Bar tackling wide range of issues for its members, public

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Published: November 3,2008

The Mississippi Bar is continuing to serve the needs of its members as it’s done since its founding in 1906. Now with approximately 6,800 members, the organization is offering programs to address a changing world that includes the growing use of technology and a large aging population.

Technology seminars are held twice a year. The next one is scheduled for November 20 and will feature a slate of national law office technology experts. Executive director Larry Houchins says there’s an ongoing need for continuing education in technology.

“Technology is such a big part of law offices these days. Our members in small firms want to keep upgrading and others are generally interested too,” he said.

The organization’s board created a senior lawyer committee to prepare for a possible “senior tsunami” in the legal profession as part of the Baby Boomer effect.

“We think this phenomenon might need some attention. The American Bar Association and numerous state bar associations have identified issues and implemented programs to address what some have called the most significant challenge the legal profession faces in the next decade,” Houchins said. “The number of lawyers reaching retirement age, and perhaps practicing beyond the traditional age of retirement, will soon increase dramatically.

“Recognizing this issue at the request of the Supreme Courts Commission on Impaired Lawyers, the Bar’s Board of Commissioners has approved the appointment of a senior lawyers committee.”

The new committee will explore ways to protect the dignity of senior lawyers who suffer age-related changes in their professional abilities, protect clients who suffer adverse consequences, provide ways for aging lawyers to address age-related deficits and risks, utilize their strengths and experience and preserve the quality of law practice for the public good and provide for continued representation or protection of clients in the event of sudden death or incapacity of lawyers.

Looking toward the upcoming legislative session, the Bar’s legislative program will make recommendations to the Legislature on ways to improve the state’s judicial system. Over the years, the Bar has been involved in legislation to establish the Mississippi Court of Appeals and Administrative Office of the Courts; the Mississippi Civil Legal Assistance Fund, which was established to help augment the declining federal funding Mississippi legal service providers receive; and supporting the Supreme Court’s efforts to pass a Uniform Case Management and E-Filing system, which will make the courts more efficient and accountable.

“For the 2009 legislative session, the Bar is focusing its efforts on the judicial and district attorney salary crisis we are currently facing,” says Mississippi Bar president Rodger Wilder of Gulfport. “The state’s appellate and trial court judges have not received a pay increase since 2003. Because of the salary crisis, it is harder to keep and attract the best qualified people for these jobs.”

A first-year law associate can make more than a judge or district attorney who has served for decades, he points out. The yearly income for a sole practitioner in Mississippi is around $133,000, while the average partner/shareholder makes around $234,000. Mississippi’s trial court judges make $104,000 and district attorneys make $95,796. Both of these office holders rank last in pay compared to other Southeastern states.

“Everyone — plaintiff, defendant, crime victim, business owner and attorney — wants to see the very brightest and best judges and district attorneys serve,” Wilder said. “It is a matter of public safety and public good to have the best qualified serve. The Bar will make a strong appeal to the Legislature to act this coming session.”

Bobby Bailess, immediate past president of the Mississippi Bar, appointed a task force to strengthen confidence in the legal system. Jackson attorney Bill Goodman Jr. is serving as chairman of the committee, which includes members from all areas of the state.

“The charge of the task force is to examine our legal system and make recommendations to ensure the honesty and integrity of the Bar and fairness and impartiality within the judiciary,” Bailess said. “The work of this task force is crucial to ensure the public has absolute trust and confidence in our legal system.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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