March 2020 • Volume 108 • Number 3 • Page 8
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All for One and One for Law
On many fronts, the ISBA is relentlessly advocating for the profession.
The Illinois State Bar Association's website page on advocacy states, verbatim:
“The ISBA is the voice of the Illinois legal profession. In this role it advocates for the interests of lawyers, as well as for the public that consumes legal services. It strives to improve and develop laws and regulations affecting substantive and process rights and responsibilities of Illinois’ citizens, support the rule of law and good legal and judicial processes, and maintain and improve professional standards to ensure the efficient and effective practice of law.”
There are many reasons our more than 28,000 lawyers have chosen to join and renew their membership in the ISBA. In our travels all over the state and communications with members, we hear that the role of the Association in advocacy for the interest of lawyers and the protection of the public are very important motivations for continued membership. It is interesting to note that where voluntary bar associations have not been vigilant in protecting the profession, membership has suffered greatly. These misfortunes are clear reminders that we at the ISBA must never take our members—and their desire that the ISBA vigilantly advocate for the profession—for granted.
In the past nine months as president, there has been no more important duty I have been privileged to enjoy than when I presented our position relating to American Bar Association (ABA) Resolution 115 to cooperating state bar associations and the National Caucus of State Bar Associations. As originally drafted, that resolution was a veiled attempt to resurrect the movement to repeal and revise ethics rules that prevent nonlawyers from entering the practice of law by buying law firms or sharing fees with lawyers. Ultimately, the resolution was amended to address our concerns and it was adopted by the ABA House of Delegates in February.
Similarly, I also had the opportunity this past year to attend a hearing based on the California Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct’s fee-sharing recommendations, where I shared my concerns.
Relentless legislative advocacy
A similar issue relates to changes in the rules of practice permitting increased use of lead-generation services to work with lawyers in an ethical and effective manner. The ISBA recognizes the need to bring the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct more in line with the realities of how the public searches for lawyers, but in a way that doesn’t allow nonlawyer control of, receipt of, or sharing of fees. Over the past several months and years, the Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission (ARDC) has recommended such reforms and improvement with substantial input from the ISBA. The ISBA will continue to prepare comments suggesting tweaks to the ARDC’s recommendations. (See “A Modest Proposal?” on page 16.)
Our legislative program remains active under the leadership of Jim Covington, our director of legislative affairs, and Past-President Hon. James F. McCluskey, chair of the Legislation Committee. Our strategy in this area is to make important but limited legislative proposals at every session of the General Assembly. Our major efforts also involve providing comments and opposition, where appropriate, on the hundreds and hundreds of bills affecting our profession and the public in negative ways.
Rising to the occasion
Where it is necessary, the ISBA undertakes both direct litigation to protect the practice of law and indirect participation in pending litigation through the filing of amicus curiae briefs on important matters of law. The ISBA recently challenged an attack on the real estate tax law practice by the State of Illinois, when it, through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), sought to curb the ability of tax lawyers to provide information on relevant legal matters—including real estate values—to tax commissions, assessors, and other local officials. The ISBA challenged the IDFPR’s action as a violation of the Illinois Supreme Court’s sole authority to regulate the practice of law. While such litigation is costly, there is no better use of our funds. The judge assigned to this matter in Cook County recognized and endorsed our position in entering a permanent order finding such interference by the IDFPR improper. The state did not appeal the court’s order.
There will always be challenges on the horizon. I have no doubt that future officers and our Board of Governors will recognize the ISBA as the only association in Illinois with the resources and will to recognize these challenges and rise to the occasion of advocating effectively for Illinois lawyers. The work of our wonderful staff, dozens of section councils and committees, and our individual members should not be overlooked as they recognize ongoing challenges and alert the ISBA’s leadership as these challenges arise.