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ABA president touts resources for Indiana solo, small firms

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Before he was one of America’s best-known presidents, Abraham Lincoln was a small-firm attorney, litigating more than 5,000 cases over the course of his career with three different partners.

Lincoln’s approach to lawyering was the central theme of the Indiana State Bar Association Solo and Small Firm Conference earlier this month, when attorneys from around the state gathered to learn about the latest trends and developments in the practice of law pertinent to their firms. American Bar Association President Linda Klein, addressing conference attendees in a speech on June 2, pointed to Lincoln’s career as a lawyer as an example of the hard work and tenacity needed to successfully operate a boutique firm.

Lincoln himself wrote about the rigors of “law firm housekeeping,” Klein said, quoting him as saying, “Whatever piece of business you have at hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can be then done. Make all examinations of titles and note them, and even draft orders and decrees in advance.”

klein-2cropped-15col.jpg ABA President Linda Klein says the group has resources to make running small and solo law firms more efficient. (Photo courtesy of Indiana State Bar Association)

Klein said, “But those kinds of demands on small-firm lawyers are not confined to history — they continue.”

There’s a reason solo and small-firm attorneys can fall under such heavy pressure, Klein said, because they are the key to access to justice in the United States. But holding such a position in society without the financial resources or personnel of a larger firm is inevitably challenging, which is why Klein said the ABA offers a range of services designed to help small-firm attorneys turn their challenges into opportunities for success.

Klein’s experience as ABA president has shown her the greatest challenge facing solo and small-firm attorneys is administrative in nature. Aside from the actual practice of law, small-firm attorneys also must be businesspeople, handling tasks such as answering client phone calls, processing invoices and developing marketing plans. She said small-firm attorneys across the country, including those in Indiana, have consistently told her they need more resources to find efficient ways to balance those tasks.

In some ways, younger lawyers are leading the pack in this area, Klein said, as they are adapting more quickly to new marketing techniques and client service models that will “take the profession to new levels.”

Generational differences aside, Klein said the ABA also is stepping in to help ease lawyers’ administrative burden, offering resources such as ABA Blueprint, which she described as a “one-stop shop” for locating legal tech and other tools to make running a small firm more manageable. Blueprint, which has been live since last fall, is open to all attorneys — though ABA members receive special deals — and offers tools such as billing and document automation software, plus many more.

Additionally, the national organization is addressing other areas of small-firm needs, such as cybersecurity and technological competency, through its more than 3,500 entities that offer guidebooks, online tutorials and other similar learning opportunities. Klein highlighted these tools as one of the benefits of becoming an official ABA member.

“With all these resources, we’re working in the ABA to give solo and small-firm lawyers the preparation and the opportunity to excel,” Klein said. “We need you there, and so does our country. It’s an important part for standing up for the rule of law.”

Looking at the state of the national judiciary, Klein raised concerns about various political issues creeping into the practice of law, such as attacks on judges and proposed budget cuts to the Legal Services Corp. At the time it was established, the LSC received overwhelming bipartisan support, and the availability of funds to provide legal help to low-income citizens should still be an issue that crosses party lines, she said.

“Indiana Legal Services, which serves low-income people in every county here, received $7.3 million from the Legal Services Corporation in 2015,” the ABA president said. “By Washington’s standards, probably not a great amount of money. But here, in this state, can you live without those dollars for the legal support for the needy?”

Serving other vulnerable members of society, such as veterans, should also be a central focus for attorneys, Klein said. There are roughly 22 million veterans in the United States, including 442,000 in Indiana, facing a “maze of legal problems,” many of which can often lead veterans into homelessness.

To combat that issue, the ABA sponsors events each year that offer pro bono services for veterans’ legal needs. Klein praised members of the Indiana State Bar Association for their willingness to participate in such events, and Indiana’s law schools for running legal clinics that cater to veterans’ needs.

Klein ended her address by once again stressing the importance of ABA membership, telling the solo and small- firm attorneys that by working together through a strong national organization, attorneys can more effectively advocate for the values they hold close — the rule of law, an independent judiciary and equal access to justice.

“The ABA is doing everything in its power to ensure that our courts are fair and impartial, free from political pressure, properly staffed, properly funded, and led by the best judges available,” she said.•

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  1. The voices of the prophets are more on blogs than subway walls these days, Dawn. Here is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness ... against a corrupted judiciary ... that remains corrupt a decade and a half later ... due to, so sadly, the acquiescence of good judges unwilling to shake the forest ... for fear that is not faith .. http://www.ogdenonpolitics.com/2013/09/prof-alan-dershowitz-on-indiana.html

  2. So I purchased a vehicle cash from the lot on West Washington in Feb 2017. Since then I found it the vehicle had been declared a total loss and had sat in a salvage yard due to fire. My title does not show any of that. I also have had to put thousands of dollars into repairs because it was not a solid vehicle like they stated. I need to find out how to contact the lawyers on this lawsuit.

  3. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  4. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  5. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

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