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July 13, 2003

IL & Md Lawyer Groups Win First “Judee” Awards

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 1:26 pm

Weakend Special: The Illinois State Bar Association and the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association have been chosen as the first-ever recipients of the ethicalEsq Judas ESQariot Award, in recognition of their exceptional efforts to promote the financial interests of lawyers, while purporting to protect consumers of legal services.  Named in honor of the famous biblical character (who got 30 pieces of silver for his betrayal), Judees will be granted whenever especially deserving lawyer groups come to the attention of ethicalEsq.

Announcing the awards, weblawg spokesperson Jackie Cliente gushed: “At a time when a growing number of courts and legislatures are trying to make the legal system more accessible and affordable for low and middle income Americans, it is very inspiring to see that some lawyers have the courage to openly practice traditional guild and cartel values, in order to protect their privileged place in society and in the economy.  We can only summarize a few of the reasons for giving Judees to ISBA and MTLA.” They include:

Illinois State Bar Association : Over the past year, ISBA has passionately sought to protect consumers from the dangers of the Unauthorized Practice of Law and low-cost legal services. It has sought legislation expanding the definition of UPL and allowing county bar associations to directly sue to stop instances of unauthorized practice. (See the April 1, 2003 edition and the May 15, 2003 edition of the ISBA Bar News).

With the new millennium, ISBA’s members found themselves faced with the prospect of losing more and more business to self-help internet sites, books, and computer programs.   More important, in early 2003, they faced the imminent opening, at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, IL, of a well-designed, user-friendly, computer-based Center for Self-Representation. Accessible at County Law Library terminals, or through the internet, the Lake County self-help resources currently cover only small claims, but are expected to soon include simple divorce matters.   Acting boldly, ISBA took extraordinary measures to preserve the values it holds most dear. (Legal Reformer, HALT, Spring 2003, at 3 ) Using modern technology to assert their old-fashioned First Amendment rights, ISBA announced in a Feb. 2003 press release [no longer available online] that it was launching a paid tv advertising campaign “to encourage consumers to use a professional lawyer rather than a self-help type of service for their legal services.”  The press release explains:

“Themed ‘Lawyer in the Box,’ the thirty-second television spot uses humor to deliver its message that the type of cookie-cutter approach available through the Internet or from do-it-yourself software cannot substitute for the quality services performed by a trained, experienced attorney. The ads will run in all media markets in the state.” (You can [no longer] see the 30-second ad by clicking here.)

With refreshing candor now often absent from bar pronouncements, the Association’s Board of Governors stated in a Resolution of Appreciation adopted in May for outgoing ISBA President Loren Golden (ISBA Bar News, June 16, 2003), that “the top concerns of the practicing bar are the economics of the practice and the image of the profession.”  Since the television ad campaign plays an important part in achieving those goals, the Chicago Tribune reports that ISBA will resume the ads as soon as funds are available. (Low-cost Web divorces under fire: Online process has lawyers up in arms, by Rachel Osterman, Chicago Tribune, July 5, 2003, reprinted at HALT.com)

In addition, in his valedictory “love letter” to the Association’s members, the ISBA Bar News, June 16, 2003) outgoing ISBA President Loren S. Golden said he had asked “the members and staff of the ISBA to explore new horizons for the betterment of our members, the public and our system of justice.”  He went on to say:

“Together we explored . . .  the use of television as a means to educate the public that before they use ‘the lawyer in a box,’ they should instead hire an ISBA attorney who is committed to financial responsibility, continuing legal education and the dedication and passion (there I said it again) needed to represent clients with unequaled skill and the utmost respect.”

Golden then concluded by saying he believed that the Lawyer in a Box ads “will ultimately be a positive benefit to our members and act as a further incentive to other attorneys to join the ISBA.”  That’s right: When nonmembers see that ISBA is willing to sponsor ads knocking self-help centers, they will surely want to join the Association.

No more needs to be said to explain why the Illinois State Bar Association so well deserves our Judas Esqariot Award.

Maryland Trial Lawyers Association The Association is being recognized for its tireless efforts to protect the consumers of Marlyand from the destructive expansion of the State’s small claims court jurisdiction.  MTLA’s willingness to spend its political and financial capital in this cause, over several years, was extraordinary.

The story of MTLA’s valiant efforts to resist court reform hysteria in the Maryland legislature can be found in a Baltimore Sun article (April 4, 2002), in an op/ed piece from the Washington Post (June 2, 2002), and on the website page of HALT’s Small Claims Reform Project. Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s Veto Message (May 17, 2001) also generously credits MTLA for his decision to veto legislation that would increase the dollar limits in Maryland small claims courts. The basic tale:

In the 2001 and 2002 legislative sessions, both houses of the Maryland legislature unanimously passed legislation to increase the ceiling on small claims awards from $2500 to $5000. The legislators apparently agreed with “reform” elements, such as HALT, who argued that the low Maryland limit (which had not been increased in over a decade and was 8th lowest in the nation) now made small claims court useful for matters involving only relatively trivial sums.

As HALT counsel argued in the Washington Post:

Both consumers and businesses often face disputes involving amounts as high as $10,000 or $20,000 — sums too large to be written off but not large enough to merit hiring an attorney, because the attorney’s fee would eat up most of any money awarded by the court. A logical venue for such cases is small claims court [which is] designed for people representing themselves in cases with simple issues.

In both legislative sessions, then-Governor Glendening vetoed the Small Claims legislation, due to a concern that the change might “unfairly prejudice plaintiffs by limiting their rights,” agreeing with the Maryland State Bar Association’s “reluctance to change jurisdictional amounts unless supported by substantial evidence that such a change is warranted,” and closing with the statement that “This concern prompted the Maryland Trial Lawyers’ Association to request a veto of this bill.”

After the second veto, the Baltimore Sun noted that “In 1998, the trial lawyers association donated $12,000 – the maximum it could give legally – to Glendening’s campaign. The organization spent $100,000 on radio ads attacking the governor’s opponent in the race.”

In 2003, due to no fault on the part of MTLA, a new governor took office, and a similar bill again passed unanimously in both houses. As HALT explains, “Governor Robert Ehrlich signed the bill into law in an April 22 ceremony, raising the state’s small claims ceiling from the eighth-lowest in the country to just above the national median of $4,500. The increase takes effect on October 1, 2003.”

Although MTLA did not ultimately prevail, we believe it has demonstrated the spirit and tenacity embodied by the Judas Esqariot Award and we are proud to choose MTLA as one of our two initial honorees.

  • Unlike the episodes described above, it is anticipated that most Judee awards will include victories for the Award winners and defeat for so-called consumer interests.  No matter the outcome, your “Suggestions” for Judee nominees will be much appreciated.  Please explain the basis of your nomination, including facts, with appropriate links, if available.
  • Check out the JuDee Pamphleteering Citation given to the New York Bar Association.

Update: Click on the Comments link below this item to see the response of MyShingle.com‘s Carolyn Elefant to our treatment above of ISBA’s tv ads.  MyShingle had a favorable reaction to the ISBA ads in this posting.   Naturally, your Editor replies with his usual pithiness.


Welcome (somewhat belatedly) to Blog 702 and thanks to its editor, Peter B. Nordberg, for putting us on its blawgroll.

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