Commissioner Corner Archives

May 10, 2012

Commission Message

"Check Yes” to Lend a “Learned Hand”
Utah’s Pro Bono Commission
by Judge Michele M. Christiansen and Judge Royal I. Hansen

Utah State Bar President Rod Snow has invited us to deliver this month’s “Commission Message” to update you regarding the Bar’s newly initiated Utah State Bar Pro Bono Commission. We are thrilled to co-chair the Pro Bono Commission, a state-wide body tasked with improving voluntary pro bono legal services throughout the state. After months of preparation, the Pro Bono Commission held its inaugural meeting in April to launch the pro bono program and to begin recruiting volunteer lawyers from private law firms, government offices, and in-house counsel settings to provide vital legal services to the needy. We are especially pleased to be joined by Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham and more than a dozen other dedicated volunteers who have agreed to serve as commissioners on the Pro Bono Commission. See sidebar listing Pro Bono Commission members.

In the coming months, we will provide you with information about this new and important effort, and we hope that you will seriously consider becoming involved. As Judge Learned Hand once said, “[i]f we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.” In keeping with this spirit, the Pro Bono Commission’s motto is “Lend a ‘Learned Hand’.” This slogan, we believe, captures a spirit that we hope you will embrace by volunteering to provide legal services to our most needy Utahns.

In addition to the hundreds of hours the Utah State Bar has invested to develop and initiate this important program, we are pleased to announce that the Utah Judicial Council passed a resolution endorsing the Pro Bono Commission. Specifically, the Judicial Council’s resolution states:

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, pursuant to Rule 2-201 of the Utah Rules of Judicial Administration, that the Utah Judicial Council endorses the Utah State Bar’s creation of the Pro Bono Commission and urges law firms, corporate law departments, and governmental law offices to adopt pro bono policies and procedures to engage all lawyers in pro bono service that will increase access to equal justice; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, subject to the Utah Code of Judicial Conduct, we support the participation of judges in Utah Pro Bono Commission and District Pro Bono Committees activities to promote the wider availability of pro bono services.

The Pro Bono Commission will next focus on encouraging members of the Bar to volunteer for our program. We recognize that many of you are already committed to providing pro bono legal services in our community, and we sincerely thank you. In fact, the Bar’s recent survey, completed by over half of Utah State Bar members, revealed to us that more than 70% of those responding are already engaged in pro bono work on a weekly basis. The Pro Bono Commission’s program is designed to reach out to those of you already providing pro bono legal services, and to those of you newly considering volunteering your time to provide legal representation to those in need.

On your 2012 License Renewal Form, you will be given the opportunity to check “Yes.” Checking “Yes” will signify your willingness to volunteer to provide pro bono legal services on a case-by-case basis. The Pro Bono Commission members may be visiting you and your law firms to encourage you to check “Yes” and to provide pro bono legal services in Utah. Please look for electronic announcements and other promotional materials regarding your opportunity to check “Yes” and lend a “Learned Hand” in support of the Pro Bono Commission. We hope that each and every one of you, when you complete your License Renewal Form will check “Yes” for the Pro Bono Commission.

Those of you who check “Yes” will receive a brief, easy-to-complete electronic survey designed to determine your areas of interest, normal practice areas, and location. The Pro Bono Commission will then use this information to “match” volunteer lawyers with clients in need of pro bono legal services. The task of “matching” volunteer lawyers with pro bono clients will be managed by Pro Bono Committees in each of Utah’s eight judicial districts. The model of “district-based” pro bono services is one adopted by many states throughout the West and across the nation. District-based Pro Bono Committees are better suited to efficiently distribute pro bono services at a local level in response to individual community needs. In addition, District Pro Bono Committees will better be able to develop programs for improving local pro bono programs, such as the popular Tuesday Night Bar programs and other legal clinics for low income Utahns.

Importantly, this is a volunteer program. The Pro Bono Commission is designed to give volunteer lawyers the opportunity to select from a number of cases to choose matters that match lawyer practice areas and skill sets. In those instances where, due to the vagaries of the practice of law, you do not have time to take a case, you will be free to decline it. Our Utah Rules of Professional Conduct contain aspirational goals that each Utah State Bar member provide fifty hours of pro bono services annually. See Utah R. Prof’l Conduct 6.1. But the Pro Bono Commission is a volunteer program, and the Commission is committed to respecting the busy schedules that govern the way so many of you manage your practices.

The Pro Bono Commission will be providing free CLE and training for program participants who wish to develop skills in new areas. For instance, commercial litigators can attend free CLE to develop the skills to handle domestic cases which would allow them to assist pro bono clients in need of basic family law legal services. In-house counsel can learn how to assist low income clients with small consumer bankruptcy matters. Transactional lawyers can attend a CLE for training on how to obtain protective orders for domestic violence victims. Retired lawyers anxious to give back to the community can brush up their skills and prepare themselves to volunteer in the Pro Bono Commission’s program. In short, the Pro Bono Commission’s program takes a holistic approach to providing pro bono legal services, connecting needy clients with lawyers who have the skills to provide assistance where it is needed most.

