, it will then go to the Supreme Court for approval. The proposal calls for the registration service to be available by Feb. 1.

AB 1723

Also working its way through the legislature is AB 1723, a bill sponsored by the full Assembly Judiciary Committee that would require lawyers to place their IOLTA accounts in banks that offer interest rates and terms comparable to similar customer accounts. If it becomes law, it is expected to at least double funds now produced by IOLTA accounts — $15.8 million a year — for legal services programs. It was passed by the Assembly and was expected to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee around the beginning of July.

The measure also would update the kinds of accounts attorneys can use to hold their trust account money, including sweep accounts and other high yield vehicles that are safe.

AB 2301

The bar also faces a legislative mandate to include on its annual fee statement an option to make a voluntary contribution to legal services. A task force that has been considering the legislation (AB 2301, Dave Jones) is expected to recommend to the board at its meeting this month that it request a $100 contribution on next year’s fee statement.

Any money collected would support the Justice Gap Fund at the bar’s Legal Services Trust Fund Program and be distributed to qualified legal services programs in California.

The measure was signed into law last year after the legislature found “an increasingly dire need for legal services for poor Californians.” Lawmakers said 80 percent of the legal needs of that group are not met and found a “justice gap” of some $350 million.

The task force has embarked on an outreach effort to law firms, corporate counsel and public attorneys in an effort to generate contributions.

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