The following is a summary of actions taken at the meeting of the New Jersey State Bar Association Board of Trustees at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. This summary does not constitute official minutes.
Online legal service companies update: Continuing the leadership position the New Jersey State Bar Association has taken nationally to address the ways online legal service providers could undermine the justice system, the trustees voted to seek amicus status in a case challenging this summer’s Joint Opinion of the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Attorney Advertising, Unauthorized Practice of Law committees. The opinion found that Avvo’s payment structure amounted to fee sharing and New Jersey attorneys could not participate in those plans. The opinion raised separate issues with the providers Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer. The association originally requested the review of the issue from the Court’s committees. The case is pending before the Supreme Court and the association will seek to file an amicus brief if the Court decides to hear the matter.
In addition, the trustees voted to respond to a recent letter from the American Bar Association to Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. The letter encouraged courts to consider the adoption of the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services, a framework in which the ABA proffered guidance in regulating the proliferation of non-lawyer providers. The NJSBA has been a consistent and strong voice opposing proposals that would allow non-attorneys to provide legal help. However, the association has also acknowledged that the profession must do more to address the needs of residents who need legal help, but cannot afford the market rate attorneys typically charge and is currently working to create a technology-based solution it expects to debut in 2018.
Attorney disciplinary budget: The association will submit comments in response to the proposed budget of the attorney disciplinary, asking that the annual attorney registration fee be reduced by $5. The association has urged that the agency reduce its reserves, which exceed 25 percent of the operating budget, to an amount more in-line with accepted accounting practices through a modest reduction in the annual registration fee.
Veteran’s mentoring program: The trustees voted to submit a petition for rulemaking to the New Jersey Division of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA) urging it to promulgate rules establishing an adequate mentor program for the newly-enacted state Veterans Diversion Program. The diversion program is a sort of pre-trial intervention program for veterans. The association supported enactment of the program and has been working with the Attorney General’s office to implement it in every county.
According to the statute that created the program, DMAVA is supposed to create a mentor program to help the veterans in the diversion program. In addition, the Veterans Assistance Project, a separate program created nearly 10 years ago, also required the creation of a mentorship program. But to date, only three such mentors have been identified by the state agency. The NJSBA is therefore encouraging rulemaking to ensure an adequate mentor program.
Audit: The New Jersey State Bar Association has taken steps to maintain a strong financial base as the home to the state’s largest lawyers group and the leading continuing legal education provider, a draft auditor’s report from Withum, Smith+Brown showed. The board adopted the draft audit for fiscal year 2017, which ended in June. The auditors found no issues of concern in the accounting practices of the association and expect to issue a clean opinion when the report is finalized in the coming weeks.
Featured speakers: Two nationally respected speakers will join NJSBA and NJICLE events in the coming months, the board said. The trustees approved R. Rex Parris as a speaker on the science of jury behavior, who will explore cognitive science and behavior economics in the courtroom, on Nov. 29 and 30. In addition, NPR’s award-winning legal correspondent Nina Totenberg will be the keynote speaker of a Feb. 12 women’s leadership forum.