Bar Task Force Looks for Ways to Avoid $50 Dues Increase
Proposals to meet Ga. Supreme Court mandate include changes in IOLTA rules, higher court fees for out-of-state lawyers
Facing an ultimatum by the state Supreme Court to raise money for legal aid or see a $50 hike in annual bar dues, a task force of lawyers and trial court judges is proposing a change in lawyer trust account rules and an increase in fees paid by out-of-state lawyers.
"I don't think the [State Bar of Georgia] would be prepared for a mandatory $50 fee," said task force chairman J. Randolph Evans, a partner at McKenna, Long & Aldridge. "It's tough practicing law right now."
The bar's Civil Legal Services Task Force, appointed this year by bar president Charles "Buck" Ruffin, will ask the Board of Governors to vote this weekend at its fall meeting in Jekyll Island on one of the proposals. It would require lawyers to use trust accounts at banks that offer competitive rates. The Supreme Court would ultimately have to approve the rule changes.
Interest from trust accounts, or IOLTA accounts, goes to the Georgia Bar Foundation for grants to agencies that provide legal services to indigent parties in civil cases, such as Georgia Legal Services and Atlanta Legal Aid Society.
The task force also plans to ask the Board of Governors to vote in January on a proposal that would modify pro hac vice fees—charged to out-of-state lawyers practicing in Georgia—and ask that all courts of record require them. The task force unanimously approved both measures during its meeting Wednesday at bar headquarters.
The votes come just three weeks after Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein delivered the high court's ultimatum to the task force during its first meeting on Oct. 10. Ruffin and members of the task force were reluctant immediately after the meeting to discuss what Hunstein said.
But minutes from the Oct. 10 meeting state: "Justice Carol Hunstein reported that the Supreme Court wants to move quickly on these issues and may not wait on the bar. She also reported that the court wants a $50 per member assessment that will be court-ordered unless the bar can come up with a similar amount of money or do the assessment on its own volition."
Hunstein is not a member of the committee but because the Supreme Court has ultimate authority over the practice of law in Georgia, it could levy an assessment on lawyers.
After the Oct. 10 meeting, Chief Justice Hugh Thompson told the Daily Report that he and other justices hoped the bar wouldn't have to raise bar dues. "We on the court hope [task force members] are going to come up with an alternative funding source," he said.
The bar currently deems banks "approved" to hold IOLTA accounts if they agree to notify the bar when a lawyer's escrow check bounces or an IOLTA account is overdrawn at the same time they notify the lawyer on the account.