Solo practitioners and small-firm lawyers in California have complained for years that the State Bar picks on them. In other words, subjects them to a disproportionate share of discipline.
|The ABA in SF |
All coverage to date of the ABA meeting after the jump.
It turns out that other lawyers around the country — whether solo, small firm or big firm — feel the same about their own bar associations. And there seems to be a simple explanation.
Five lawyers participating in a panel discussion in San Francisco on Saturday during the American Bar Association’s annual meeting said there are two main reasons: Solos and small-firm attorneys make up 70 percent or more of all lawyers in America and, therefore, by sheer numbers alone rack up more discipline cases. They also tend to represent unsophisticated clients who don’t understand the legal system and file more complaints.
“This is a complaint-driven system,” Los Angeles lawyer Diane Karpman told a sparse crowd of about 30 people in the Moscone Center West.
Karpman, who owns a small firm that represents lawyers facing State Bar discipline, said many of her clients represent “the poor and the almost poor,” rather than corporate entities that prefer big-firm attorneys — or as she called them, “tall-building lawyers,” because of where most of their offices are housed.
Corporate clients sue for malpractice if dissatisfied by a lawyer’s performance, she said, whereas clients of solos and small firms turn to the State Bar for relief.
Karpman was joined on the panel — titled “Small Firm/Sole Practitioners and Lawyer Discipline — Myths and Realities” — by Dennis Archer, chairman of Detroit’s Dickinson Wright and both a former Detroit mayor and former justice on the Michigan Supreme Court; Seattle solo Anthony Butler; Arnold Rosenfeld, of counsel in K&L Gates’ Boston office; and Paula Frederick, a deputy general counsel with the State Bar of Georgia in Atlanta.
Almost all of them agreed that one big problem is that law schools aren’t doing a good enough job at teaching students how to manage a law practice.
“I have this radical idea that training is important,” Butler said, noting that when he got out of law school, he was a bit lost. “So I had to take it upon myself to learn how to practice law.”
He and others noted that solos and small-firm lawyers have no mentors, unlike attorneys who go to work for big firms.
That was backed up by Rosenfeld, who said K&L Gates — with more than 1,000 attorneys — holds a weeklong “rookie school” for its new lawyers. They’re taught ethics, practice management, legal writing and effective communication, among other skills. Rosenfeld said state bar associations should try doing the same for solos and small-firm lawyers.
Frederick said the State Bar of Georgia tries to maintain a staff of prosecutors who are as diverse as the lawyers in her state — not only in regard to gender and race, but also by skills. Among the prosecutors, she said, are former solos, prosecutors, defense lawyers, legal aid attorneys and big-firm lawyers.
“We can’t have all big-firm lawyers sitting there,” she said, “making decisions in cases mostly against solo or small-firm lawyers.”
— Mike McKee