The Pro Bono Commission not only needs volunteer lawyers to provide legal assistance to the needy, but also to help lead the Pro Bono Committees in Utah’s eight judicial districts. Each district committee will be staffed by two co-chairs and an additional eight to ten members. The District Committees’ responsibilities include developing local pro bono programs and ensuring that the matching of volunteer lawyers with pro bono clients, a process that will be largely automated and directed by the Bar’s Pro Bono Coordinator, is done as effectively as possible. The Pro Bono Commission has already solicited/requested that you assist in this important aspect of the program, and we ask you to seriously consider volunteering your services on a District Pro Bono Committee.

In 2006, “and Justice for all” conducted an exhaustive study of unmet legal needs throughout the state. The conclusions reached by the study were startling: While Utah’s dedicated non-profit agencies, like Utah Legal Services, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, and the Disability Law Center provide exceptional service to the needy, hundreds of Utahns go without legal representation and, as a result, are denied access to justice. Accordingly, we need your help in our attempts to remedy this problem.

Only clients who meet eligibility guidelines will be permitted to participate in the program. Pro bono clients will be screened by Bar staff and non-profit legal service providers like Utah Legal Services. Those clients who meet the criteria for pro bono legal services will provide information to intake personnel who will create case summaries for each potential pro bono case. District Pro Bono Committees will distribute case summaries to volunteer lawyers so that they can select appropriate cases and perform necessary conflicts checks.

Volunteer lawyers will not walk the pro bono road alone. The Utah State Bar recently hired an attorney, Michelle V. Harvey, to serve as the Bar’s Pro Bono Coordinator. Ms. Harvey, an attorney and dedicated champion of pro bono legal services, left her private practice to take on this unique challenge and help launch Utah’s Pro Bono Commission. Her responsibilities include ensuring that volunteer lawyers enjoy the support they need in their pro bono cases. Ms. Harvey will also be responsible for maintaining a database of pro bono cases, developing case summaries, providing support to the Pro Bono Commission and the District Pro Bono Committees, and serving as the administrative support structure for the entire program.

We firmly believe that your willingness to volunteer your time and provide pro bono legal services will not only help fill the ever-widening gap of unmet legal needs, but will also enrich your life and your practice. Lawyers have a unique skill set that few other professionals possess. Those of you who are willing to volunteer your time can change people’s lives. Participating in a matter that may seem small in scope and take an hour or two of your time can hugely benefit those in need and pay huge dividends to you by improving your level of satisfaction in your practice.

For these reasons we ask you to seize the opportunity to get involved in the Pro Bono Commission. Please check “Yes” on this year’s bar License Renewal Form to lend a “Learned Hand.” We look forward to working with you and thank you for your dedicated service.

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March 6, 2012

Commission Message

Utah State Bar Member Survey Results

by Dickson Burton

Did you know that 67% of active members of the Bar are in private practice, and of those about two-thirds are in solo practice or in firms of less than ten attorneys? Or that more than one third of the Bar is younger than thirty-seven years old? Did you know that 32% of attorneys are now using a tablet computer? (I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know which tablet computer is most popular). You may also be interested to know that 51% of attorneys now advertise in some media. This and much more data is now available thanks to a comprehensive survey of Bar membership conducted this past December. The Bar Commission is now pleased to share the results, which have proved to be most interesting and helpful, with Bar membership.

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September 22, 2006

Commission Highlights

Commission Highlights

During its regularly scheduled meeting of June 9, 2006 which was held at Stein Erickson Lodge, Deer Valley, Utah, the Board of Bar Commissioners received the following reports and took the actions indicated.

1. David Bird reported on the Judicial Council and noted that there were four openings in the judiciary since Judges Yeates, Fuchs, Hansen and Fredericks will be retiring within the next seven months. Chief Justice Durham noted that the applicant pool was substantially down from previous years. David outlined the recent judicial salary history in Utah along with benefits judges receive. It was noted that the communication process for advertising judicial openings should have a separate e-mail from the Bar's e-Bulletin.

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April 25, 2006

Bar Commission Candidates

Third Division Candidates

Utah State Bar member since 1995

Indiana University, School of Law, JD

Indiana University, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, MPA

Utah State University, BA, history, University Honors

Shareholder, Christensen & Jensen, P.C.

