The annual ABA Midyear Meeting kicks off next week in Austin. From February 12-17, ABA members and other legal professionals will converge on the Texas state capital to discuss issues, regulations, and trends shaping the future of the legal profession.
The annual event will feature several hundred governance and business meetings, CLE programs, awards celebrations, and networking events attended by hundreds of legal professionals from across the U.S. Attendees are eligible to earn up to 11.75 Continuing Legal Education credit hours through programming at the event.
Access to Justice Divide
This year, rural America will take center stage at the ABA Midyear Meeting in the presentation “Legal Deserts – How do Bars Fill the Gap?” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and other legal experts will explore solutions to the striking access to justice gap in rural areas, including much of Illinois, where smaller populations, technological barriers, and a shift in the supply and demand of business services have led to vast areas with few or no attorneys.
On Monday, February 17, the ABA’s 596-member House of Delegates will meet to debate and vote on approval of more than 30 wide-ranging policy proposals. This includes Resolution 115, which encourages regulatory innovation that many believe could help address this rural access to justice crisis.
The resolution, which was submitted by Dan Rodriguez, professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and former Chair of the ABA Center for Innovation, encourages the ABA to take a leadership position in fostering “new approaches” to the practice of law to improve the accessibility, affordability, and quality of civil legal services in the U.S. This means promoting more state-based regulatory innovations, collecting and analyzing the data from those innovations, and using the resulting data to shape future reform efforts.
The resolution points to efforts by regulators and bar associations in several states, including Arizona, California, New Mexico, Utah, Illinois, and others, that are exploring lawyer re-regulation in response to the market failure in consumer legal services.
The resolution, however, faces significant opposition by some state bar leaders who say it will lead to outside investment of law firms and nonlawyers practicing law.
Additional proposals under review by the House of Delegates address uncertainties facing lawyers who provide legal services to businesses in the cannabis industry. A majority of states – including Illinois — have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, but the federal government continues to ban the drug outright. This has caused tension between state and federal law over marijuana regulation.
Resolution 103B recognizes lawyers’ concerns in providing legal services to clients in the cannabis industry in states where marijuana has been legalized, but nevertheless still violates federal criminal law. As a result, lawyers and law firms may be deterred from representing the cannabis industry, which is expected to reach $30 billion by 2025.
The resolution urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it isn’t a federal crime for qualified lawyers to provide legal advice and services to clients on marijuana-related activities that comply with state, territorial, and tribal law.
In addition, Resolution 103D urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it isn’t a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate business acting in accordance with state, territorial, and tribal laws.
Not all lawyers are shying away from cannabis-related cases. In fact, some are taking advantage. At Atlanta’s EHG Law Firm, founder Erin Gerstenzang — who will speak at The Future Is Now: Legal Services conference in April – offers subscription legal services for hemp and medical marijuana businesses in Georgia. In Illinois, firms like Goldberg Law Group and Fox Rothschild help clients navigate the complex process of cannabis compliance and dispensary licensing.
A full list of the resolutions to be debated at the ABA Midyear Meeting can be found on the ABA’s website.
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