1. Launch of D.C. Bar's New Website
One of the major highlights of the year was the launching of the Bar’s new Web site, which features a streamlined navigational system designed to facilitate a more user-friendly experience. Lawyers and the general public now have greater access to legal information; a greater capacity to obtain and file forms; an enhanced ability to register for courses, clinics, and programs; and the convenience of a new one-stop online marketplace. The mobile-friendly site allows users to obtain Bar information and services on portable devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops.
The new Web site has propelled the Bar into a new era of interactive communications, and in the coming months the Bar will continue to expand its range of online capabilities and services, including the provision of online continuing legal education courses that fulfill MCLE requirements in other jurisdictions.
2. President Andrea Ferster's Low Bono Initiative
In November, Ferster convened a meeting of 24 leaders of the District of Columbia legal community to discuss what could be done to expand access to legal help for persons of modest means who do not qualify for pro bono legal services but who cannot afford a private, market-rate lawyer. Participants of the daylong dialogue identified possible approaches that could be undertaken by the local legal community, including a law school-based incubator program, a reduced-fee lawyer referral service, and expanded self-help centers.
The participants also sought to identify opportunities for lawyers who find themselves in a market with limited employment options by exploring ways to pair those who are willing and able to provide legal assistance at a reduced rate with clients who would benefit from reduced-fee legal services.
3. Advancement of Professional Excellence
In 2013 the CLE Program published Family-Based Immigration: A Lawyer’s Guide, a comprehensive manual written, edited, and reviewed by a group of volunteer CLE faculty members. The new course book, which has been named Bar Project of the Year, covers the life cycle of a family-based immigration case and is available for purchase from the Bar’s new online marketplace.
New courses on legal ethics, litigation skills, same-sex marriage, the use of DNA evidence in criminal trials, and an introduction to white collar criminal investigations were also popular additions to the CLE curriculum.
The Sections utilized advanced technological resources such as Webinar programming to provide members with a wider range of options for participation.
Another highlight was the District of Columbia Affairs Section’s inaugural D.C. Cup Moot Court Competition, which drew participants from six D.C. area law schools and was a major success.
4. Bolstering Members and the Community
The Pro Bono Program, which hosts the community-based LawHelp.org/DC, launched a new tool for pro se litigants in family law cases. The program generated six interactive online interviews that enable pro se litigants with divorce, custody, and child support matters to fill out form pleadings without need for outside assistance. By employing a user-friendly, plain-language format that avoids legal jargon, the Pro Bono Program is able to assist more individuals in their pro se filings.
The interactive interviews gather a pro se litigant’s information, and, based on the individual’s answers to those questions, the tool would then display a printable document that the litigant can file in D.C. Superior Court. The family law online interviews are also a convenient and easy-to-use resource for other legal services organizations.
In March the Pro Bono Program launched the Unaffiliated Lawyers Working Group to explore ways to enhance volunteer opportunities for solo and small firm practitioners, senior lawyers, and recent law school graduates. By leveraging volunteer and staff resources, the working group seeks to serve the greatest number of clients and provide them with high-quality representation while simultaneously expanding opportunities for lawyer participation.
5. Preparing Future Leaders
The Bar renamed its Leadership Academy the John Payton Leadership Academy to honor the legacy of its former president. Payton devoted much of his career to the training of young lawyers and served as a mentor to many.
Now in its second year, the academy kicked off in March and produced 16 new graduates. The academy’s intensive three-day curriculum provides instruction on effective skills and the structure and activities of the Bar, while encouraging participants to use their leadership skills in professional settings, local bar associations, and community organizations.
Graduates from last year’s inaugural class have been active in Bar leadership roles, with a number of alumni serving on Bar committees or running for election to Bar offices. The third leadership academy will be held in the spring of 2015, and applications will be available this fall.
6. Inspiring Excellence
The Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) received the Caron Employee Assistance Excellence Award from Caron Treatment Centers in recognition of its service to the legal community over the past 28 years. The LAP offers free, confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, and law students experiencing problems such as alcohol and drug addiction, depression, job dissatisfaction, or any other mental health issues that interfere with their personal and professional lives.
7. Upholding Integrity
To protect the integrity of the legal profession, the Bar administers the Clients’ Security Fund (CSF) to reimburse clients for losses caused by dishonest conduct of members of the Bar. As of April, the CSF paid $44,438 to former clients of D.C. Bar members as a result of the attorneys’ dishonest conduct during fiscal year 2013–2014.
This year the Bar’s Legal Ethics Committee published Legal Ethics Opinion 366, which identifies and addresses common situations in private adoptions that give rise to significant ethical obligations under the Rules, specifically under the conflict of interest rules. The opinion also provides guidance to lawyers on ethical duties related to communications with unrepresented parties, as well as on the duties of confidentiality owed to both current and former clients.
Click here to read the full report in the Washington Lawyer