Judicial Clerk, Hon. J. Thomas Greene, U.S. District Court, District of Utah

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Free, Statewide, Confidential, 24 Hour Mental Health Help Added to Bar's Lawyers Assistance Program

Free, Statewide, Confidential, 24 Hour Mental Health Help Added to Bar's Lawyers Assistance Program

by Stephen W. Owens

Recently, I chaired a subcommittee looking at ways to improve our Lawyers Assistance Program. Lest you believe this to be an unimportant issue in our profession, I point to the recent suicide of one of my law school classmates, a talented lawyer who fought against and eventually succumbed to his mental illness. In addition, lawyers in crisis often show up in disciplinary actions, legal malpractice actions, criminal proceedings, and claims against our Client Security Fund. I succeeded this committee's prior chair, Rusty Vetter. Our committee was comprised as follows:

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April 11, 2006

Commission Highlights

Commission Highlights

During its regularly scheduled meeting of December 2, 2005, which was held in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Board of Bar Commissioners received the following reports and took the actions indicated.

1. David Bird reported on the Professional Services Tax status meeting with the UACPA.

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January 24, 2006

Commission Highlights

Commission Highlights

During its regularly scheduled meeting of October 7, 2005, which was held in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Board of Bar Commissioners received the following reports and took the actions indicated.

1. Scott Sabey reminded Commissioners of the Leadership Conference to be held October 26, 2005 at the Little America. All those holding leadership positions in bar sections, committees and local bars are invited.

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October 16, 2005

Why the Bar Might Mandate Disclosure of Uninsured Practice

Why the Bar Might Mandate Disclosure of Uninsured Practice

by Yvette Donosso Diaz


The Utah State Bar Commission is considering amendments to Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 1.4) that would require lawyers to disclose to their clients if they do not have professional liability insurance with at least $100,000 coverage. Why are we doing this? Is it to make life more difficult for solo practitioners or new lawyers? To increase the price of legal fees and malpractice suits against our colleagues? The answer is that disclosure of lack of minimum insurance coverage will have a positive impact on our profession: it will increase our 'professionalism,' protect the interests of our members, protect the interests of clients and serve the public.

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Is Mandating Disclosure in Your Fee Letter That You Do Not Carry Malpractice Insurance a Sound Idea?

Is Mandating Disclosure in Your Fee Letter That You Do Not Carry Malpractice Insurance a Sound Idea?

by Rodney Snow

The Utah Bar Commission meeting was progressing quite nicely. It was my first experience. George Daines was professional, pleasant and organized as he kept the meeting moving through the agenda. While there was discussion, there was little controversy until the new proposed amendment to Rule 1.4 was disseminated, requiring attorneys who carry less than $100,000 in malpractice insurance (hereafter MPI) to disclose that fact in their fee letters. To say that a lively debate ensued is an understatement. I was impressed at the breadth of the Bar Commission's work and the professional manner in which it was being accomplished. I also noted that all points of view were presented and well argued. Based on the discussion, it became clear that the policy behind the proposed change is to encourage all attorneys to carry MPI. As part of the discussion, I voiced some concern regarding the proposed change to Rule 1.4. I have now been 'invited' to present the loyal opposition to the proposed amendment.

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December 7, 2002

Utah State Bar Explores Delivery of Legal Services to Middle Class

Last summer, the Utah State Bar Commission formed a small task force to explore the Bar's role in addressing the perception of state legislators and others that a significant unmet need for legal services exists among middle class Utahns. The Commission received an update on the work of the Supreme Court's Committee on Delivery of Legal Services and met with Committee member and state representative Steve Urquhart. The task force wanted to be well-prepared for any recommendations that the Committee might make to the Bar. The task force consisted of Bar President-Elect Debra Moore as Chair, Bar Executive Director John Baldwin, and Commissioners D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli (one of two public members), David R. Bird, Nanci Bockelie, and George Daines.

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August 7, 2002

Commission Recommends Modification of Bar Exam by Adding MPT

The Bar Commission has approved the recommendation of the Admissions Committee to modify the Bar exam by adding a new component, the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The MPT is developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and is designed to test an applicant's ability to use fundamental lawyering skills in a realistic situation. Each test evaluates an applicant's ability to complete a task which a beginning lawyer should be able to accomplish. If approved by the Utah Supreme Court, Utah will join a majority of other states (the MPT is used by 29 states and other states, like California, have their own state-prepared practical performance tests) by including a 'practical' element to the Bar exam.

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May 7, 2002

Message from the Chair

Don't forget that the third Thursday in May of each year is Legal Assistants Day, as proclaimed by Governor Leavitt. In connection with Legal Assistants Day the LAD is sponsoring events in St. George, Provo and Salt Lake City. Watch for your invitations and plan to attend these events and show your support of Legal Assistants.
All members of the Legal Assistant Division (LAD) should mark their calendars for Friday, June 7, 2002, for the LAD Annual Meeting and Seminar. It will be held at the Law and Justice Center in Salt Lake City.

In addition to a great lineup of CLE topics and speakers, members will be participating in the LAD Annual Meeting and voting on new Directors. There are many positions open. Hopefully many LAD Members will choose to become involved by running for a Director position. At the Annual Meeting Members will be voting on amendments to the LAD Bylaws. This will also be an opportunity to volunteer for various committees for the coming year.

Registration forms and a detailed agenda will be mailed in May for this very important, annual event. Hope to see you there.

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